Science + Fiction
by Carl Frederick
I'm a theoretical physicist as well as a SF writer. A few weeks ago, I submitted a theoretical physics paper to a prestigious journal. While considering what steps to take to establish my priority for the ideas in the paper, I got the admittedly screwball idea of putting the paper* up for sale on Amazon/Kindle. Not that I'd expect anyone to buy the paper, but 'publishing' it would unambiguously establish a date of submission.
Further, there is a connection between the paper and my fiction: In the paper's citations list, I sneaked in an entry, 'We are the Cat' (re: memory in quantum measurements). I also sneaked in 'The Trojan Carousel', my novel which is something of a cross between a quantum physics textbook and 'Lord of the Flies'.In it, the boy protagonist stumbles upon a new idea about quantum mechanics, said idea being the subject of the paper.
In an 'it seemed to be a good idea at the time' moment, I decided to put up the very math-heavy paper along with the novel and short story.
If your browser can't properly display the complex mathematics of the paper, you can obtain a PDF of the paper from www.frithrik.com/c.pdf
*So I wouldn't get in trouble with the journal or for that matter with Amazon for publishing the paper in two places at once, this Kindle version is a slightly different (and later) version than that submitted to the journal.
.......Over the din of falling rocks
crashing against the sheer walls of the shaft, Paul heard a scream of
......."God damn it," Paul shouted, "I said don't look up." He squeezed himself into a cleft in the flare-out chamber. And cowering there, just meters from the entrance pit, he hoped that none of the rocks raining down onto his hard-hat would be massive enough to break his neck.
.......He turned his head slightly, slewing the beam of his miner's lamp to illuminate Alex. At the same moment, the beam from Alex's lamp moved as well and Paul squinted against the sudden brilliance. Had they been under the sunlit sky and not in the blackness of a cave, they would be looking each other in the eye.
.......Again, Paul heard a sound of pain, this time a moan, and swung his head and beam to the source: the third spelunker, Conrad Frith. Almost buried in the tumble of rocks, Conrad had slumped to the cave floor and seemed unconscious. His hard-hat sat askew on his head, and the electric miner's lamp was dark.
.......As abruptly as it had started, the pummeling of rocks subsided and the roar of the limestone avalanche, amplified by the resonances of the caverns, went silent. When his hearing had adjusted to the eerie quiet, Paul could hear only the dripping water from the tips of the stalactites.
.......After a few moments, when he felt safe that no more rocks would fall, Paul pushed himself out of the small cleft in the cave wall and surveyed the damage.
.......He moved toward Alex, just a few meters away. "Are you okay?"
.......Alex took a step away from the wall that he'd squeezed against, but then let himself slide down to a sitting position. His face, which had registered fear, now showed a mix of relief and pain. He winced as he massaged his left leg just below the knee.
......."Jeez," he said. "Hurts like hell." He explored the limb with both hands. "But I don't think it's broken." He wiggled his shoulder blades and let out a breath through pursed lips. "But other than that, yeah, I guess I'm okay."
.......Again, Paul heard the sound of falling rocks, but this time just a gentle clatter. He directed his lamp to the far side of the entrance chamber and saw Conrad freeing himself from the debris. "Conrad," Paul called out. "You okay?"
......."Yeah. I think so."
.......Clambering over the rock-strewn cave floor, Paul made his way over. "No you're not." He shone his light strong into Conrad's face. "There's blood pouring down your forehead."
.......Paul called over his shoulder, "Alex, there's a first aid kit in the drag pack. If you can you walk, would you get it?"
......."Yeah, just a sec'," Alex called back.
.......Paul removed Conrad's hard-hat and, in the beam of the laser diode headlamp, he saw Conrad's Germanic-blond hair glisten a dark crimson.
......."Oh shit," said Paul under his breath.
......."Jeez!" cried Alex, and Paul turned at the sound.
.......Alex tugged at the drag-pack line; the rope drew taut, one end vanishing under a pile of small boulders. "Buried," said Alex, "and even if we could dig it out, it'll probably be crushed flat."
......."Damn it." Paul whisked off his gloves and zipped down his one-piece coveralls. He worked his way out of the elastic-cuffed sleeves, took off his shirt and passed it to Conrad. "Here. Press this against your head."
.......Shivering in the damp cold, Paul fumbled with the zipper, and struggled to regain the warmth and security of coveralls and gloves.
......."Okay," said Paul, catching his breath. He took back his shirt and, though impeded by his thick gloves, managed to fashion something of a turban. He secured it on Conrad's head with the sleeves. "Score one for Boy Scout training."
.......Although a section of cloth covering Conrad's head was turning red, Paul let out a sigh of relief as he noted that the blood-flow seemed to be stanched.
......."Thanks, um...," said Conrad. He looked pained for a moment. "Thanks Paul."
......."What's the matter?" asked Paul. "Does it hurt?"
......."No. It's not that." Conrad looked away, avoiding Paul's gaze. "It's just that for a moment, I forgot your name." He shook his head. "And that scares me a little."
......."I wouldn't worry about it. Probably have a slight concussion."
......."Concussion, Yeah." Conrad sounded relieved.
......."I hope this cave has another entrance," said Alex, softly, from behind.
......."It doesn't," said Paul, still preoccupied with Conrad's condition.
......."You're sure?" It sounded more like a plea than a question.
......."Never absolutely certain about anything," said Paul. "I'm a quantum theorist."
......."Boy, you're a great help," said Alex. "Thank you Dr. Heisenberg."
.......Paul swiveled around, his beam making a quick circle around the cave walls. Alex had spoken with his usual flippancy, but a tremor in his voice gave him away.
......."Well, it's your fault," said Paul, smiling. "What we get for taking an undergraduate along on a grad-student outing."
......."Oh no," said Alex.
......."It's not that." Alex pointed. Where there had been an entranceway to the vertical pit, a mountain of glistening rocks stood against the cave wall. "There's no way we can dig our way through that."
.......Paul suppressed a gasp and fought down a sudden panic. He was the cave leader and he knew he had to display calmness. "Theoretically, that should not have happened."
......."Jeez. Theoreticians," said Alex, shaking his head and sending an oscillating beam of illumination against the cave wall.
......."Switch off your light," said Paul. "Let's see if we can see any daylight."
.......Paul and Alex switched off their lamps; Conrad's was already dark.
......."Nothing," said Alex.
......."Keep your light off," said Paul. "Give our eyes time to adapt."
.......Paul struggled to see gradations of darkness, but there was no light. He had the notion that he'd suddenly gone blind and that there was no one in the dark with him. Listening hard for human breathing, he heard nothing but the occasional sound of dripping water.
.......'Why do I do this', he wondered. But he knew the answer. Despite the cerebral rush he got from doing physics, he seemed to need a matching visceral high--an adrenaline rush. And boy, am I ever getting that now. God, I'm scared shitless.
......."Alex?" he said after what seemed a lifetime, but could only have been a few seconds.
......."Okay, lights on." Paul flipped the switch and felt warmed, even by the cold, blue-white illumination of the laser diodes.
.......But Alex's lamp stayed dark.
......."Damn," said Alex. "Now my light's broken." He pounded on his head-mounted lamp, then took off his hard-hat and flipped the switch a couple of times. Still no light. "Jeez. You'd think the Outdoor Club might invest in some new equipment."
.......Paul sucked in a breath. Now they had only one light source between them. Paul shivered with a mental image of total darkness. As he turned to look at Alex, he realized he was moving his head slowly--as if a fragile treasure were balanced on his hard-hat. Damn it. We should all go back to using Carbide Lamps.
.......Conrad, meanwhile, absently toying with his hard-hat, started as the lamp blinked on. "Hey," he said, "'and there was light'."
......."Thank God," said Paul. He looked over to where the drag-pack was buried, keenly aware of the loss not only of the first aid kit, but also of the crucially important alternate sources of light.
......."Keep the lights switched on," he said. "Batteries should last a week, so if we don't mess with the switches, at least we'll have light. And it's a live cave so we don't have to worry about drinking-water."
......."A week," Alex mumbled under his breath. He nervously worked the switch on his dead lamp. "How long do you think it'll be before someone rescues us?"
......."Don't know," said Paul. "When you got the gate key, how long did you say we'd be caving?"
.......Alex stopped playing with the switch, but he didn't answer.
......."No one was home, so I just took the key off the hook."
......."Did you leave a note?" Paul spoke softly, trying to keep his voice steady.
......."No, but when he gets home, he'll see the key's missing."
......."God damn it," said Conrad, sitting, his back against the cave wall with his hard-hat resting on a knee. He moved the hat to direct the beam into Alex's face. "For all we know, the guy's vacationing in New Zealand. And..." The beam wavered, casting Alex's silhouette flickering against the far wall.
......."What's wrong?" said Paul.
......."I forgot where New Zealand is."
.......Alex gave Paul a puzzled look. "It's near Australia," he said. "Anyway, someone's bound to see the van, not to mention Quantum."
......."I wouldn't count on it," said Paul. "Only the owner and other cavers use that road." Paul looked down at his hands and willed them to stop shaking.
.......Conrad closed his eyes. "The road is roughly north-south and we're at latitude 41.5," he said, "and his leash reaches to the stream." Conrad slapped a hand against the cave floor four or five times, the glove making squishing sounds against the thin layer of mud. "So, at this time of year, considering the length of his leash, where it's tied to the car, and the path of the sun in the sky, Quantum should always be able to find some shade in the shadow of the van."
......."Jeez." Alex slapped the wet rock of the cave wall. "We're trapped in a cave and all you can do is calculate if your dog's going to be comfortable."
.......Conrad opened his eyes, and his eyes were wild. "It took me a lot longer than it should have." He opened his mouth as if he were going to say something, then bit his lip.
......."In the absence of mass," he blurted out, suddenly, "space doesn't become flat, it becomes undefined--stochastic."
......."What?" said Paul.
.......Alex wrinkled his nose.
......."If there's no mass, we don't need space," said Conrad.
.......Paul saw Conrad's hand begin to shake. "What the hell are you talking about?"
......."It's right, isn't it?" Conrad spoke with none of his usual assurance.
......."You okay?" said Paul.
.......Conrad put on his hard hat, then winced. "Ouch." He adjusted the hat, then stood. "I'm scared, guys. I'm losing my memory. I can almost feel it vanishing."
.......Alex and Paul stared at him.
......."I've got to keep exercising my memory." Conrad leaned his head back against the cave wall. "I've got to talk about stuff."
......."There are other things we could talk about beside physics," said Alex.
......."I'm a physicist," said Conrad. "There's nothing else. It's what I am."
.......Paul, despite himself, laughed. "Come on, Conrad. Don't you think you’re exaggerating a little?"
......."No." Conrad looked away, into the blackness of the cave. "I come from a poor family." He spoke barely above a whisper. "We never had anything."
.......He turned and looked directly at Paul. His expression, Paul realized, was not the usual mixture of cool reserve and intense concentration. Conrad's face showed a real emotion--anguish. And his eyes, watery-bright in the beam of Paul's lamp, gleamed like tiny, blue, bicycle reflectors.
......."All I have is what I know and how well I can think." Conrad stroked his cheek, leaving a smudge against his nose. "I don't smoke. I don't drink. I won't do anything that could impair my mind. And now this." He walked over and sat facing Alex and Paul. "Please. I don't know what else to do."
......."Okay," said Paul. "Nothing much we can do anyway--except wait." Paul suddenly wished he weren't the leader; then he wouldn't have to hide being scared.
......."We could look for another entrance," said Alex. "There might be one."
......."There might," said Conrad, his voice calm, like his normal self--but his eyes gave him away.
.......Paul worried. Conrad always had a memory like the proverbial steel trap. "Conrad," he said with forced calmness. "We've done this cave a lot together. It's a simple cave. We've never seen even the hint of an alternate entrance."
......."You see. I'm losing it," Conrad shouted. His voice, harsh and metallic, reverberated against the walls. He jumped up and then pounded a gloved fist against the wall. "So, in the case of the two slit experiment," he said with a strained steadiness, "even if we measure which slit the particle went through, the interference pattern is not affected as long as the measurement is not remembered."
......."What?" said Alex. "That's not true. Any measurement of which slit the electron goes through, destroys the pattern."
.......Paul smiled. He didn't know how therapeutic this conversation was for Conrad, but it was certainly taking Alex's mind off their problems.
......."That's the establishment view," said Conrad. "But it's wrong. Look. An electron is charged. It has a field, and when it goes through a slit, the atoms making up the walls of the slit feel the effect of the field. So those atoms are making the measurement. But they don't 'remember' the measurement. It's a question of memory." Conrad's voice wavered. "...of memory."
......."It's all right, Conrad," said Paul, "I can't be certain there's not another entrance."
......."Blessed are the uncertain," said Alex, "for maybe they shall see Heisenberg."
.......Paul shot him a look, then turned to see Conrad ambling off further into the cave. "Conrad, wait." He scrambled to his feet. Alex stood as well.
.......Conrad stopped and looked back.
......."So, what you're saying is," said Paul, humoring his friend, and Conrad very much seemed to need humoring, "is that only if a measurement is remembered and then communicated to the rest of the world, will the interference pattern go away."
......."Precisely. And the argument holds for Schrödinger's Cat as well."
......."That's nonsense," said Alex. "Memory is not a physics concept."
.......Paul resisted the urge to kick Alex in the shins.
......."Okay, a flip-flop," said Conrad. "Imagine the latch being set if the slit atoms detect the electron."
......."A flip-flop isn't a physics concept either," said Alex.
.......Paul idly wondered which of Alex's shins was the bruised one.
.......Conrad turned and began strolling toward a sliver-like passage dimly seen against the far wall. Paul, despite himself, couldn't help thinking about the physics. He followed after Conrad. Alex shuffled along as well.
......."All right," said Conrad. "Forget about flip-flops. Think about time-reversal."
.......Paul stopped. "Wait. Are you saying that if you time reverse an experiment, and the time-reversal makes sense, then it is not a measurement?"
......."Yes." Conrad continued walking. "I think so. I think that's what I think. If there's no arrow of time, then...." Conrad picked up his pace.
......."Where are you going?" asked Alex.
......."To look for another entrance."
......."Come on, Conrad," said Paul. "Let's sit down. Conserve strength and all that. We can talk physics." He plopped down on a smooth-topped calcite formation and indicated that Alex and Conrad do the same. Alex sat, but Conrad kept walking.
......."Hey, Conrad," said Alex. "Sit down. I thought you wanted to talk physics."
.......Conrad stopped for a moment, started to turn, then paused and continued walking toward the far passage. "Yes," he said, "I did. But I'm forgetting basic ideas. I remember saying things about them but I don't remember why."
......."Please, Conrad," said Alex. "I'd like to ask you about some physics stuff that bothers me."
.......Paul felt a new respect for the sophomore physics-major. Alex was certainly trying to help.
......."Look," Alex went on. "When it really comes down to it, I don't really even understand magnetism. How can a magnetic field go through a vacuum? It wouldn't really be a vacuum then."
.......Conrad stopped and looked back. "The world is more complicated than it seems."
......."Don't give me that," said Alex. "That's just using fancier words for 'I don't understand it'."
......."I understand it." Conrad sighed. "At least I did up until a few minutes ago." He turned and continued walking.
......."Sit down," said Paul. "It's just the effects of the concussion."
......."Maybe." Conrad quickened his pace. "But I don't want you to see me turn into an idiot. I don't want you to see me unable to do physics."
.......Alex started to get up, but Paul waved him to stay seated. They both watched as Conrad faded into the dark passage, his light flitting from wall to wall as he walked.
......."You shouldn't have let him go," said Alex when all hint of Conrad's light had disappeared.
......."How do you suggest I could have stopped him? He's not exactly the sort of person you can give orders to." Paul clenched a fist. And I'm not about to humiliate my friend.
.......Alex let out a sigh. "I guess." He looked at Paul. "But now that he's running on write-only memory, he could get lost."
.......Paul looked over at the far passage, too far away for his miner's lamp to pull it from the darkness. "This is a simple cave--pretty linear geometry."
.......He lifted his feet to rest on the formation and, knees bent, leaned forward and circled his legs with his arms. Looking down at his feet, he concentrated on the small disk of jittering brightness cast by his lamp. "But what I'm really worried about is that now we have only one light."
......."What'll we do," said Alex, his voice mirroring the jittery movements of Paul's beam.
......."Nothing. Just sit tight."
......."I can't." Alex moved his head erratically from side to side, as if he could actually see into the darkness. "I keep feeling the cave's going to collapse and crush me."
.......Paul forced a laugh. "Claustrophobia. This is your first cave. It's normal."
......."Yeah. Thanks a lot." Alex jumped to his feet and took a step or two forward, and then turned back "I can deal with the claustrophobia." He sat heavily on the rock. "But I can't stop thinking about what will happen if your light fails."
......."Yeah." Paul closed his eyes for a moment. "Worries me, too." He got slowly to his feet. "Okay, we've to go find Conrad. Hadn't realized till now how much I miss his light."
.......Alex stood, and Paul led the way towards the sliver-like cleft. "Besides," he said, "you're right. What else is there to do?"
.......At the fissure, Alex held back, apparently with second thoughts. "That's really narrow," he said. "What if we get stuck?"
......."It widens out after a couple of meters, but then there's a crawlway." Paul slid sideways into the passage. "And the secret of a crawlway is to keep your arms at your side and inch forward by pushing with your toes."
......."I'm not sure I like this," said Alex, as he too slid into the fissure.
......."Wait till you see the view at the other end." Paul grimaced. That was a really lame thing to say.
.......The passage ended at a nearly circular, but very small opening at ground level. Paul dropped to the muddy floor. "Now for this little wormhole," he said as he wiggled into the opening.
......."It won't take us to another universe, I hope," said Alex from behind. "You know, this is sort of spooky. What if we get stuck?"
......."Unlikely. If I do, you can squirm up close to me and I'll be able to push forward against your hard hat."
......."What if I get stuck?"
......."You're thinner than I am." Paul panted from the exertion. "But yeah. This isn't exactly the Lincoln Tunnel. Anyway, if you can take full breaths of air, you can be sure you won't get stuck." He inched forward, digging in with the toes of his boots and pushing ahead. "It's only when a passage gets so narrow you have to take shallow breaths that things start to get dicey. Hard to talk in those passages. Makes you feel really alone."
......."I don't like this," said Alex.
......."You're doing fine," said Paul. "We're at the narrowest point now, and you're still talking."
.......The wormhole ended at a large chamber. Paul and Alex clambered out and stood.
.......Sweeping with his miner's lamp, Paul saw irregular, translucent columns of pale green and pink: calcite cave formations some two meters thick. Water trickled down from the ceiling, sparkling in the beam of his lamp. Icicle-like stalactites hung from the cave roof, their colors ranging from milky whites to greens to pale blues, with occasional sprinklings of pink. The walls were wet and water-carved, revealing striations that traced the history of the cave over thousands of years.
......."Pretty, isn't it?" said Paul.
......."Yeah." Alex gawked like a tourist. Then he rubbed a gloved hand across his forehead, leaving more mud on his brow than he'd removed. "But I think it would look a lot prettier to me if I didn't think I'd be gazing at it for the rest of my life."
.......Paul chuckled--forced, but still a chuckle.
......."Damn it, Paul." Alex pounded a fist against the cave wall. "Doesn't anything scare you?"
......."I try not to let it. Besides, what's the use?" Paul felt an instant of satisfaction. He'd been able to fool Alex; he'd been able to mask his panic.
.......Alex shrugged and shook his head.
......."I was scared shitless on my first caving trip, too," said Paul. "Afraid I'd panic and make an idiot of myself."
......."That's not what I'm scared about."
.......Alex absently snapped off a small stalactite and fiddled with it.
......."Don't do that," said Paul. "Got to protect the cave for the next visitors."
.......Alex laughed, his voice echoing hollow in the hard-walled chamber. "Yeah. Next visitors."
......."We'll be okay," said Paul. "We may be in the cave for a while, but we'll be okay." He pointed toward the rear of the chamber. "Come on. Let's find Conrad."
.......Two openings, close together and fissure-like, pierced the back wall. Paul stood a few meters in front and gazed at them.
......."Are you wondering which way Conrad went?" said Alex.
......."It doesn't matter." Paul shook his head. "They both go to the same chamber. I was just thinking; it's like a two-slit experiment."
.......Alex laughed. "Yeah. If Conrad really has no memory anymore, then by his theory, he could have taken both paths."
.......Paul continued gazing at the fissures.
......."I'm joking," said Alex. "Please tell me you know I'm joking."
......."Yes. I know you're joking. I do not believe he went through both passages." Paul paused a second or two. "But..."
......."But what?" Alex stared, wide-eyed. "God, don't tell me you're losing it, too."
......."I was just thinking." Paul stroked his nose and stared at the clefts in the rock wall. "I was just thinking that our situation is sort of like the Schrödinger Cat paradox."
.......Alex looked up at the ceiling. "You are losing it."
......."In the Cat Paradox, the cat's neither alive nor dead until someone opens the door to the box--until someone makes a measurement."
......."I thought there was more to it than that," said Alex, "linear superposition of states or, or quantum events, or something like that."
......."Quantum events happen all the time," said Paul. "What makes the cat special is that it's in a box and cut off from the rest of the world."
......."I don't know why I'm humoring you," said Alex. "But are you saying that we're neither alive nor dead?"
......."Just speculating," said Paul. "In the multi-world quantum interpretation, being cut off could mean that we're not in any well-defined world."
......."You're saying that we are the cat?"
......."Just a thought." Paul shrugged. "Conrad believes that only memory or the act of being observed keeps a system in one world."
......."I know what world I live in.," said Alex. "I have memory."
......."Yeah," said Paul. "But maybe Conrad doesn't. Now, maybe there are multiple Conrads flitting between multiple worlds." Paul kicked at a small rock, barely snapping it free from the centimeter-thick layer of mud. "But since our wave-functions interact, we're probably forcing our Conrad to stay in our universe."
......."Okay, okay," said Alex. "This is starting to weird me out. Let's go find Conrad." He walked to the left fissure and waited; Paul had to take lead; he had the only source of light.
.......Paul scuttled sideways into the opening. "This is roomier than the last one."
.......Alex followed. "Roomy? I'd feel better if I could just walk, one foot in front of another. "Hey," he cried out. "Something flew by my head."
......."A bat, probably." Paul swung his head around, hitting his helmet against the wall. His light went dead. "Damn." He flipped the switch a few times, but the lamp stayed dark. "God damn."
......."What happened?" Alex called out.
......."Slammed the light and it went off."
......."I can see that." Alex's voice sounded sarcastic and nervous at the same time. "Turn it on."
......."I'm trying." Paul tried working the switch--pushing the toggle forward and back, up and down.
......."I can't hear you. I can't see you."
.......Paul, still fiddling with the switch, didn't answer.
......."This is sort of scary," said Alex.
.......Paul, by feel, tried to disassemble the lamp.
......."Paul," said Alex with a tremor in his voice. "Are you there?"
......."Of course I'm here. Where else would I be?"
......."Aren't you a little scared?"
......."Sheesh," said Paul. "Well. I'm not exactly thrilled about the situation." He got the lamp apart, but he dropped a battery and even if he could have seen it, he had no room to bend down and pick it up. Damn it to hell.
......."What?" Paul turned his frustration from the lamp to Alex. "We can't keep playing Marco Polo forever, you know."
......."That's a good idea," said Alex. "Do you mind? I get nervous not knowing you're there. So, if I say 'Marco', you say 'Polo'. I'll do the same for you. Humor me, okay?"
.......Paul shrugged in the darkness and his shoulders hit the sides of the fissure. "Yeah, fine. Polo."
......."But," said Paul, "can't you hear my breathing?"
......."Yeah, and I hear your slithering along the rocks. But, well...."
......."But it's kind of creepy." Alex laughed, but it didn't sound like he'd found anything funny. "And I'm never really sure it's you."
.......Paul shook his head as he reassembled the now thoroughly useless lamp. He put his hard-hat back on.
......."What do we do now?" said Alex.
......."Keep going. We've got to get out of this passage and find Conrad--and fast." He started scrambling through the passage. "If Conrad were to come back looking for us and if he went through the other passage, we'd really be up the creek."
.......Paul, despite all his experience spelunking, began to feel that the walls were slowly shifting--that they were coming together. He wrinkled his nose in the darkness; after all the times he'd gone caving, only now did he realize how he hated the acrid smell of wet calcite.
.......Bumping his knees and twisting his ankles as he went, Paul rushed forward.
......."Polo," said Paul, strangely relieved at the sound of Alex's voice.
.......After a minute or so of strenuous scrambling, Paul said. "Alex. Are you there?"
......."Yeah. Of course I'm here. Where else would I be?" said Alex, repeating Paul's words with some added measure of sarcasm.
......."I just wanted to make sure you were okay," said Paul.
......."No. You were just too proud to say 'Marco'."
......."Do you think Conrad's right when he says that without mass, space becomes undefined?"
......."Yeah, could be." Paul wondered if Alex was actually interested in physics at the moment, or just using it as a variant of 'Marco'.
......."Even though Einstein says it becomes flat?"
.......Paul laughed. "Einstein didn't believe in quantum mechanics."
......."What about this multi-world stuff. Is this really possible?"
......."It's a real theory. In fact, some people say we're always flitting between these parallel universes--but no one notices because they're all extremely similar."
......."But Conrad thinks that without memory to hold us, we could wind up in a very different universe."
......."You'll have to ask Conrad about that." Paul hurried forward and suddenly tumbled out of the crevice. "Watch it, Alex," he said. "We've come to the end of the fissure. I'm in a big chamber now."
......."Yeah," said Alex. "I can tell by your voice."
.......Paul heard him come through and stumble. "You okay?"
......."Yeah. Now what? Oh my god."
......."What's the matter?"
......."Look hard over to the rear," said Alex. "Gosh, I can't even describe where to look in this damn blackness."
......."What are you talking about? It's not as if there's anything to see."
......."But there is." Alex virtually squeaked in excitement. "At least I think there is."
.......Paul quickly scanned across 180 degrees. "Probably just the effect of darkness, your brain trying to supply light."
......."Oh." Alex sounded crestfallen. For a half-minute or so, neither spoke, but then Alex said, "Paul, try to see it. I think it's real."
.......Paul did try.
......."Well?" said Alex.
......."Maybe, but I'm sure it's a mental glitch. Hey." Paul felt a hand touch his back and then feel its way down to his arm.
......."I'm going to point your arm to where I think I see it," said Alex.
.......Paul let his arm be directed, and then he gasped. His arm was pointing about twenty degrees upward and in the direction of his own perception of the light.
......."It might be real," said Paul. "Come on. Let's check it out. But don't get your hopes up. It might be cave fluorescence. Never seen that in this cave, but I've never been fully dark-adapted before either." Paul hurried as fast as darkness would permit. "Marco," called Alex from behind.
......."I slammed into the wall. Oh my gosh. It's coming in from a side passage and it's real. Must be Conrad." He waited until Alex bumped into him and then shouted, "Conrad. We're over here." He spoke to Alex. "Come on. Let's go meet him. Light has never looked so good."
......."Conrad," shouted Alex from behind.
.......They scrambled toward the light.
......."Why doesn't he answer?" said Alex.
......."And why isn't the light flickering?" said Paul. "I hope he's not unconscious."
.......Then they heard a distant shout. "Paul, Alex. Over here."
.......Paul jerked his head around to a point downward and about thirty degrees off to the left of the light. He saw another light, this one flickering. He stopped and Alex banged into him.
......."If that's Conrad," said Alex, "then the other light's coming from another entrance."
.......Paul called out, "Conrad we're coming."
......."No. Stay where you are," came Conrad's voice. And he sounded his usual, confident self. "I'll come over and guide you to the entrance."
......."Okay," Paul shouted back. He spoke softly then, almost under his breath. "I can't believe there's really another entrance."
.......Alex laughed, a laugh of relief. "It's because of that entrance we're alive."
......."You know," said Paul, his voice tentative. "Maybe not. Maybe because we're alive, there is an exit."
......."I don't know what you're talking about."
......."Yeah," said Paul, as Conrad came into distance, "I'm not sure I know what I'm talking about either. Just some multi-world stuff."
......."Your light failed?" said Conrad as he came up.
......."Yeah," said Alex. "Boy are we happy to see you, and I mean, happy, and I mean, see."
.......Conrad laughed. "Come on. Let's get out of here. You've probably had enough cave for your first time." He turned to Paul. "I've got my memory back--all of it, I think."
......."Great," said Paul, clapping Conrad on the back. "Concussions can be serious."
.......Paul knew that some of his cheerfulness was play-acting; he was thrilled to be rescued, of course, but he couldn't shake the feeling that, in some manner, his brain had let him down. "By the way," he said with a studied nonchalance. "How did you find the entrance?"
......."It's where it always was. I'm a little surprised you don't remember it." Conrad turned and strode toward the diffuse light in the distance.
.......Alex ran to follow, leaving Paul to bring up the rear.
.......Presently, they turned a bend in the passage and some thirty meters ahead, saw daylight filtering through a dense green mass of shrubs and scraggly ground vines. Paul noticed that the vines were adorned with thorns.
......."Not the entrance of choice," said Conrad, "but it works."
.......Alex rushed forward, and head down, using his hard hat as a shield, burst through the tangle of greenery. The thorns ripped into Alex's high-tech, microfiber caving coveralls, but he didn't seem to notice.
.......Paul, taking advantage of the hole Alex had cleared with his body, darted through.
.......While Conrad more carefully made his way out of the cave, Paul tried to get his bearings. Squinting in the dizzying sun-bleached brilliance, he looked over the terrain; they weren't actually very far from the original entrance. Paul stood basking in the familiar--the green, sunlit, craggy hills of upstate New York. He could see Conrad's SUV parked just off the road and could even see the rubber rat Conrad used as a dashboard ornament. And Quantum, Conrad's Belgian Shepherd, leash tied to a door handle, was sleeping, stretched-out, in the shadow of the car.
.......Conrad came up from behind. "Okay, let's go home." He jogged lightly toward the van.
......."I'm sorry I acted like a kid back there," said Alex, standing beside Paul.
......."Not to worry," said Paul, still taking in the scenery. "Lot of people, when they go through their first wild cave, feel very vulnerable--like little kids. Besides, we're physicists. We're supposed to act like kids."
.......Paul, at a walk, started down after Conrad, stopping every so often to swat at a mosquito. After hours in the perpetual fifteen degree Celsius coolness of the cave, the summer heat felt oppressive and the humidity trapped in his cave-coveralls quickly turned to sweat.
.......As Paul and Alex came up to the car, Quantum, who'd been jumping about happily and licking mud off Conrad's face, bared his teeth and growled.
......."Hey." Conrad knelt in front of his dog. "Quant, boy. These are old friends." He looked over his shoulder. "Don't know what's gotten into him. He probably blames you for him being tied up here for all this time." Conrad stood. "Or maybe he knows that we're taking him to the Quantum Mechanic."
......."You mean the vet?" said Alex.
......."Maybe you guys better ride in the back and let Quantum sit up front with me."
......."Yeah, fine," said Paul. He glanced at Conrad's improvised head-bandage. "You could use some mechanic work as well."
......."Naa. I'm okay." Conrad gingerly touched his scalp. "Well, maybe if I bark a few times, the vet might take me after he finishes with Quant."
.......The three cavers stripped out of their mud-encrusted coveralls, dry-washed their faces, and packed what little gear they had left into their duffels.
......."Too bad about losing our drag-pack," said Conrad.
......."Better than losing our lives," said Alex.
.......While Conrad untied Quantum's leash from a rear door handle, Paul keyed in the car-lock combination. But the door didn't open.
......."Hey, Conrad. Did you change your combination?"
......."No. It's still Pi to five significant figures."
......."I keyed in 31415, and it doesn't work," said Paul.
......."It's 31416. Rounded."
......."But you always truncated it."
......."No I didn't." Conrad reached forward and keyed in the combination. "Maybe, the cave-slide shook you up more than you're letting on."
.......The doors opened. Conrad plopped down in the driver's seat and Quantum jumped in and over him, settling himself in the front passenger seat. Paul and Alex took the back.
.......Conrad started the engine. Because of the van's noisy muffler, conversation was difficult.
.......As they drove off, Paul stared out the window and couldn't shake the feeling that he was looking at familiar scenery from unfamiliar vangles.
......."Well, Alex," Conrad shouted over the muffler roar, "you've just survived your first caving trip. Did you learn anything?"
.......Alex laughed. "Yeah. A lot of physics."
......."Oh? Like what?"
......."Well," said Alex, loudly. "In the absence of mass, space becomes undefined."
......."What?" Conrad looked in the rear view window. "That's nonsense. Space becomes flat."
.......Alex and Paul exchanged glances.
......."What do you mean?" Paul asked the image in the window.
......."Einstein was convinced of it and since last week's Felixhaugen lecture, I am too." Conrad shook his head. "Boy, that Felixhaugen is really sharp." He locked eyes with Paul. "I saw you come late to the talk. What did you think of it?"
......."What the hell are you talking about?" Paul spoke more loudly than he needed to. "And who the hell is Felixhaugen?" He stared wildly at the rear view mirror; Conrad stared back and there was no doubting the worry on his face.
......."I wonder," said Conrad, "if perhaps now you've lost your memory."
.......Alex leaned over and whispered into Paul's ear. "Something's wrong here. I'm scared."
......."Yeah," said Paul, softly, "maybe I'm scared, too."
.......Quantum jerked his head around and growled at them.
......."And Quant," said Paul, under his breath, "seems not to like cats."
Kevin took a deep breath and pushed open the door.
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/2π. "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?"
Sitting at a table in Snack Bar with Wolfgang and kids he didn't know, Kip fixed his attention on Dr. Linda Hopcroft. The parents were gone and Kip felt on his own now--independent, free to make most of his own decisions. It felt exciting but also frightening. This isn't camp. This is important.
He more watched than listened as Linda Hopcroft paced the front of the room. She'd gotten all the kids to introduce themselves and then she'd given an orientation talk about the school. With her luxurious brown hair, pale blue eyes under long lashes, white skin and a cute nose, she was beautiful.
She went on to explain that roughhousing in the subdorms wasn't allowed, nor was throwing water balloons out the window. She also explained why no one was allowed to receive money from home; ESAP would give each kid an allowance every week--so he could buy things in the Amdexter school store, or buy un-healthy food at Snack Bar. And if a kid needed to be punished, his allowance could be docked. Kip wrinkled his nose, realizing why his parents had sent him off to school without any pocket money--so he wouldn't be above the law.
"Your physics and math classes will be taught by me or by...." Linda Hopcroft stopped pacing. "What should I call him?" she said softly, as if to herself.
"Dr. Ralph?" one of the kids called out.
She chuckled. "Yes. Dr. Ralph. And I guess that makes me Dr. Linda." She pointed at the boy. "You're who, again?"
"Charles, then," she said. "Come up to the front of the room. We're going to do an experiment."
The boy looked around with a nervous smile.
"Don't worry," said Dr. Linda with a laugh. "I assure you, no boy will be hurt in the performance of this experiment."
As Charles came forward, Dr. Linda said, "Everything in physics is probability." Then, with an exaggerated air of mystery, she pulled a deck of card from her jacket pocket. She shook the deck from its box while looking toward the door as if afraid someone would burst through it. "Cards are forbidden at Amdexter," she said at a whisper. She turned to Charles and held forward the deck in her palm. "Okay then. What are the odds that the top card is a...two of diamonds?"
Charles stared at her as if he thought it was a trick question. "Are there any jokers?"
"Then it's one out of fifty-two."
"Excellent!" She picked another random kid. It was Wolfgang. After asking him his name, she again turned to Charles. "Now put your hands over your ears, turn around, and pretend you can't hear what we're saying."
Charles giggled and then did so.
Dr. Linda showed the bottom card in the deck to Wolfgang. "It's a king," she said in a stage whisper. She had Charles uncover his ears and turn back around. "All right then," she said, looking at Wolfgang. "What are the odds that the top card is a two of diamonds?
"One out of fifty one," said Wolfgang, resolutely.
"But Charles says it's one out of fifty-two." She turned to the other boys. "Who's right? Wolfgang or Charles?" She asked for a show of hands and, if voting could determine right or wrong, Wolfgang was overwhelmingly right.
"But," said Dr. Linda, "What if nobody saw Wolfgang look at the bottom card and what if Wolfgang fell asleep in class before telling anyone? Who's right then?" Before giving the kids a chance to answer, she went on. "Okay. That's enough for now. You can go off to your subdorms now and unpack and fight over who gets the top bunks."
"Wait a minute," said Charles. "Aren't you going to tell us the answer?"
"No," she said with a shake of her head. "In fact, I'm not going to tell you if there even is an answer. I want you to think about it." While the kids exchanged puzzled glances, she went to the door. "We'll have more of these little gedanken sessions from time to time. Just watch for the words gedanken today on the blackboard." She put her hand on the door handle. "Oh, wait! I forgot. Are any of you guys allergic to cats--or just don't like them?"
Again, the boys exchanged puzzled glances. But none of them objected to cats.
"Good," said Dr. Linda after a few seconds. "Ralph...Dr. Ralph and I are also your dorm parents. And Paradox, our cat, likes to wander at night. If you leave a door open, he might just wander in and go to sleep on your bed."
"Awesome!" said Kip.
"Oh, I get it," said Wolfgang. "Schrödinger's cat, Paradox."
"I'm impressed." Dr. Linda pulled the handle and held open the door. "All right, then. Off to your subdorms now."
As the boys stood and started for the door, Dr. Linda held up her hand. "Remember," she said. "You are Feynman School boys, but you're Amdexter boys as well."
"So?" said Charles.
"So, since most of your classes are over there, you should go to all the Amdexter orientation activities tomorrow. Get to know the kids. Sign up for sports and clubs. Arrange for music lessons if you want."
"What about the convocation in the chapel?" said Kip. "Do we have to go to that?"
Dr. Linda took a few seconds before answering. "You ESAP kids are excused from chapel. But...but tomorrow, it might be good if you went." She paused a few seconds more. "Tomorrow it'll be more of a school ritual than a religious activity."
The parents, when they'd arrived, had ferried luggage from the parking lot to the dorm storage room. Now the boys took the footpath from the classroom building to the dorm and then, carrying their luggage, trudged up a flight of stairs to their subdorms. No one took the tiny elevator. For Kip, it would have been a sign of weakness.
The second floor was divided into ten subdorms surrounding a common area. Each subdorm, a residence for four boys, had its own door, but no lock; there was privacy, but not too much of it. At one end of the dorm commons, there was a door with a lock--the entrance to the dorm parents' apartment. At the opposite end were the shower room and lavatories.
As Kip and Wolfgang struggled under their baggage, Wolfgang said, "I think the correct odds are one out of fifty-one."
"I don't know," said Kip. "What if Melvin the Martian had zapped us to sleep and then looked at the top card and saw it was an ace and then went away in his space ship. And then we woke up without knowing anything had happened. And...and then his spaceship exploded into a zillion bits. Are the odds zero because Melvin knew what the card was?"
"Well...." Wolfgang slowed his pace. "I don't know." He stopped in front of the door marked eight. "Maybe.... Maybe the odds are different for different people."
Kip giggled. "That would be odd."
"Hey," said Wolfgang as he opened the door. "This is a pretty nice place."
"Yeah," said Kip. "And it smells nice, too--like new car smell."
"My dad says you can buy new car smell in a spray can,"
Kip followed Wolfgang inside.
The subdorm had two bunk beds and four small desks, each with its own bookcase and lamp and padded rolling chair. The subdorm also had a sofa and a round table--a smaller version of the tables in Snack Bar. And there was a window overlooking the Dalambertian. From it, Kip could see across the quad to the Amdexter dorm.
They chose their beds: Wolfgang took a lower, and Kip took the other bunk's upper. Kip claimed a desk, took a small clock radio from his luggage and set it on the desk. As Wolfgang started to unpack, Kip set the time, hunted for and found a classical music station, and started to set the alarm. "Do you know what time do we get up in the morning?"
"7:20, but you don't need an alarm." Wolfgang pointed to a small speaker in the corner of the ceiling. "A chime's supposed to go off to wake us up."
"I'd rather wake to music." Kip set the alarm to 7:19. "And of course, there's the Beethoven rule."
"It says that I'm allowed to be late for breakfast or even for school if the clock radio comes on with a Beethoven symphony. I love Beethoven's symphonies."
Wolfgang laughed. "Who created that...rule?"
"I did." Kip shrugged. "Unfortunately, my old school didn't recognize it. My mom wasn't exactly thrilled by it either, but my dad says it's an eminently reasonable rule to live by." Kip idly pulled open the desk's top drawer, and laughed.
"What's the matter?"
"There's a deck of cards in here." Kip pulled out the deck. "If we don't learn enough physics to become physicists, I guess we'll learn enough probability to be good poker players."
Kip glanced at Wolfgang. "I wonder what this gedanken stuff is all about."
"Gedanken means thought in German."
"Oh." Kip tossed the deck back into the drawer, then unpacked his laptop and centered it on his desk. While Wolfgang took books from his luggage and meticulously arranged them in his bookcase, Kip turned on his computer and went to the ESAP webpage. "Oh, good," he said. "There're instructions on how to set up our school e-mail accounts."
"You know," said Wolfgang, "I think I'm going to like it here."
"Me, too." Kip made a face. "If only we didn't have to take Latin."
Wolfgang laughed. "My dad says it's good for you. He says it builds character."
Just then there was a knock at the door. "May I come in," came Dr. Ralph's voice.
Wolfgang and Kip exchanged glances, then stood. "Yes, please," said Kip.
Dr. Ralph walked in and had a boy with him. Both of them carried luggage. "This is Paul Robinson," said Dr. Ralph. "Another roommate for you. Paul came by bus. And our school isn't exactly at the hub of the universe." He urged Paul inside, then set the baggage he carried down on the floor inside the door. "I had to drive to Georgetown to pick him up."
"Hi," said Paul shyly.
"Hi. I'm Kip."
Dr. Ralph said his goodbyes and started to leave. "Ah," he said, stopping and turning around. "Paul, I'm afraid I'll have to confiscate your cell phone," he said. "School rules."
"Not to worry," said Dr. Ralph. "Free phone calls home are part of the deal. You can call from here or from a private phone booth in Snack Bar."
Paul visibly relaxed.
"Where's the fourth kid?" said Wolfgang, abruptly.
"What? Oh. Subdorm-8 has only three."
"Only eight subdorms, then," said Paul. "Eight times four minus one. It's like, thirty-one kids, total?"
Dr. Ralph nodded, then said he'd let everyone get acquainted, and then left.
Paul was friendly and open, and easy to make friends with. The three chatted as Kip set up his e-mail account and Wolfgang sorted out his library. Paul chose his desk, claimed the other upper bunk and began to unpack.
While waiting impatiently for his e-mail client to configure, Kip's eyes sought out motion--Paul's unpacking. Kip wasn't from a wealthy home; his parents always talked about money when they thought he wasn't listening. But Paul clearly was even less well off. His school clothes were clean and new, of course; the school paid for all that. But his casual clothes were sort of shabby and his laptop was from the stone age.
Kip heard a beep and snapped his eyes to his computer screen. "Hey!" he said in surprise. "I've already got mail."
"Spam?" said Paul, looking over from his desk.
Kip read aloud the subject line. "The DEX. The weekly e-mail voice of Amdexter School."
"Spam," said Paul.
Kip opened the message. "It starts with a welcome from the headmaster."
Wolfgang glanced up from his unpacking. "Ours or theirs?"
"Theirs," said Kip. "Ours is called the Chief Teacher." He turned to Paul. "But we call him Dr. Ralph."
"At the party," said Wolfgang as he shelved his final book, "Dr. Ralph he told my parents he doesn't like Chief Teacher. He'd rather be called Chief Scientist. He said he thinks all of us kids are sort of junior scientists."
"I like that," said Kip. "Chief Scientist. That's what I'm going to call him, then."
"Me, too," said Wolfgang.
"Yeah. Fine with me." Paul leaned back and put his feet up on his desk. "Well," he said, "does the headmaster have, like, anything interesting to say?"
"He says:"--Kip scrolled the message to the top of the screen--"As we begin a new academic year at the Amdexter School, I welcome most warmly the new and returning boys, and also their teachers and the staff. Blah blah blah." Kip scanned for content. "Ah, here we go.... Further, I extend a special welcome to the boys, teachers and staff of The Feynman Elementary School for Advanced Physics."
"Thank you. Thank you," said Wolfgang.
Kip went on. "You could scarcely fail to notice the three buildings on the site of the old soccer fields. These buildings comprise the Feynman School. Why, you may ask, are these buildings a separate school? Well you may ask. The Feynman School's Chief Teacher--"
"Chief scientist, he means," said Paul.
Kip chuckled. "The Feynman School's chief scientist, Dr. Ralph Hopcroft, told me that some of the ideas in modern physics are so strange, that even the best physicists cannot truly comprehend them. However, the physicist, Richard Feynman, thought that if children were exposed early to the concepts of theoretical physics, they might grow up having no problems at all with those concepts. Dr. Linda Hopcroft, also a teacher at the Feynman School, went on to say that an anonymous benefactor, a physicist who made a fortune in Silicon Valley, wondered if this would indeed be the case."
"A physicist making money," said Wolfgang. "A strange concept."
Kip glanced at Wolfgang and read on. "It happened then, that this benefactor decided to found a school to test the idea. But, not wanting to re-invent the wheel, he chose to ally his school with an established and prestigious institution. I am happy to report that he chose our Amdexter School."
"Prestigious?" said Wolfgang.
"Another word for snotty," said Paul. "Snotty, imitation British."
"The Feynman Elementary School for Advanced Physics," Kip went on in an exaggerated British accent, "which we'll call the F-School for short, will provide its students, all third-formers, with mathematics and physics instruction. The Amdexter School, the A-School, will provide all the rest."
"I don't like that," said Paul. "A-School and F-School. Makes it sound like we're retards."
"And third form," said Wolfgang. "Why couldn't they just say sixth grade?"
Kip dropped the accent and read more. "The F-School boys wear the same uniforms as the A-School, except for the emblem on their school-caps and that they wear grey shorts rather than our brown. The F-Schoolers will partake in almost all of the activities and traditions of the A-School. In virtually all regards, they are no different than A-School boys. Now, I'm sure you're curious about our carousel."
"Their carousel!" said Wolfgang. "I thought it was our carousel."
"It is our carousel," said Paul. "Dr. Hopcroft...I mean Dr. Ralph, said so."
Kip read on. "When the Bridge Point Amusement Park closed down, the..."--Kip stumbled over the following word--"aforementioned...anonymous benefactor bought the carousel, one of the very few in the country still running, and had it moved here. In addition to providing a source of enjoyment, the carousel will also be used as a teaching aid for the F-School boys." Kip hurried toward the end. "Blah, blah, Next year Amdexter boys will also take math and physics classes at the F-School. Babble babble babble. I'm sorry about the loss of the soccer and baseball fields and the bleachers. Soccer will now be played on the far playing field as soon as we can get, babble babble. I wish all of you the best of success. Babble babble."
Kip looked up from the screen. "That's all." He left his laptop on, but abandoned it to do his own unpacking. Gradually, the conversation turned to how they'd fit in at the Amdexter School.
"I hope it won't be like my old school," said Wolfgang, "where everyone was sort of dumb and talked about baseball all the time."
"I like baseball," said Paul in a voice both defensive and hurt. "I like it a lot."
After a few seconds of silence, Kip said, "My father's a baseball nut." Kip laughed, sort of on purpose. "He says it's a communicable disease and he can't understand how I didn't catch it."
"Is that how you caught it, Paul," said Wolfgang, "from your dad?"
Paul looked down at his hands. "I don't remember my dad. Mom, like, divorced him when I was little."
"Gee, that's really sad," said Wolfgang.
"Last year," said Paul, "during the World Series, I was going down the street and there were these men looking in a store window. A TV was showing one of the games. And there was a speaker over the door so you could hear it. Well, as I walked by, there was a double play and the men got really excited. One of them saw me and asked if I thought the third base runner was really out. I guess he thought that since I was a kid, I had to be crazy about baseball. Back then I didn't know anything about baseball. But I pretended I did. The man...all of the men talked to me as if I really mattered." He paused a few seconds. "And then...and then I got really interested in baseball."
"Well, catch this!" said Wolfgang as he lobbed a rolled up pair of socks in a high arc that grazed the ceiling.
Paul fielded it almost without looking at it. "There are a lot of numbers in baseball," he said. "Defensive and offensive statistics. Pitching stats. James tracking stuff. I like memorizing numbers. One of my hobbies is memorizing things."
"Wolfgang memorizes star names," said Kip. "He knows the names of most of the stars in the sky."
"I know the names of all of them," said Paul. "All the real names. Not the stars with only Greek letters or numbers."
"Is one of your hobbies astronomy?" said Wolfgang in an eager voice.
"No. I just like to memorize stuff."
"Why?" said Kip.
"In third grade," said Paul, speaking with the easy familiarity that comes of being roommates, "there was a motto over my school's assembly hall. Knowledge is Power. I saw that motto every day."--Paul tossed the socks back to Wolfgang--"Well, we weren't rich like a lot of the kids in my school. All I had was that people said I was smart. I thought the only way I'd ever get stuff was, like, by the power of knowledge. So I wanted to learn everything."
"So that's why you memorize stuff," said Wolfgang.
"Knowledge is power," said Paul. "Once in science class, the teacher put a formula on the board and plugged in numbers. There were a couple of multiplications raised to a power. He reached for a calculator but before he keyed it, I told him the approximate answer. He looked at me, like, funny. Then he used his calculator and then asked me how I did that."
Kip nodded to show he was listening.
"I told him I'd memorized a log table. You should have seen the look he gave me. I saw him mouthing 'you memorized a log table'. Yeah, I really impressed him.
"Impressive." Kip glanced at Wolfgang. "You may have to give up your king of the geeks card."
Wolfgang looked startled. Then he laughed. "Actually I do have a geek card." He extracted a wallet from his pants pocket. "At least that what my dad calls it." He took small, glossy, white card from his wallet and extended it toward Kip. "I've put everything important on this."
"Everything?" said Kip in an amused voice as he took the card.
"I printed small with a micropoint pen."
Kip scanned the tiny engraving-like numbers and formulas. "Geez!"
Paul pulled the card from Kip's hand, peered at it for a few seconds, then with a look of disdain, passed it back to Wolfgang. "I've already memorized most of this stuff."
"Pi to sixty places?" said Wolfgang.
"To a hundred."
A soft chime rang through the dorm. "Lights out in fifteen minutes," a voice called out.
"Geez!" said Kip, checking his watch. "It's only nine-fifteen!"
"At home," said Wolfgang, "my bedtime is nine."
"That's a cool watch," said Paul.
"A consolation present for me coming to ESAP." Kip held up his arm so Paul could ogle the timepiece.
"My consolation present is going to be a night vision scope," said Wolfgang.
"For spying on people?" said Paul.
"No. Of course not." Wolfgang sounded offended. "It's for astronomy. If you look at the night sky with a night vision scope, you see a zillion stars. It's like carrying around a really big telescope." He turned to Kip. "I've wanted a night vision scope for almost forever."
The boys got ready for bed and when lights out came, got into their bunks.
"It's dark," said Paul, softly.
"Often is at night," said Kip.
"I mean," said Paul, "like at home, when I went to bed, I could always see light under the door."
Suddenly, a circle of light hit the ceiling. The beam came from Wolfgang's bunk.
"Hey," said Kip. "You brought a flashlight."
"Yeah," said Wolfgang. "My dad said I'd packed the way I would for a long camping trip."
"Scout knife, compass, and flashlight?" said Kip as he reached into the little compartment at the head of his bunk.
Wolgang laughed. "Exactly."
"Me, too!" Kip pulled out his flashlight and switched it on. "Vuzh!" He engaged Wolfgang's beam and the two of them fought a battle of light on the ceiling.
A third light, Paul's, joined the fray. "Take that!"
After a minute or so of lights and sound-effects, Kip said, "But I didn't pack extra batteries." He switched off his light. "I surrender!"
Paul switched off his flashlight as well, leaving Wolfgang's light in sole possession of the ceiling.
"When I was little," said Wolfgang, playing his fingers over the beam, "I used to be afraid of the dark--because of the monsters. So my parents let me go to sleep with a night-light on." He paused. "And after that, I used to be afraid when there was a light on in my bedroom when I went to sleep." He switched off his flashlight. "I got the idea that there were monsters outside in the dark looking in at me, and I couldn't see them." Nobody said anything, and Wolfgang went on. "And after that, I started to like the dark. In the dark, the monsters wouldn't see me when they looked in the window. I liked looking out when I was in the dark. And then I discovered astronomy."
"And then there were no more monsters," said Kip, sleepily.
"No," said Wolfgang. "Not at home. I don't know about here."
Kip laughed, but Paul said "What do you mean?"
"Well.... Big crowds of people sort of scare me. I don't like the way bunches of people behave when they're all together. Sometimes I think a big crowd of people is a monster."
"I think drunk people are monsters," said Paul, softly.
"Zombies," said Kip.
"Well," said Wolfgang, punctuating the word with a squeak from his bunk as he rolled over. "Good night, guys."
They said their good-nights.
After a minute or so, Kip spoke into the darkness. "Is it okay if I leave the door open a little?"
"Why?" said Paul. "For the light? It's dark out there, too."
"So Paradox can come in if he wants to."
Like a horse, Alex Griffin breathed in the sharp smell of freshly mowed grass through angry flared nostrils. Far into the meadow, his back to the school, he stood motionless with one hand balled into a fist and the other clasping a spiral-bound sketchpad like a shield of individuality against his new world of cookie-cutter uniformity. His eyes cast down, he saw his brown shoes, brown shorts and dark green blazer; he looked like a tree with knees.
Even though alone on an open meadow, he felt trapped. He wanted to run away, but there was nowhere to run. Then, looking up, he saw that he wasn't even entirely alone; a man in a golf cart was going around placing flag-sticks into holes-transforming the pristine field into a golf course. He hated golf, and his dad didn't like it either. His dad said that a golf course was just an underdeveloped cemetery.
A shadow passed over the meadow. Alex raised his gaze yet higher and saw big dark clouds galloping across the sky. He felt a thrill of danger, imagining that a storm might come and he could be struck by lightning and killed. His father would be sorry then. His father would really be sorry that he'd abandoned him at this horrible school. His dad had said it would be good for him; with superb teachers and not all that many kids, he'd get lots of personal attention and he'd learn to focus, learn to harness his rampant imagination. Alex shook his head in indignation. His dad had even laughed when the carousel organ played 'Alexander's Ragtime Band'. He said it was a good omen. Yeah, right! Alex bit his lip and vowed to do his very best not to learn anything at Amdexter School. But he knew the real reason he was here; his dad was just too disorganized now to take care of him.
When the golf cart had gone, Alex wandered over to one of the flag-sticks. It was shorter and thinner than he'd expected, different from those he'd seen on TV golf--when he was a baby and sat by his uncle who loved the game. Yuch! I'd almost rather watch nursing home commercials.
He yanked it from its cup and held it like a spear. It was no more than six feet long. But even with the heavy metal ferule at the end that went in the cup, it balanced well. Maybe on kids' golf courses, the sticks are shorter.
Against the distant background of wild tribal calliope music and the chaotic cries of the natives, he made a few passes at a rabid wild boar with foot-long tusks. Alexander Griffin, Bengal Lancer. He wondered what a Bengal was. A tiger, I think.
The distant carousel music stopped and Alex swiveled around. He saw the carousel's lights snap dark and kids streaming away from it toward Founders Hall. The party's over. Dinner time and despite himself, he was hungry. He returned his lance to the golf cup, then started trudging toward the school. When he reached the newly-deserted carousel he stopped, captivated by the sight of it looming forlorn against the unsettled sky.
While his father had been at the garden party, Alex had wanted to ride the carousel but didn't. He didn't want his father to think there was anything about the school he could possibly enjoy. But it did look like fun. It really would be fun riding it in a rainstorm. Alex peered at the horses. The shiny varnish and lacquer probably makes them waterproof. He glanced skyward. It didn't look like rain, after all.
Impulsively, Alex dropped to the grass and unclipped his ballpoint from the wire coil of his sketchpad. Flipping through the dense menagerie of animal drawings, he found a blank page. Sitting with his sketchpad resting on his knees, he stared analytically at the carousel. It was the largest one he'd ever seen. The horses, four abreast, looked bigger as well. The outer ring of horses was broken at opposite points by two bucket--like sleighs for small children. Sleighs with seatbelts. He let his gaze wander to the deep interior, to what looked like an octagonal lighthouse. At its summit, rafters splayed out supporting the peaked roof and the cranks that propelled the horses up and down. The lighthouse walls supported an array of small framed mirrors and there were gargoyles jutting out--looking especially menacing with the carousel lights off.
Alex sketched one of the horses. Quickly then, he sprang to his feet and padded toward the Big Quad, and then onward to Founders. He was hungry--and late. And what good would it do to get into trouble on his first day--especially if his father wasn't around to observe it?
He slipped through the Founders Refectory entrance and took a seat at the furthest bench. Someone, probably the headmaster, was speaking at the head of the hall. Alex placed his sketchpad on the table and listened--reluctantly. It didn't seem as if anyone would be able to get food until the guy finished talking. Alex was alone at his table. He didn't mind; he wasn't particularly in the mood for company. But sitting alone made him feel conspicuous; everyone would know he'd come in late.
Just then, another kid slid in beside Alex--another latecomer. The kid gazed at the headmaster with an expression of rapt attention. But then Alex noticed that the kid wore ear-buds and that there was a music player in his pocket.
The headmaster welcomed the kids to a new school year, introduced the new classics master, George Hogwood, the new social studies master, Neville Thomas, and the new chaplain, Brother Kenji Wakabayashi. Then he explained there were really two schools now.
As the man droned on, Alex scanned the dining hall and saw some benches with kids wearing grey shorts. For the most part, they looked bored. Eventually the headmaster finished up by saying there'd be another party at the carousel this evening at seven-thirty. And the carousel would be open for rides. "Casual Dress," he said, with a smile. "For you new boys, that means no school blazer and cap."
I guess I'll get a chance to ride it after all.
When the headmaster had returned to his seat at the head table, the other late kid took off his ear-buds. "Boy," he said at a loud whisper. "The guy's just as much as a windbag as he was last year." He stuffed the ear-buds into his pocket. "I'm Todd Liddell," he said in a voice suggesting he was an important kid in the school.
"I'm Alex Griffin."
"I'm a third form dormitory row-prefect," said Todd, pausing for a moment as if waiting for his words to register. Then he slid out and headed for the food service. Alex followed, piled his tray, and returned to his place. But Todd didn't come back. Looking around, Alex saw him palling around with kids at another table.
Alex ate his dinner in the anonymity provided by the clinking and clattering of dishes and cutlery. And with the added noise of a big room of boys talking and bantering, it would have taken an effort for someone to talk to Alex--and no one did. Lonely in the room filled with strangers, Alex scarfed down his dinner and skulked away.
The third floor of Amdexter was one big room with a shower room at one end and a house master's apartment at the other. A wide aisle down the middle separated the second form dorm from the third. Each of the dorms was divided into rows of six beds and locker-like closets. The closets were as wide as were the beds. On the left sides of the rows, the arrangement was bed, closet, bed, closet, bed, closet. And on the right side, closet, bed, closet, bed, closet, bed. The arrangement made each row a separate little enclave isolated from its neighbor. The central aisle was at one end and a window made up of six little panes was at the other. Painted black as they were, the wood strips separating the panes looked like bars. Looking through the window, Alex saw the Feynman School dorm across the Dalambertian, its windows glowing orange with the reflected light of the setting sun. He wiped a hand across his eyes. During the day, he could almost tolerate being away at school. But now, with night approaching, he longed to be at home. A wave of homesickness washed over him.
Alex turned his gaze onto his new home: bed and closet. His bed was the closest to the window. Under ordinary circumstances it would be his preferred location. But, although it afforded a small increase in privacy, it meant he would have to pass a gauntlet of bunks and kids whenever he needed to go in or out. Now, during the dinner break, the row was deserted.
Alex worked the combination lock on his closet, changed out of his un-casual clothes, put his sketchpad on the closet shelf, and then locked up again. He turned sharply and headed for the the stairs. Maybe the party would blot out his homesickness. In fact, maybe that was what the party was for.
Alex crossed the Dalambertian and made his way to the carousel. Clearly, he'd arrived too early; the place was nearly dead. He walked to two tables set a couple of feet apart which acted as an improvised gateway to the carousel. But the carousel hadn't yet been turned on. Alex stuck his hands in his pockets and let his nose lead him away toward good stuff.
There were tables and chairs for casual sitting around. And there were tables of punch, milk, cake, and cookies with a few masters overseeing them, but other than himself, no kids wandered around. And with the dark, motionless carousel looming over everything, it didn't feel much like a party. Then a master unlocked a metal box next to the carousel and threw a few switches. The carousel's lights came on, adding a multicolored brightness to the darkening sky. The music came on as well--circus music. Suddenly, it did feel like a party. Kids began to arrive. The lights and the music seemed to suck them from the dorms.
Under a master's direction, the kids queued at the gateway tables for rides. But they weren't big kids. The fourth and fifth form kids didn't seem interested. Alex thought they probably felt too old for it. They congregated mainly around the food.
When the queue had grown large enough that he wouldn't feel conspicuous, Alex joined the line. A few minutes later, he saw Todd in the company of two other kids. They swaggered toward the line and queued at the end of it. But whenever the master controlling the gate looked away, Todd and his cronies sneaked up a few places. Alex thought it was strange that none of the other kids on the line complained.
But the line went fast--it was a big carousel--and Alex got his ride. When his horse stopped, he dismounted, darted away to grab a snack, and then went through the line a few more times. Soon after, one of the masters held up his hand for silence. The music stopped, and the master sent all the second-formers up to their dorm to prepare for bed. He said the third-formers would have an additional forty-five minutes--except for the ESAP boys who would have just thirty minutes more. Since their party was the previous night, they had to go to bed at their normal hour. As for the forth and fifth-formers, they had another hour and fifteen minutes.
The bigger kids still seemed uninterested in rides so, with only third-formers riding, the gate became superfluous; anyone could ride whenever he wanted. Alex rode a few more times and afterwards he sat on the grass and watched the horses go by. He wished he'd brought his sketchbook.
Then he saw three kids coming towards the carousel. With laughter and horseplay, and with their pockets bulging with tennis balls, they mounted horses. The carousel ponderously spun into motion and the boys began tossing tennis balls back and forth--a game of catch on horseback. Some balls they caught while most spun off onto the grass. Alex jumped to his feet, picked one up--it was bright yellow with the letters ESAP marked in black--and pitched it to one of the kids. The kid caught it and, with a smile, pitched it back. For the rest of the ride, Alex both scooped up wayward balls and played catch with the three riders.
But the ride ended sooner than it should have; with a flip of a switch a master ended it.
"Please get off the carousel," he said. "What you're doing is dangerous. Someone could fall off and get hurt."
"But," said one of the kids, the one with brown, badly behaved hair, "that's what the carousel is for."
"Off, please," said the master.
"Okay, okay." The brown haired kid dismounted and jumped to the ground.
"You'll find," said the master as the other two boys joined the brown haired one, "that sir goes a long way at this school."
Alex, as he was a party to the tennis ball tossing, walked to stand beside the other three kids."
Yes, sir," said the brown haired kid.
"Jawohl," said the tall, thin, blond kid in a respectful tone of voice.
The master paused. He seemed to be deciding whether the boy was being insolent.
"Yes, sir," said the third kid, the smallest of the three.
The master let out a breath, nodded, and walked away.
The brown haired boy turned to Alex. "Hi," he said. "I'm Kip."
"I'm Alex." Alex handed his collection of retrieved tennis balls to the three kids, who stuffed them into their pockets.
The other two introduced themselves, and then Kip suggested cookies. They ambled toward the strong chocolate smell, then snagged paper plates of gooey chocolate cookies, paper cups of milk, straws and napkins--and then found a table. The straws by themselves were a mark of a special occasion; in the refectory, there were no straws. As the three ESAP boys sat, they tore off the ends of the straw wrappers and blew them at each other. Kip had taken two straws and so got off a second shot. Then Kip stuck the straws up his nose and blew bubbles in his milk.
Alex was impressed--not so, a passing master.
"That's disgusting," said the master. "Stop that at once."
"Yes, sir," said Kip, freeing his nostrils while the other boys giggled.
After finishing their snacks, the four boys wandered around together. They had an impromptu game of catch--the Paul kid was really good. Then, padding further from the carousel and its circus lights, Wolfgang pointed skyward and identified some of the brighter stars and told the stories about their constellations. They talked about animals--Alex was thrilled that Kip was also an animal nut. They went back for another carousel ride and more snacks, and by the time the announcement came that the ESAP boys had to return to their dorm, Alex felt he'd made three good friends.
"We've got to go," said Wolfgang.
Alex sighed. Even though he had fifteen more minutes of party time in front of him, he'd had enough. "Yeah, I may as well go back to my horrid dorm, too."
"Horrid?" said Kip as the four boys started walking. "Our dorm is really nice."
As they ambled down the central path in the Dalambertian, Paul described their dorm and then Alex described his.
"Boy," said Kip "I'm glad I'm not in your school."
Alex compressed his lips and stared straight ahead.
"Why did you come here?" said Wolfgang. "Amdexter, I mean."
Alex flushed. "I didn't come. I was sent." He felt a tide of sorrow wash over him. "My mom died and my dad didn't think he could take care of me."
"That's tough," said Kip.
As Alex trudged up the stairs to his dormitory, he felt his energy fall away at each step. When he reached the landing, he knew he was ready for bed. Under the covers, he could forget about this dumb school. And the party worked; he was too tired to feel homesick.
He'd hoped that, since he'd left the party early, he'd get back first and be alone in his dorm room. But that Todd kid was already there.
Todd, in the quiet dormitory, stood at his open locker arraying his merchandise. On a mid-level shelf, as if in a shop display case, he spread out candy bars, water guns, decks of cards, a few yo-yos, a couple of pairs of ear-buds, and assorted other kid stuff.
Hearing footsteps, he turned and saw that Alex twerp coming into the dorm row. The kid gave a ritual wave and started to squeeze by.
"Hey, wait!" Todd pointed to the shelf. "These are all for sale."
"Boy," said Alex, scanning the merchandise, "I didn't think water guns were even allowed here."
"They're not," said Todd. "But so what?"
Todd saw the glint of lust in Alex's eyes. "You like that gun, don't you?"
"It's awesome. But isn't selling them sort of risky?"
"Dad says successful entrepreneurs have to take risks."
"Your dad knows you're doing this?" said Alex.
Todd, seeing Alex's eyes widen, smiled inwardly. "Well, no. Not exactly." Todd gazed at Alex as an angler might look at a swimming fish. "But you like that water gun, don't you?"
"But what if a kid buys one and then gets busted. Wouldn't you get in trouble?"
"No." Todd raised his nose. "Amdexter kids don't rat." He sniggered. "They wouldn't dare! I'm a row prefect and my big brother's in the forth form." Todd could tell that Alex didn't like him. But who cares?
Alex looked up from the merchandise. "What's a row prefect?"
"It means I'm in charge here."
"What does it mean, in charge?"
Todd didn't like the kid's tone of voice. "It means that when you're here in dorm row 3E, you have to do what I tell you."
"And what if I don't?" said Alex in a voice filled with contempt.
"I can report you and you'll be punished." Todd's voice had a hard edge to it. This Alex kid had to be put in his place.
Todd quickly sized up the kid. Puny. No threat. "Or I could beat you up." Todd punctuated his threat by slamming closed his locker. "And nobody'll stop it because I'm a prefect."
"Way!" said Todd, sticking his nose in Alex's face.
"Eat worms, pig-face!" said Alex, holding his ground.
Todd balled a fist. He didn't tolerate anyone calling him names at school. I get enough of that at home. "Oh yeah!" Todd did a half-push, half-hit to Alex's shoulder.
Alex replied in kind, but pushed more energetically.
Todd lunged. Alex tried to dodge out of the way, but in the narrow confines of the dorm-row, he couldn't. Todd grabbed him and the two fell against a bunk and then ricocheted to the ground with Todd on top. Todd pummeled with his fists while Alex, on his back, kicked and thrashed ineffectively and tried to protect his head.
"Break it up," came a loud, deep voice. Then Todd felt himself pulled to his feet. He looked up and saw the House Master glaring at him.
The master then grabbed Alex roughly by the arm and drew him to his feet as well.
"All right," said the master, looking alternately at Todd and Alex. "What's this all about?"
"He called me a name," said Todd.
Alex looked down at his feet.
"Liddell." The master glowered at Todd. "You're a prefect this year. You should know better than to fight."
The master turned to Alex. "You're a new boy here, aren't you?"
"You mean yes, sir."
"Yes, sir," said Alex in a voice hardly above a whisper.
"And what is your name, please?"
"Well then," said the Master. "Name calling and fighting are unacceptable at Amdexter School. Seriously unacceptable! Do you understand me, Griffin?"
"Fine!" He stepped back, allowing his gaze to include both boys. "Each of you. 100 lines. From Hamlet. And blue ink, please."
"Yes sir," said Todd. Alex though, wrinkled his nose in obvious puzzlement.
"Collected works of Shakespeare," said the master. "There are multiple reference copies in the library. And the library also has blue ballpoints you can borrow."
Todd watched in contempt. Alex still looked clueless.
"Copying out lines from Shakespeare is a punishment," said the master. "Monday morning, before assembly, you must hand in all the lines you've been given during the week to the office." He took a step in toward Alex--as if understanding could be enhanced by proximity. "Do you understand?"
The master smiled. "Now, shake hands, please."
Todd didn't like the idea; it was just a normal, everyday fight, and a handshake seemed to elevate the matter to more importance than it deserved.
Todd and Alex glowered at each other while slowly extending hands. Todd moved his arm forward with great care, making sure his hand wasn't more advanced than was Alex's. The handshake itself was brief. Turning so the master couldn't see his face, Todd gave Alex a look of hate--to let the kid know that the handshake wasn't about to pave the way to a friendship, but was instead a declaration of war. I'll teach you not to get me into trouble.
"All right, then," said the master as he turned and walked away.
Todd watched him for a few seconds and then shifted his attention back to Alex. The kid was already at his bunk way over by the window.
Todd, burning with resentment over the punishment, glared ominously, but to no effect as Alex had his back to him.
The window caught Todd's attention. The trim of the little glass panes looked like prison bars. He imagined his father on the other side of them--unable to get in. Todd felt his lips tighten and stretch over his teeth. Then, across the quad, he noticed the lights from the ESAP dorm. An idea slowly began to form. Maybe he could turn this lines punishment to an advantage. Todd felt the edge of his lips raise to a grim smile. 'Seize the opportunity', his father had always said. Okay. Fine. I'll seize the opportunity.
More for the joy of running than for any concern about being late for morning assembly, Kip, Wolfgang, and Paul ran down the front steps of their dorm, and cut diagonally across the Dalambertian to the side entrance of Founders Hall. Before going in, Kip licked his hand and brushed down his hair with it.
The auditorium had a stage and theater-style seats, except that the seats weren't padded. The place smelled of disinfectant and of old bubble gum. Hung on the wall behind the stage was a huge banner. Against a blue background, it displayed an A in red surrounded by a green laurel wreath under which was the motto Veritas in white. It was the same emblem that adorned the Amdexter boys' school caps.
Kip and co. slid into center seats about five rows from the front.
"Funny," said Kip, scanning the auditorium. "No girls here."
"There will be next year," said Paul. "ESAP girls. Dr. Ralph said Amdexter needed a year to get used to the idea."
A half-minute or so later, another kid, Alex, slipped in beside Kip. "What happened to you?" said Kip.
Alex described his fight with Todd. And then he complained about the punishment.
"Copying lines?" said Paul. "That's a lot better than them docking our allowance."
"That wouldn't work at Amdexter," said Alex. "Most of the Amdexter kids are rich and have infinite allowances."
"Boy, I wish I had an infinite allowance," said Paul. "By the way, like what did you call him?"
"Pigface," said Alex at a whisper.
Paul giggled. "Pigface? Sweet!"
Just then, Kip heard a thump and felt an earthquake. Looking behind, he saw a kid kicking Alex's seat back. The kid looked furious and Alex, who had also turned around to look, seemed scared. Must be that Todd kid. The boy had obviously chosen to sit behind Alex as a form of intimidation. While Todd glared at Alex, Kip studied the kid; he had dull eyes and a round face. He was stocky, even fat, but not someone to get into a fight with. The kid shifted his gaze and found Kip's eyes. Startled, Kip spun forward again--and saw that the headmaster had come onto the stage.
The headmaster held up his hands, then called out "Veritas!" in a loud voice.
"Veritas!" came the shouted reply from many voices.
"For you new boys," said the Headmaster, "Veritas is the motto of the school--the Amdexter School. It means truth in Latin." He half-turned and pointed to the banner which also proclaimed Veritas. He talked about the "history and traditions embodied in this ancient, sacred banner." Then he turned back to the sea of boys. "All right, let's try it again. Veritas!"
"Veritas!" came the reply, louder than the last time. But Kip, Paul, and Wolfgang didn't join in. Neither did Alex.
The headmaster made some announcements about changes of schedules, school events, and cautions about personal hygiene and general neatness. And he reminded the boys that fourth period classes were canceled because of the start-of-school convocation in the chapel. "I expect every boy to attend." Then he said, "Now, I'd like to address a few comments to the ESAP boys." He smiled. "Not F-school boys." He took in the wider audience. "Apparently, they don't like being called that."
Most of the audience laughed politely. The boys in grey shorts didn't. Instead, they whispered among themselves.
"Gentlemen," said the headmaster, in a voice of command. "I expect your undivided attention." The boys went silent, and he continued. "I've had some complaints from Amdexter boys,"--the headmaster gazed upon the boys in grey shorts sitting clustered together--"about an issue of equal treatment. You ESAP boys are excused from Sunday chapel, and some feel that is not equitable. Furthermore, Brother Kenji feels that you are missing out on an important part of our school life."
Kip, Paul, and Wolfgang exchanged worried glances.
"I hasten to add," said the headmaster, speaking slowly--not hastening at all, "that Kenji Wakabayashi is not only our chaplain, but he also holds a doctorate in philosophy."
"Holds a doctorate?" Paul whispered. "Is, like, he holding it for ransom?"
"And so it has been decided," the headmaster went on, "that every Sunday, after the religious service, ESAP boys will report to the chapel for an ongoing one-hour course on ethics, taught by Dr. Wakabayashi."
"What?" Kip mouthed, silently.
"That's not fair," another ESAP boy called out.
"Ha, ha," came Todd's voice from behind.
"We feel it is especially important," the headmaster went on, "to expose you future scientists to moral teachings." He raised a hand as if in farewell. "Let me close with the words of Virgil: Inventas vitam iuvat excoluisse per artes--Let us improve life through science and art."
"I bet he's also a Latin teacher," Kip whispered.
"Assembly dismissed," said the headmaster. "Veritas!"
The headmaster walked to the side of the stage and disappeared in the curtains.
Once outside the auditorium, Alex went off to his next class while Kip, Paul and Wolfgang joined a group of ESAP boys coalescing in the hall. In the five minutes before the start of first period, the boys decided they'd fight the unethical ethics course, and would make a battle plan during their own assembly--after sixth period, at Feynman Hall.
The bell rang and the three started away toward their classes.
The headmaster," said Paul, "makes it sound like they're doing us a big favor allowing us dirty barbarians to come to their precious school."
"Well," said Wolfgang as they walked, "I heard my dad tell mom that Amdexter was horribly in debt, just about bankrupt. If it wasn't for ESAP, they have had to sell the school to some religious cult. Moon worshipers or something."
At a junction of hallways, the three slowed. "Yeah," said Wolfgang, "ESAP bought the land for our school from Amdexter but Amdexter still owes a lot of money." Then he veered off toward Social Studies while Kip and Paul continued straight toward the Language Wing.
"Sounds like they need us," said Paul, picking up the pace.
"I guess," said Kip.
When they'd walked through the door into Latin-I, Kip saw that Todd was there as well. Kip would have expected Todd to be bristling with hostility, but the kid was all smiles.
The Latin master, old as Caesar's dog, instructed them in the mysteries of the first declension: Femina, feminae, feminae, feminam, femina. Rote memory, and for Kip it was no fun at all. He glanced at Paul to share a look of misery--but Paul seemed to be lapping it up, his eyes alert, his body forward, his expression eager. Kip understood; Paul liked to memorize things.
At the end of the class, as Kip and Paul headed for the door, Todd came up to them and said he wanted to have a private talk with Paul.
Kip and Paul exchanged shrugs and then Kip walked outside the door and waited for his friend. A few minutes later Paul and Todd came out. Todd walked briskly away.
"What was that all about?" said Kip, softly, his eyes on Todd's back.
"Todd said he'd pay me ten dollars if I do his hundred lines."
"The punishment he got for fighting?"
Paul nodded. "He told me all Amdexter kids have lots of money."
"Are you going to do it?" said Kip.
"Yeah. Why not?" Paul smiled. "I don't mind the copying. I was planning to memorize some Shakespeare, anyway. And, like, now somebody's going to pay me to do it."
Kip pursed his lips for a moment. "You know," he said, "it seems sort of wrong, somehow."
"It makes me feel a little funny, too," said Paul. "But I'm not going to think about it now."
Kip gave an uneasy laugh. "And with the extra money, you won't have to worry about them docking your allowance if you ever get punished."
"Yeah, I know." Paul waved and headed off to English.
Kip, happy that he'd survived Latin unscathed, strolled leisurely on to his second period class--Social Studies, another subject he was not particularly crazy about.
Entering the classroom, Kip noticed that both Alex and Todd were in the class--this time sitting far apart: Alex in the second row and Todd way in the back. Todd probably picked the back so he can goof off. And Alex chose the front because it's far from Todd. Kip slid in to the seat next to Alex.
To Kip's surprise, the class turned out to be fun. The master, Neville Thomas, was enthusiastic and energetic, and spoke in an exotic, British accent. He said that the subject would be the ancient world, except Rome--they'd probably learn all about Rome in Latin.
Alex didn't even seem remotely interested in the class. He was drawing horses. Glancing sideways at Alex's open notebook, Kip was impressed; the drawings were really good.
"Since this class is made up of bloodthirsty boys," Mr. Thomas went on, "I've decided we'll explore the period by following the military battles of the Greeks." He ambled through the classroom as he talked. "At its height, under Alexander the Great, the Greek empire covered a million square miles and included modern-day Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and even western India."
At the mention of Alexander the Great, Alex looked up, but only briefly before returning his attention to his drawing.
While lecturing, Mr. Thomas meandered to Alex's desk and, without any pause in his speaking, gently closed Alex's notebook as he walked by.
The class ended and Kip went off to his next--English. And it was good; Kip got along fine with everybody, regardless of the color of their shorts. After that, Kip was scheduled for Phys. Ed, but it had been canceled because of the convocation.
Talking in the hallway with Wolfgang after English, Kip said he was going to skip the convocation.
"But the headmaster said we've got to go to it."
"He's not my headmaster," said Kip. "And anyway, he said, I expect every boy to attend. He didn't say we had to attend." Kip clenched his fist. "I'm really mad about that ethics course. He must think scientists are monsters or something. So I'm not going anywhere near that chapel unless I absolutely have to."
"Well, okay," said Wolfgang, haltingly. "I'll skip the convocation, too."
Just before going to Founders for lunch, Kip darted to his dorm room to pick up his bassoon; his fifth period class was orchestra.
The all-school orchestra turned out not to be very large and Kip found he was the entire bassoon section. Still, it was fun--even if the music was only light classical.
Finally, done with Amdexter for the day, Kip jogged to Feynman Hall for his own school's assembly, and also the fun part of school, his math and science classes. Loping into Snack Bar, he saw the words 'Gedanken Today!' on the blackboard and that a large part of the floor in front of the board had been striped with masking tape, turning the surface into something like a big sheet of graph paper with half meter sized squares. Double fun!
But the atmosphere of Snack Bar was not one of fun; a small mob of boys grumbled about the ethics course. As more boys arrived, the mob became the school assembly, and the grumbling morphed into a long, heated discussion about how to respond. Finally, a decision was made; the Feynman School boys would simply cut the ethics class.
Just then, Dr. Ralph walked in carrying a plastic shopping bag. "What's going on?" he asked.
"Sir," said one of the boys, Charles Yang, "is science evil?"
"What?" Dr. Ralph laughed. "That's like asking, is science purple." He looked with concerned eyes at the kids before him. "Why? What's happened?"
Charles told him about the required ethics course. "...and its going to be taught by Brother Wakabayashi. The headmaster said he's also a philosopher."
Dr. Ralph chuckled. "Wakabyashi is probably harmless."
"But only ESAP kids have to take it, and he's going to teach it in the chapel," said Charles. "So I think it's really going to be sermons or something."
"I see." Dr. Ralph shook his head slowly, then said, "That probably violates the operating agreement between our schools." He sighed. "I'll see what I can do."
"Does our school have a motto?" asked another of the boys.
"Motto?" Dr. Ralph seemed puzzled by the change of subject.
"Yeah," said the boy. "The Amdexter motto is veritas. The headmaster said it means truth."
"We have a motto, too," said Dr. Ralph. "Scientia. It's on your blazer badges. It means knowledge." He gave a soft nod, as if to himself. "A slightly more modest motto, I'd say. As for truth?" He shrugged. "Truth is something of a subjective idea. And...and in quantum mechanics for example, one might say there are multiple truths."
"What does that mean?" said Kip. "Multiple truths. Isn't truth, truth?"
"Well, I was thinking about the two truths of the wave-particle duality. When an electron, for example, needs to be a particle, it's a particle, and when it needs to be a wave, it's a wave. So what is it in truth, a wave or a particle?" Dr. Ralph smiled. "You'll learn about that soon enough."
"When?" said Kip.
"Soon." Dr Ralph went to the front of the room. "The philosopher of science, Alfred Korzybski, " he began, "wrote 'the map is not the territory'. The territory is the universe and the map is the words we use to describe it. And for quantum mechanics, for instance, we just don't have the right words--which might be why there seems to be multiple truths. You guys, we hope, might come up with those right words. And that's what the ESAP is all about."
"I hope," said Charles with a laugh, "that they won't be the kind of words that used to get my mouth washed out with soap."
Dr. Ralph chuckled. "Probably not." He walked with his shopping bag up to the blackboards. "The words will likely have something to do with probability. In some sense, at least for quantum mechanics, probability seems to be reality."
Kip wrinkled his nose, and apparently Dr. Ralph noticed it.
"Yeah," said Dr. Ralph. "I know I'm sounding more like a philosopher than a scientist. But long ago, physics was called 'natural philosophy'. So, yes, all of us physicists are philosophers in a way." He scowled for a brief instant. "In fact, I don't see how anyone can claim to be a philosopher these days without having studied physics."
"So you're saying Brother Wakabybaby knows quantum mechanics," Charles called out. "I reeealy doubt it."
"Be nice," said Dr. Ralph firmly, but with a smile. "I don't want there to be friction between ESAP and Amdexter."
"Is there a quantum philosophy?" said Kip.
Dr. Ralph seemed bemused. "You know, there might be." He paused. "Yes, there probably is."
"How about quantum ethics?" said Charles. "That's a course I would take."
"Quantum ethics," said Dr. Ralph, thoughtfully. "An intriguing thought. Or quantum morality. Yes. There probably is such a thing."
"You say 'probably' a lot," said Paul.
"Oh?" Dr. Ralph smiled. "I suppose I do. It probably goes with being a quantum theorist."
"But probably is related to probability," said Dr. Ralph with a theatrical flourish. "Before we can explore quantum physics, we'll have to first spend some time on probability."
Kip raised his hand. "Dr. Linda gave us a question about probability--about whether probability can be different for different people. But she didn't tell us the answer."
"And I won't either," said Dr. Ralph. "It may be that the word probability is the wrong map to cover the territory." He pointed at the graph-paper floor. "And speaking of maps.... Now you guys are going to generate an important probability curve."
(To see how the boys generate a bell curve, see chapter 5X)
Later, as Kip walked out of Feynman Hall, he turned to Wolfgang. "What do you think of there being multiple truths--truth depending on who observes it?"
"I don't know. I'll let you know the next time I get in trouble with my dad for telling him an...alternate version of the truth."
"Veritas!" the headmaster called out at the start of Thursday's assembly.
The answering call was muddled--but loud: the Amdexter boys had shouted Veritas at the tops of their lungs while the ESAP kids, with equal vigor, shouted Scientia.
"All right. All right," said the headmaster when the reverberations had died down. "Enough!" The auditorium became eerily silent. "School spirit is commendable," he went on. "But Amdexter and ESAP are not rivals. We're brother schools. Henceforth, I'll start our assemblies with both schools' mottos. All of you please respond in kind." He raised a hand. "Veritas! Scientia!"
"Veritas. Scientia," came a tentative reply.
"No," said the headmaster. "I want both words at the same volume. Every boy is to say both words. Again. Veritas! Scientia!"
"Excellent!" said the headmaster.
"Alphabetically," Paul whispered, "it should be Scientia, Veritas."
"This is good enough," Kip whispered back, impressed at how well the headmaster had handled the problem. Maybe this guy isn't so bad.
"As the school-year progresses," the headmaster went on, "I hope you will make friends regardless of school and you'll sit with your friends--and I'll no longer see a single block of grey shorts in a solid mass of brown."
Kip nodded. He spotted his new friend Alex sitting among the browns--and he knew Alex hated most of them.
"Incidentally," said the headmaster. "A few of the new boys have asked about the foxes."
Kip snapped to attention.
"We do have a den of foxes on the grounds," the man went on. "Leave them alone. They eat much, much smaller prey than boys."
Many of the boys laughed. But not Kip. He was a city kid and he considered wildlife to be just that--wild.
"They won't attack you unless they think they're cornered."
Kip leaned in to Wolfgang. "I don't know if I like this."
"They're just foxes," said Wolfgang, "not werewolves like you are."
"And one more thing. It has been brought to my attention"--Kip returned his gaze to the headmaster--"that the ethics course mandated solely for the ESAP students most likely violates the operating agreement between our two schools."--Kip held his breath, hoping to hear that the course had been cancelled--"So we feel we have no other choice but to make the course a requirement for the third form of both schools."
"What!" Kip jumped half out of his seat as he silently mouthed the word. He slumped back, re-reevaluating his opinion of the headmaster. Out of the sides of his eyes, he could see brown-shorts kids glaring at the greys. And murmuring flowed through the auditorium.
"Gentlemen," the headmaster called out, "I require your undivided attention." When the boys became silent, the headmaster talked some more and concluded with, "I've been asked when our carousel will be available for rides. After consulting with the ESAP, we've decided that the carousel will run on holidays and during the after-dinner free-time on Sundays. At other times, it will be purely for ESAP--used as a science lab."
Kip could hear grumbling from the browns. And he heard a loud whisper from Todd. "Science lab. Yeah, right."
When dismissal came, the grey shorts left in a tighter group than usual. Kip felt he was running a gauntlet of resentful stares. He hurried to his first-period class, eager to escape the evil looks. "Escaping to Latin?" he said under his breath. "I must be losing my mind."
By second-period, Kip was happy to see that the hard feelings seemed to have vanished; as he walked to Social Studies, brown shorts passing in the halls just ignored him--as they'd done since day one.
Kip padded into class, slipped into his seat next to Alex, and turned his attention to his teacher. In the previous session, Mr. Thomas had concluded his exploration of the battles of Philip of Macedon. This day, he started talking about Philip's son, a boy who would become Alexander the Great. Kip listened eagerly; Mr. Thomas made Greek history exciting. He said that Alexander the Great had cried because he was afraid there'd be nothing left to conquer when he grew up. Kip sympathized. He too worried--he was deathly afraid that when he grew up, there'd be no physics left to do.
At the next mention of Alexander the Great, Kip glanced sideways at Alex. He expected his friend to be interested in a boy from twenty-five hundred years ago with the same name. But Alex clearly wasn't interested. He had his notebook open and was drawing horses--great, wild, angry steeds: one galloping with mane and tail flying in the wind and another rearing up with slashing hooves, mouth open and fiery eyes.
Kip split his attention between Mr. Thomas and the horses--gradually spending ever more time with the horses. The creatures seemed almost alive on the page.
Kip snapped his gaze forward as Mr. Thomas, without interrupting his lecturing, meandered toward them. But instead of closing Alex's notebook as he'd done before, he stood gazing down at the horse drawings. He came to the end of the sentence he was speaking and didn't start a new one. For about fifteen seconds, Mr. Thomas looked at the horses while most of the class looked at him. Finally, he gave Alex a pat on the shoulder, walked to the front of the class, and said, "Like young Griffin there, and of course like Philip of Macedon, I too am a lover of horses."
Watching obliquely, Kip saw Alex staring at his teacher through narrowed eyes filled with suspicion.
"There are a great many notable horses in history and mythology," Mr. Thomas went on in his clipped British voice, "I can think of...let's see..."--he held up a closed hand--"There's Napoleon's horse, Marengo." He extended his forefinger. "And Buddha's horse, Kanthaka." He extended another finger. "And Caligula's horse, Incitatus. The Viking god-horses of day and night, Skinfaxi and Hrimfaxi." Enumerating the horses, he'd run out of fingers. "And the Mares of Diomedes--the four man-eating horses in Greek mythology."
Kip felt his eyes widen. Wow! Man eating horses.
"And then there's King Arthur's horse, Llamrei. And the Wind Horse of Mongolia or...or the Fire Horse of China. In the Chinese calendar, the year of the Fire Horse comes every sixty years." Mr. Thomas raised his hands as if he were holding a crystal ball. He looked truly spooky. "The Fire Horse," he said in an equally spooky voice, "will consume everything in his path and wreak havoc wherever he goes."
"How 'bout the Trojan horse?" one of the boys called out.
"Yes." Mr. Thomas stopped looking weird and speaking like a ghost. "Another horse from Greek mythology. We'll be talking about it when we go back and study the Trojan War." He paused and locked his gaze on Alex. "But since we're now studying the conquests of Alexander the Great, perhaps we should start by talking about his horse, Bucephalus." Kip was intrigued. And he saw that Alex had switched his attention from his notebook to his teacher.
"Bucephalus," Mr. Thomas went on, "was a huge black horse with a white blaze on his face. It made him look like an ox. Bucephalus means ox head in Greek. Alexander got Bucephalus when he was about ten years old--Alexander was ten, not the horse."
Some of the boys laughed.
"Alexander's father wanted to buy the horse for himself but couldn't tame him. Alexander insisted he could tame him. His father laughed. He told Alexander that if he could tame the horse, then the horse would be his. The story goes that Alexander had observed that the horse always became frightened when he saw his own shadow. So Alexander pulled the lead so that the sun was in front of the horse. Then he jumped on the horse's back. Within moments, the horse calmed down. So Philip bought the horse for his son. Bucephalus and Alex were together for over twenty years--until Bucephalus died in battle. And then Alexander, who was then known as Alexander the Great, named a city after him."
Kip saw Alex close his notebook.
"You know," said Mr. Thomas with a chuckle. "One of the horses on our carousel looks just like the Greek descriptions of Bucephalus. Maybe at our next class, one of you boys will tell me which one."
The class ended and as the boys walked out, Todd whinnied at Alex. Alex ignored him and hurried away.
Kip's next period, English, was tolerable, even with Todd in the same class. The next class, Computers, was useless. After lunch, there was Art: fun, but useless. And then came the good stuff.
(For Dr. Ralph's description of the 1-slit experiment see chapter 6X)
In his bunk after lights out, Kip imagined Bucephalus galloping away from him on the golf course--becoming ever smaller as he ran out past the ninth hole. Then Kip imagined the horse really becoming smaller. He wondered how small Bucephalus would have to be before he moved less like a horse and more like a weird electron.
Amo, amas, I love a lass as a cedar tall and slender.
Sweet cowslip's grace is her nominative case,
and she's of the feminine gender.
The song ran through Kip's mind in cadence with his feet hitting the track. It had been a good morning so far. Instead of memorizing grammar in Latin, the fourth form had come in and serenaded the third with songs in and about Latin. An old Amdexter tradition according to his Latin master. And then they taught one of songs--the one coursing through Kip's head. It was actually sort of cool knowing a hundred year old song.
Social studies was interesting, as usual, and Phys. Ed. held an unexpectedly pleasant surprise; instead of spending the period shooting hoops, something he stank at, they went for a run outside. And that suited Kip fine; his sport was cross country running.
As he ran on the oval track, the song ran its course. Then, in the mental silence, he imagined he was a charged particle in a cyclotron. He visualized the cyclotron's electromagnets pulling him forward and he ran ever faster, but with an easy practiced cadence, until he lapped the less energetic particles on the track. He smiled, watching as some of those particles looked at him in clear envy.
As the period drew to a close, Kip visualized food rather than electromagnets providing him with energy. Ahead was lunch, then orchestra and then it was back to home territory.
A few hours later, Kip jogged into Snack Bar for assembly. He glanced at the blackboard.
Gedanken Today! Raves about Waves.
Kip's eyes were then drawn to a table in a corner pushed up against the front blackboards. On it, sphinx-like, sat a cat--a seal-point Siamese with faun colored coat and brilliant blue eyes. Paradox! Under the table, Kip saw a cat carrier, water and food bowls, and a litter box.
Kip shifted his gaze to another table: glass topped, prominently placed, and set two meters or so in front of the blackboards. A big, rectangular glass dish filled with water sat on the table. On the floor underneath, a bright light beamed upward, casting a shadow of the water dish onto the ceiling. There were a couple of what looked like toy construction blocks next to the dish.
As Kip took his seat, Dr. Ralph rushed in. He had a small device in his hand and scowled at it. It made a clink as he plopped it roughly down on the glass table. "Brand new and useless," he said under his breath.
Dr. Ralph greeted his class, then explained that the glass dish, a ripple-tank, was for demonstrating wave motion. He pointed at the device he'd carried. "And that actuator was supposed to generate the waves. But it doesn't work."
"Do physicists have cats as companions?" Charles broke in, "like witches?"
"What?" Dr. Ralph glanced at the cat then back to the boy. "We physicists aren't witches." He paused. "Most of us are warlocks." Amidst laughter, Dr. Ralph held up his hands. "Wait, no," he said. "Just a joke. And please don't repeat it to any civilians--especially to Brother Wakabyashi."
The cat had jumped from the table and was wandering through the class, stopping occasionally as he was petted. "Paradox likes to wander," said Dr. Ralph, "so I thought I'd try giving him the run of the class so he wouldn't be stuck in the apartment."
Dr. Ralph put a hand over the ripple-tank and touched the water's surface with his forefinger. On the ceiling, Kip saw a circular wave expand across the tank.
"When we make waves in this thing," said Dr. Ralph, "you can see them projected on the ceiling." He put the two blocks in the water--set in a line with a small gap between them. "Okay." He pointed at the gap. "This is the one-slit case." Grabbing the actuator, he turned to the class. "If this weren't broken, it would have generated a continuous sea of waves. But I guess I'll have to use my--"
The class, as a whole, laughed.
Dr. Ralph turned around to the glass table--where Paradox was lapping up water from the ripple tank.
"Look at the ceiling, sir," said Wolfgang.
Paradox's rhythmic lapping had generated a regular pattern of waves which all could see on the ceiling.
Dr. Ralph looked up. "Wonderful!" Then he turned to his cat. "We needed a ripple tank actuator and, Paradox, faster than the twinkling of a nose, provided one."
(For more about the waves in the ripple-tank, read chapter 7X)
Dr. Ralph spent some more time discussing waves and interference, then said, "We'll discuss what this has to do with electrons at our next gedanken session. Expect big-time weird!" He glanced at the wall clock. "All right. It is time for your next classes." He chuckled. "And a discussion of time is for another time."
He dismissed the boys, but one stayed behind.
"What's up, Kip," he said when the other boys had gone.
Kip pawed the ground, shyly. "I just wondered.... Can I pet Paradox?"
"What?" Dr. Ralph looked over to the corner table on which the cat was now curled up. "Yes. Certainly. He loves to be petted." Dr. Ralph led Kip to the table. "Even though he's a noisy Siamese, he's a Teddy bear."
Kip gently stroked the cat from between the ears to the tail. Paradox splayed his front paws and purred.
"You like cats," said Dr. Ralph.
"I love cats." Without looking away from the cat, Kip added, "I kept my door open a little. I hoped Paradox would come and visit. But he didn't. I don't think he did, anyway."
"Are your roommates okay with a cat running around?"
"Sure," said Kip. "They like cats, too."
"Okay. After classes, I'll give you a catnip mouse to leave on your bed. That'll tell Paradox your bed is an approved sleeping place. But warn your roommates. I wouldn't want them to freak out when they see what looks like a dead mouse on your bed."
Kip chuckled, then asked, "Why do you allow Paradox to run around in the dorm at night?"
"We keep our door open a crack so we can hear if anything is not okay in the dorm. So Paradox just runs out."
"Are you spying on us, Dr. Ralph?" said Kip, lightly.
"No." Dr. Ralph seemed uneasy. "I just want to be aware if, say, a man-eating tiger or a man-eating shark invades the dorm."
"What about a man-eating spaghetti?"
Dr. Ralph laughed, his expression of unease gone. "That, too. Anyway, with the door open, Paradox can do his duty as a watchcat." He gave Kip an avuncular pat on the shoulder. "Better run off to your class. You wouldn't want to be late."
"But it's your class," said Kip.
"I wouldn't want to be late, either."
In their bunks a few minutes before lights-out, the three occupants of subdorm-8 discussed life.
"The math and science stuff is great," said Paul, "but the rest is, like, you know...school."
"You mean Latin," said Kip.
"I like Latin." said Wolfgang. "Ubi, oh ubi, sub ubi est?"
"What?" said Paul.
"It's a Latin joke. Ubi, oh ubi, sub ubi est? Where, oh where, is my under-where."
"All right, Kohl," said Paul. "Tell us when to laugh."
"You know, it's strange," said Kip. "At Amdexter, the teachers call us by our last names and treat us like kids. But at EASP, they call us by our first names and they treat us like scientists."
Just then, came the lights-out chime. Kip saw Wolfgang take off his glasses and lay them on his desk. It's funny how different people look without their glasses.
Wolfgang reached out from his lower bunk and switched off his desk lamp.
"Who's there?" Paul called forth in a loud stage whisper--in the exaggerated voice of an actor.
"What?" said Wolfgang.
"Nay answer me," Paul went on. "Stand and unfold yourself."
"Unfold myself?" said Wolfgang.
"Oh, gosh," said Kip. "He's probably quoting Hamlet."
"Long live the king!" said Paul in a whispered shout.
"Bernardo?" said Paul affecting a different voice.
"He," said Paul in the first voice.
"You come most carefully upon your hour." Paul alternated voices at each line.
"It is now struck twelve. Get thee to bed, Fransisco."
"Twelve?" said Kip. "It's only nine-thirty."
"And who's this Fransisco?" said Wolfgang.
"For this relief, much thanks. T'is bitter cold, and I am sick at heart."
"How can you be sick at heart?" said Kip. "You've just made ten dollars."
"Have you had a quiet guard?" Paul went on, taking no note of the others.
"Not a mouse stirring."
"Squeak!" said Wolfgang.
"Not a mouse stirring his coffee?" said Kip.
"Well, good night," Paul intoned, still in an actor's voice.
Kip chuckled. "Good night, Paul."
"Good night," said Wolfgang.
"Night, Kip," said Paul in his normal voice. "Night Wolfy."
Kip snapped awake to what appeared to be an earthquake. Then he felt the earthquake walking toward his head. He put out his hand and contacted fur. Paradox! The cat settled down next to Kip's face and purred--a loud purr, like a car with a bad muffler on idle. Kip wondered how his roommates could sleep through it. Kip nuzzled against the cat and closed his eyes.
While the great black horse faced the hot Mediterranean sun, Alex leapt on his back. Bucephalus took off like an arrow, flying like Pegasus. Alex leaned forward, his hands grasping the horse's mane. He breathed in the scent of sweating horse and felt the wind rake his hair. Soon, they came upon a huge carousel with live horses, each bearing an armored knight carrying a lance. Bucephalus circled the carousel but half-way around, a galloping shadow of horse came from behind Bucephalus, to under him, and then to the front. Bucephalus saw it and, with a piercing whinny. reared up. Alex spasmed to hang on.
The spasm woke him. Alex, prone and clutching his mattress, rolled onto his back. Breathing heavily from the dreamed exertion, Alex let his gaze go to the window. He saw no lights coming from the buildings across the Dalambertian. No lights anywhere. He didn't know what time it was, but it was certainly late. And he was awake--very awake, He rolled onto his stomach and closed his eyes. But it was hopeless. He couldn't trick himself into tiredness.
Nose to his pillow, he replayed his dream and as he recalled the carousel, found himself wondering if Mr. Thomas had been right. Was there really a horse on the carousel that looked like Bucephalus? In his mind's eye, he could still see the horse of his dream. He could draw it from memory.
He sat up in bed. He wanted to draw the horse now--but he couldn't, not in a dark dorm row of sleeping kids. He slipped his feet into his bathroom slippers, intent on padding down to the third form study room. There, at his desk, he could take out his notebook and draw. He liked the idea of sneaking out of the dorm row; it felt like a naughty, rebellious act. But before he could get to his feet, he got an even more rebellious idea. Why don't I sneak out of the building and over to the carousel? I could actually find out if Bucephalus is also a carousel horse. He slipped out of his slippers and into his sneakers.
He stood, slowly, and tip-toed out of the dorm row. As he left, he got the uneasy feeling that Todd was staring at him. He glanced at Todd's bunk but in the dark, couldn't see if Todd's eyes were open. Feeling a little nervous now, he padded to the stairs and then down to the ground floor. At the front door, he paused--wondering just how much trouble he'd be in if he got caught. He turned the doorknob. Maybe the door wouldn't open. Maybe everyone was locked in for the night. But the knob turned. He pulled and cracked the door open. Though he knew he was in a school and not a prison, he nonetheless was surprised how easy it was to get out in the middle of the night.
Holding the door open, he tried the outside knob. That did not turn. From the outside, the door was locked. Alex looked for, found, and pressed the little button on the lock-body that would let the door open from the outside. He tried the outside knob again. Fine!
To Alex, clad only in pajamas, the night was cold, but not horribly so. Aided by moonlight, he set off on a jog up to the Dalambertian's far end. He smiled; because of Kip, he thought of the Big Quad by its ESAP name. Alex pressed on towards the carousel. In the darkness, all the horses looked black. But as he drew close and his eyes adapted to the night, he saw them instead in shades of grey. He hopped onto the carousel and made his way along the outer ring of horses, pausing at each, stroking its forehead and muzzle, looking for signs.
"Bucephalus!"he said aloud, standing beside the forth horse he'd examined. There could be no doubt. Even in the near total darkness, he could tell the horse was black as coal with a small white blaze on its forehead. The tail was cut short and the mane stood erect, looking like an extended 'Mohawk' haircut. The nostrils were flared and the eyes savage. This was Bucephalus. Alex swung onto the horse. In the dark with neither lights nor music, Alex did not feel he was on a carousel. Astride his motionless steed, he felt frozen in time. And it could be any time: the present, ancient Greece, the time of the Knights of the Round Table. The Knights of the Round Carousel. He, a rider in the dark, a dark rider, could be anything he wanted. He thought of his lance from the golf course and imagined it couched in his arm. He was the leader of the dark riders, all...nine of them; it was a nine-hole golf course.
He led the Dark Riders on a charge against the forces of evil--the forces of Todd. He wished he could command the carousel into motion. It would be awesome--a dark carousel moving silently in the middle of the night.
Sitting immobile on his mount, its wooden saddle drawing body heat away though thin pajamas, Alex shivered. Minutes later, when the reality of cold conquered his imagination, he did a vaulting dismount to the carousel platform, and then jumped to the ground.
With the chill of the night gnawing at him, he loped back to the dorm, padded up the stone steps, and listened at the front door. Dead quiet. He tried the knob. But it didn't turn. He tried it again--wiggling it, shaking it, hammering on it with his fist. Stepping back, he glowered at the knob as if it were able to fulfill its purpose of turning but refused to do so out of willful nastiness.
Alex, now acutely aware of the cold, approached the door and tried yet again, but still the knob didn't yield. He stood motionless for a moment, unsure what to do. Then he ran down the steps and circled the dorm to try the back door. No luck. He looked for a window he might climb through, but his dormitory turned out to be well sealed.
He darted to Founders and tried its doors as well. He didn't really want to spend the night in a classroom, but at least he'd be warm and could take the time to figure something out. But he couldn't find a way into Founders either. He went back to his dorm to try the door again. Maybe it would be unlocked this time. Maybe the knob would take pity on him. But the knob was obstinate.
Alex gazed at the door--the impediment to warmth, to sleep, to avoiding acute embarrassment when he showed up in the morning in his pajamas. He shivered from a sudden breeze and tucked his pajama top into the elastic of the thin, summer-weight bottom. There was no way he could stay outside until morning. He backed against the entranceway, taking what shelter he could. Then, looking across the Dalambertian, he saw the ESAP dorm. Perhaps its door would be open. Probably not, but it was something to try. He jogged to it.
He tried the front door and, miraculously, it opened. Alex slithered inside and stood, absorbing the warmth. What do I do now? It would be almost as embarrassing being found in ESAP as in Founders in the morning.
He thought of his friend Kip. The kid lived in something called subdorm-8. Maybe he could hide out with Kip until morning. And maybe he could get Kip to fetch his clothes from his dorm. Kip isn't going to be crazy about being woken up in the middle of the night. But it wasn't as if there was much choice.
Slowly in the darkness, Alex made his way upstairs. He hoped that the ESAP subdorms would be labeled. And they were. Alex found a door with an eight on it. And better still, it was opened a crack--about six inches. Alex took a deep breath, blew it out, and pushed open the door. It was dark in the room but Alex could make out two double bunks.
Alex stepped inside. Suddenly a dark form leaped with a shriek from a top bunk. Alex jumped back with a cry. The thing landed with a thump and disappeared out the door.
A shadow of a body on the top bunk jerked to a sitting position.
Alex could make out eyes staring down at him. "I'm sorry," said Alex in a loud whisper. "It's me. Alex." He hoped it was Kip he was apologizing to.
"What's going on," said the shadow. The voice was Kip's.
Alex started to explain, but Kip shushed him. "Close the door, first," Kip whispered. "So you don't wake Dr. Ralph."
Alex closed the door but then, from outside, came an insistent yowl.
"Geez!" Kip bolted from his bunk and opened the door. "Okay, Paradox," he whispered. "Get in here."
Alex saw that the dark form had been a cat.
Kip closed the door, then picked up the creature. "You are a noisy cat." He hugged the animal and then dropped him gently on his bunk.
The two still sleeping woke.
"Is it morning already?" said Paul, rubbing his eyes.
"Who's this," said Wolfgang, sitting up in bed. He slipped on his glasses. "Alex?"
Kip switched on the light.
Wolfgang peered at Kip's clock radio. "It's the middle of the night."
"Boy, this place is great," said Alex in a whispered yet excited voice. "Your own room. You could put up pictures and keep Halloween decorations up all year and glue model train scenery on the ceiling so when you're in bed you can look up and see trees and pretend the cracks in the ceiling are rivers and--"
"There are no cracks in the ceiling," said Wolfgang.
"Well then the trees can be an oasis in a white desert and--"
"Why are you here?" said Paul
Alex explained his predicament. When he'd finished, Wolfgang asked, "Do you think it might have been Todd who locked the door?"
"Yeah. Maybe. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was."
"Before my god," said Paul, "I might not this believe without the sensible and true avouch of mine own eyes."
"Oh, no," said Kip. "He's doing it again! Wolfy, throw a pillow at him."
Paul laughed. "Stop me," he said, dodging a pillow. "Stop me, before I quote again."
Alex wrinkled his nose and canted his head. "What?"
Kip explained that Todd had paid Paul to do his punishment lines for money. And Paul memorized the lines.
"I had the same punishment," Alex said, evenly. "But I had to copy the lines myself." He burned with a feeling of injustice. "It doesn't seem right somehow, that some kid could just buy his way out of punishment."
Paul lowered his eyes. "Yeah," he said, softly. "I really didn't think it was right, either." He paused. "But... but, like, I really wanted that ten dollars."
"It's not your fault," said Alex. "It's Todd's...and his money."
"It must be nice being rich," said Paul.
"But it's nicer being intelligent," said Wolfgang. "No way I'd change places with him."
Alex, suddenly exhausted, glanced at the empty forth bunk. "I'm wiped," he said with a sigh. "Can I sleep there for a few hours. Maybe...and maybe tomorrow"--he looked imploringly at Kip--"you might go over to my dorm row and pick up my clothes."
"I don't know if they'd let an ESAP kid into your dorm."
"Well," said Wolfgang, "we could just lend you some clothes and you could do it yourself." He chuckled. "You'd be wearing grey shorts, of course. I don't think the Amdexter dorks would like that."
"Well, I don't care," said Alex. "I wish I was in ESAP and not Amdexter. Everyone hates me there. Charles is my only friend."
"Charles?" Kip narrowed his eyes. "Not Charles Yang?"
"Charles Wood," said Alex.
"You mean Woodchuck," said Paul. "The kid with the big front teeth."
"He's a good kid," said Alex, rising to his friend's defense.
"No offense," said Paul. "We call him that because there's another Charles, an ESAP kid. Charles Yang. We call him Chucky."
"Maybe it's like a Charles and an anti-Charles," said Paul. "And if they ever met, they'd self-annihilate."
Kip chuckled. "And the explosion would wipe America off the map."
"But the map is not the territory," said Wolfgang with a giggle.
"Yeah," said Alex, pretending he knew what they were talking about.
"Hey, guys. Let's, like, keep it down," Paul whispered.
Kip threw a worried glance at the door, then switched his gaze to Alex. "Okay," said Kip at a whisper. "How 'bout we make you an honorary member of subdorm-8." He glanced at Wolfgang and Paul. "Okay with you guys?"
"Yeah," said Paul.
"Fine." Wolfgang turned to Alex. "And you even have your own bunk." He paused. "And why don't you use it now, so we can all get some sleep. There's school tomorrow." He flopped back down on his bunk. "Barbaric--Saturday morning classes."
In the morning light from the window of subdorm-8, Alex checked how he looked in his just borrowed clothes. "You know," he said, "grey shorts look a lot better than brown."
Kip chuckled. "ESAP has RFID readers at the classroom doors to take attendance. I don't think Amdexter has them. But if they did, then whenever you went into class, you'd be me. I could be in two places at once."
"No you couldn't," said Wolfgang. "Not unless he wears your underwear and shirt too. All the tags have to match."
"I'll just borrow the shorts, thank you," said Alex.
"Keep 'em for a few days, if you want," said Kip, hand-licking his hair into submission. "Maybe we can convert you to being a physicist like us."
Paul seemed startled.
"Really?" said Alex. "I can keep them for a few days?"
"Sure. Laundry pick up is Sunday night, so you can keep 'em until then."
"I've heard of conversion by the sword," said Paul, staring down at his book-bag into which he was stuffing the texts for his morning classes. "But this is the first time I've heard of conversion by the shorts." Closing his bag with a flourish, he looked across at Kip and announced, "And, as for being a physicist like us, I don't intend to be a physicist."--Kip and Wolfgang jerked their heads to stare at him--"I'm going to be a mathematician."
"Really?" Wolfgang appeared almost stunned. "Why on Earth would you want to do that?"
"Because...." Paul pressed his lips together, pausing, as if reluctant to expose himself to ridicule. "Because mathematics is perfect," he blurted out. "Logical. Beautiful." He stood as if at attention. "If physics were like that, there wouldn't need to be an ESAP."
"Does Dr. Ralph know," said Wolfgang in a serious voice.
Paul lowered his eyes, his rigid posture weakening to a slouch. "I don't know," he said in a small voice.
"Maybe you should go see him." Kip chuckled, clearly trying to lighten the mood. "Maybe he can cure you."
But Paul stayed somber. "Maybe I should talk to him about it. Maybe I shouldn't have been allowed to go to ESAP."
"Don't be ridiculous," said Wolfgang. "Mathematics is almost as important as physics."--Alex could tell that Wolfgang didn't really believe that.--"Anyway, mathematicians should study physics too."
Kip hefted his book bag. "Come on. Let's go to breakfast."
Due to his borrowed clothes, Alex felt entitled to eat with the greys. And he did so. After breakfast, Alex continued to pal around with the greys until the start of classes. Logically, he knew he should have gone back to his dorm to switch back to his own clothes, and be a brown again. But I really like being a grey.
Late in the afternoon, Alex did head back to his dorm to change. But he could still pretend to be a grey; after classes, kids were expected to change out of their school clothes. His attire wouldn't give him away.
As Alex padded into his dorm row, he was glad to see he had it almost to himself. Only Woodchuck was there. It was funny how he'd begun to think of Charles Wood as Woodchuck--and even thought of him as sort of a cartoon woodchuck: big teeth, eager expression, sort of pudgy. Funny how a nickname can define a person. Alex wondered if that's what Kip meant when he said 'the map is not the territory'.
"Why are you wearing grey shorts?" said Woodchuck as Alex changed out of them. "Are you transferring to ESAP?"
I wish! Alex rubbed a hand down the side of the flannel shorts, as if he could absorb greyness through his hand. "Well, my IQ results had just come in, and...and they say I'm smart enough for ESAP." He took a quick breath and rushed on. "And my dad said I should enroll there. But I told him I didn't want to because I didn't want to be a scientist."
"Wow!" said Woodchuck with wide trusting eyes.
"My dad said to just wear grey shorts for awhile," Alex went on. "He said maybe that would get me to change my mind."
"I hope you don't," said Woodchuck. "You're my only friend here--and I really hate Todd. He's a bully."
"Yeah," said Alex. "I hate him, too."
"Did you hear about his new business?" Woodchuck glanced at Todd's locker. "I don't mean his selling stuff."
Alex shook his head.
"Now he says kids can just pay money instead of doing punishment lines. He's charging a dollar for each ten lines."
Alex threw a glance at the ceiling.
"It's true," Woodchuck insisted. "He's getting ESAP kids to do the lines. He said ESAP kids are dirt poor. They need the money. They're so poor, they're happy to copy lines for money."
"I wonder how much of that money winds up in Todd's pocket."
"Probably a lot." In jeans now, Alex grabbed his notebook, waved to Woodchuck, and went outside. Not that he really had anywhere to go.
Clutching his notebook as a shield, Alex meandered to the carousel. He checked his watch: 45 minutes to lunch. Then he sought out Bucephalus, opened his notebook and began to draw.
A little later, alerted by hunger, Alex hurried to the Founders refectory, and got there twenty minutes late. He could still eat, and did, but it meant he'd missed his new friends; subdorm-8 tended to wolf down their food and run. Werewolf down their food.
After lunch, Alex strolled over to the playing fields. He wasn't interested in any of the sports or games going on. For the first two weeks of school, as the athletics schedules were not yet in place, Saturday games weren't compulsory. He wandered around, bored and lonely-and then thought he might try to hang out in the ESAP snack bar. A lot of ESAP kids had seen him in grey shorts. Maybe that alone would get him in.
The snack bar was crowded. Alex walked in and nobody questioned him. But nobody talked to him, either. His subdorm-8 friends weren't there. He shrugged at the sign SNACK/2π, went to a vending machine and, surprised that it was free, got an apple. Then he sat down and worked on his Bucephalus drawing. He sketched a kid on its back. He drew slowly, immersing himself in the rich, well-populated world he'd created with his pencil.
"Hey, look, Wolfy."--Alex looked up and saw Kip and Wolfgang coming to his table--"He's hanging out at Snack Bar." Kip chuckled. "I guess conversion by shorts works." Kip waved a greeting.
"Maybe it's just the free snacks," said Wolfgang. Then he called out, "Hi."
"Hi!" Alex snapped closed his notebook. "But where's Paul. I thought you guys traveled as a unit."
"A unit," said Kip. "Cool. Like a system of identical particles. Effectively interchangeable." He and Wolfgang sat.
"Paul's in a meeting with Dr. Ralph," said Kip, "confessing to having mathematician tendencies, I think."
"Dr. Ralph?" said Alex.
"Like your school's headmaster," said Wolfgang.
"Hey wait," said Kip, glancing toward the door. "The unit is again complete."
Alex turned and saw Paul plodding slowly toward them. He seemed downcast, his expression serious, his head canted slightly downward.
"I wonder what's wrong," said Kip, just above a whisper.
"Maybe," said Wolfgang, "Dr. Ralph said ESAP is only for physics kids."
Kip gave an 'I don't know' shrug.
Paul reached their table and plopped into a seat.
"Does Dr. Ralph have a problem with you wanting to be a mathematician?" said Wolfgang.
"No, it's not that." Paul stared down at the table. "He said that mathematics is, like, great and there's often not much of a difference between mathematicians and theoretical physicists."
"Then why," said Kip, "do you look as if a dragon just breathed fire on your calculus book?"
Alex smiled at the comment. Paul didn't.
"Dr. Ralph agreed with me that physics is messy," said Paul. "But he said that mathematics isn't perfect, either. He told me the hangman's paradox and he said he'd have Dr. Linda talk to me. She'll teach me a much more important paradox, the Russell Paradox."
"I've never even heard of the hangman's paradox?" said Wolfgang. "What is it?"
"Okay," said Paul. The word seemed like a switch--extinguishing Paul's melancholy. "I'll tell you."
(For Paul's explanation of the Hangman's Paradox, read chapter 9X)
After describing the paradox, Paul shook his head, slowly. "I'm like really worried about the paradox Dr. Linda is going to show me tomorrow."
"Why is it so important to you?" said Alex.
Paul looked up, his eyes were bright, maybe even moist. "I believe in mathematics. It's...it's sort of my religion."
Alex wanted to laugh but knew enough not to.
Just then, Dr. Ralph himself rushed into Snack Bar. He went to the front, raised his hands for quiet, and made an announcement. "Guys, I need your help." He spoke in a worried voice. "Paradox has escaped from the dorm. I'd really appreciated it if you'd go out and help search the grounds for him."
Alex leaned in over his table. "Paradox?" he whispered.
"Our dorm cat," said Kip.
The boys expressed sympathy and an eagerness to help, and Dr. Ralph laid out a plan. "...and spread out," he said at the end. "He's afraid of crowds."
The boys in Snack Bar headed for the door, subdorm-8 and Alex included.
"If you find him," called Dr. Ralph to the departing boys, "bring him here. This'll be our command post."
As they emerged into the sunlight, Alex suggested, "Maybe we should get some of the Amdexter kids to help."
"If Dr. Ralph had wanted them to," said Kip, coldly, "he would have asked them."
"Okay," said Alex, pointing in the direction of the Amdexter buildings, "I'll hunt over there. I know the territory." He hoped his eagerness would show that he was worthy to be an ESAP hunter.
"Sounds good," said Kip as the unit dispersed.
Alex cut across the Heisenberg Commons and then swept around the front of Founders, then through the overgrown grass between Founders and the chapel. It could easily have hidden a cat. Alex shuffled his way through making noise. He sang since it felt less silly than repeatedly calling out 'here Paradox'. He swung around the back of Founders and then trod diagonally across the Founders Quad. But the quad was so well manicured and orderly that even a cat couldn't have gone unnoticed. Alex slipped between the corner of his own dorm and the gymnasium and out to the parking lot. Still no cat. He noticed a little shed just outside the lot and padded over to it. He wasn't so much looking for Paradox now as wondering what the shed was for.
Just then he saw a slink of fawn-white against the green grass. Paradox! Alex froze. The cat had come from behind the shed. Paradox stopped and looked over his shoulder at the shed. The cat seemed as curious as Alex about the metal structure with its high window and keypad combination lock.
"Paradox," Alex said in a soft voice.
The cat swiveled his head toward Alex but didn't come to the boy. Alex took a slow step forward. The cat held its ground. Alex continued forward and then swooped up the cat in his arms and hugged him. The cat purred. He seemed glad to have been found.
"Yeah, cat," said Alex. "I know. It's just the way I felt when I ran away from home."
Alex ran his cheek over the cat's soft fur and again felt envy of ESAP. Slowly, all the time petting the cat, Alex walked to Feynman Hall.
As he drew close, kids saw him and what he carried. Many called out congratulations and all of them followed him back to Snack Bar.
Dr. Ralph was pacing when Alex arrived. "Oh, you found him."--Alex transferred the cat to him--"Thank you. Thank you a lot." Dr. Ralph then looked at Alex quizzically. "You're not one of us." Then he smiled. "Are you?"
As Alex tried to think of a response, Kip piped up. "He's a guest. His name's Alex Griffen."
Dr. Ralph, holding Paradox, chuckled. "A very welcome guest. I'm pleased to meet you, Alex Griffen."
Alex gave a sad smile.
Sunday morning, as the Amdexter kids tromped to their mandatory service, Kip and Co. played front of the chapel. In cadence to the chapel bells, they tossed around a baseball until all the Amdexter boys had gone in and the bells had stopped. Then, having made their point that they were immune from chapel, they flopped to the ground and killed time until the ethics course.
"The chapel has two bells," said Kip, "and they're real and each one is rung independently." He hummed the two bell notes. "The lower one is tuned to A and the higher one to E." He paused, as if waiting for a reaction, and then said "They're the initials of the schools. An Amdexter bell and an ESAP bell."
"Come on," said Wolfgang.
"No, really," said, Kip. "I'm sure it wasn't on purpose. The A might have been, but the E is a fifth above A. It's a common interval."
Wolfgang cocked his head. "How do you know it's A and E?"
"I don't know how I know. Probably from when we all sound an A in orchestra. And for the E, if you know A, then E is obvious."
"Obvious," said Paul.
After successfully killing forty-five minutes or so, they saw the chapel disgorging kids.
"Do they look closer to God?" said Paul.
"A couple of inches closer, maybe," said Kip.
The three got to their feet.
"Hey," said Wolfgang. "Here comes Alex. And he's still wearing your shorts." He waved Alex over, and they went as a grey group to the ethics course.
The seats in the rear of the Founders auditorium were already occupied, so they had to sit in the front. Kip slouched in his seat, prepared to snigger and ridicule. But the course turned out to be engaging--despite, or maybe even because of, the sense of hostility that pervaded the room. It was obvious that no one wanted to be there. Brother Wakabyashi--Wakabybaby as Paul referred to him at a whisper--said he was not about to lecture the boys, but instead to engage them in discussion.
As the hour went on, Kip was amazed that, even though Wakabyashi seemed to be a really nice guy, he was a fundamentalist who didn't believe in evolution. It seemed paradoxical that you could like someone and at the same time hate their beliefs. And what kind of a screwball school would hire a chaplan who didn't accept evolution? When the opportunity arose, Kip asked a question. "Hasn't science pretty much determined that evolution is a fact?"
"It depends on how you define evolution," said Wakabyashi. "Not to mention how you define fact. No. Not everyone believes we're descendent from apes. In fact, most people don't."
"Well, sir," said Kip, "Not exactly from apes, but I think most scientists do believe it. And I do, too."
Todd, sitting among friends, began scratching under his armpits and made gorilla sounds, at a loud whisper,. At the end of the lecture, Todd's gesture had spread so that subdorm-8, and Alex also, had to run a gauntlet of gorilla grunts and scratching until they reached the safety of Snack Bar.
Alex, Kip, Wolfgang, and Paul looked over the vending machine options.
"I'll treat you to some unhealthy snacks," said Paul. "Todd's money."
"Thanks," said Kip. "I'm not exactly in the mood for of bananas."
They got candy bars--all except Paul. He had to run off to his mathematics meeting with Dr. Linda. "Wait for me," he said as he left, holding a notebook. "Shouldn't take long--and I might really need a candy bar when it's over."
"Sure, no prob'," said Kip, lightly.--Paul headed for the door--"We'll just sit around and talk ethics and religion."
"Not hardly," said Wolfgang.
(To listen in on Paul's meeting with Dr. Linda, read chapter 10X)
When Paul had gone off to his meeting with Dr. Linda, the boys who stayed behind in Snack Bar did talk religion.
"Well, I don't believe in god," said Kip. "So I'm not about to make friends with an imaginary playmate."
"I'm not so sure," said Alex. "My parents said they'd let me decide if there's a god or not."
"Well, have you decided?"
"A lot of people believe in god. And a lot of people don't."
"I don't think many physicists do," said Kip.
"I haven't decided," said Alex. "But to be safe, I think maybe I should worship a god."
"Well," said Alex, thoughtfully, "there are a lot of different gods around. I sort of like the Greek gods that Mr. Thomas talks about." He paused. "You know...I think I'll worship Zeus."
"What?" Kip laughed. "You're kidding, aren't you?"
"No. There's a great picture of Zeus in our social studies book. He's holding this thunderbolt and there's an eagle sitting on--"
"But Zeus is a myth."
"I think it's sort of rude," said Alex, "calling someone else's religion mythology. Anyway, if Paul can believe in mathematics, I can believe in Zeus."
"Okay, fine," said Kip, "but why Zeus?"
"If one god exists, maybe they all do. And I'd probably be Zeus's only worshiper. I'd have his undivided attention."
"I sort of like that," said Wolfgang.
During the next half hour, Alex made up a set of prayers and rituals for the worship of Zeus and tried to teach them to Kip and Wolfgang.
"Alex, stop," said Kip. "Save it for Brother Wakabybaby."
"Hey," said Wolfgang, looking away at the door. "Here comes Paul."
Paul walked slowly into Snack Bar. He clutched his notebook and seemed to be talking to himself.
"What's with him?" said Wolfgang.
"It looks like Dr. Linda beat him up pretty good," said Kip.
As Paul drew closer his words became clear--if not comprehensible. "I can't believe it," he said softly into the air. "The set of all non-self-inclusive sets is both self-inclusive and non-self-inclusive. That's insane!"
"That's insane?" said Kip.
Paul suddenly seemed to notice the others. "It's the Russell Paradox. And boy is it good!" He threw himself down into a chair at the table. "Logic shouldn't have paradoxes." Paul pursed his lips. "I always believed that, like, if we thought about them right, there wouldn't be any. But now, I'm not so sure."
"All right, all right," said Kip. "Tell us the paradox."
Paul did so.
"It does seem to be a paradox," said Kip. "But it's words, logic. That's not the same thing as real mathematics."
"But it is," said Paul. "Symbolic logic. Logic reduced to symbols." He opened his notebook and wrote, ~(A ^ B) ≡ ~A v ~B. "Here, for instance."
"They look like magic symbols," said Alex.
Paul gave a weak smile. "I guess like in a way, they are." He let out a breath. "I might even be able to live with the Russell Paradox. But after dinner, Dr. Linda wants to show me something else. And from the way she talked, I think it's something bad." He pointed with his pencil to his symbolic logic symbols. "This here means, the negation of--"
"Later," said Wolfgang. "We're going to be late for lunch."
That evening, while Kip took advantage of being alone in his subdorm and did some homework, Alex walked in. He was dressed in casual clothes and carried, in addition to his ever-present sketchpad, a rolled up pair of grey shorts.
Alex handed over the shorts. "Thanks," he said in a subdued voice. "It was fun being in ESAP." He turned to leave.
"Wait a minute," said Kip. "Look. I'm sure you're smart enough. If Dr. Ralph knew you wanted to be a physicist or even a mathematician, maybe he'd let you in. I mean you already sort of have a bunk here."
"I wish." Alex, in a barely conscious quest for a defendable position, squeezed himself in between a bunk and a bookcase. "But actually I don't want to be a physicist or a mathematician."
Kip's eyes widened in clear astonishment. "You don't? Why?"
"I want to be an artist." Alex gave a bark of a laugh. "Not everyone in the world wants to be a physicist."
"I guess maybe they don't."
"But," Kip went on, "But if they'd studied any real physics and had the brains for it, then they'd want to be a physicist--or a mathematician."
Alex threw a glance to the ceiling.
Just then, Paul came in. He looked somber.
"Did Dr. Linda beat you up again?" said Kip.
"Math doesn't work," said Paul.
"Oh, come on!" said Kip.
"I hate that. I really hate it." Paul plopped down at his desk. "It's called Gödel's Proof. It says mathematics can't be both complete and consistent."
"What does that mean?" said Kip.
"Dr. Linda says that mathematics isn't always consistent--and maybe for the same reason that physics isn't."
"What reason is that?" said Alex, coming forward..
"Oh, Hi, Alex." Paul waved. "Dr. Linda said she didn't know. Oh, and I ran into Todd. He asked me if I'd talk to the ESAP kids about doing lines for money. Todd wants it to be a business. He'll take fifteen percent as the agent."
"He talked to me about it, too," said Kip. "Said he'd pay me eight dollars for a hundred lines."
"Todd said all ESAP kids were dirt poor," said Alex. "And they'd be happy for the money."
"Todd's a scumbag," said Paul. "But yeah, he like does have lots of money."
"Well, I told him to shove it up his nose," said Kip. "And I called him Toddle."
Alex laughed. "He hates being called names."
"Yeah, I know. He...he tried to punch me out."
"You're not the only one." Alex looked Kip up and down. "He's a lot bigger than you. I don't see any bruises."
Kip was too embarrassed to tell anyone that Todd had punched him so hard in the stomach that it brought tears to his eyes. So he took some liberties with the truth. "I'm a long-distance runner. He couldn't catch me." That was true, but only after Kip had recovered from the punch. "But I'd hate to have to run like a rabbit whenever I see him." Kip spoke with a smile, as if he were amused by the incident--but he wasn't. He hated Todd now with a vengeance.
Alex expressed sympathy and said he had to go. Then, with his hand on the doorknob, he turned to Paul. "What did you say? I mean about talking to ESAP kids about doing lines?"
"I told him you talked me out of it."
"Great! Wonderful!" Alex opened the door. "Now, he'll just kill me." Alex turned and left the subdorm.
Next morning, Paul, an early riser, climbed down from his bunk, powered up his computer, and checked his e-mail. "Hey! Here's this week's DEX."
Kip leaned his head over the edge of his mattress. "Anything interesting?"
Paul slowly scrolled through the e-mail newspaper. "Nope...no...no...nothing...no....Oh, wait! Here's a story about a friendly competition between third form Amdexter and us. It's for two weeks from now. A baseball game on Saturday and a chess tournament on Sunday."
"What?" said Kip, "no synchronized puppy stomping competition?"
"I like the idea of a chess tournamnet," said Wolfgang. "I bet Dr. Ralph suggested it."
"Probably." Paul threw a glance at Wolfgang, still lounging in bed. "I suppose that like in addition to being a sword swisher, you're also a chess master."
"No." Wolfgang placed his hands behind his head and lay back on his bunk. "But I am a member of the United States. Chess Federation and have a rating of 1443."
"What does that mean?" said Kip.
"It means that, at least for my age, I'm pretty good--but not great. I guess you don't play chess, then."
"I do," said Kip. "I even went to chess camp in the third grade. My coach told my dad I could be good but I don't have the killer instinct."
Paul looked from his monitor to the others. "I'd really like to be the manager for our baseball team."
Kip, since it was Monday, extracted clean clothes from his locker. "Do you really think we have a chance against those Amdexter jocks?"
"Maybe." Paul scrunched his shoulders. "I'd have to see what talent we have--and I'll have to scout out the other team. But good team management can make a big difference."
Wolfgang rolled languidly out of his bunk. "And I'd be glad to captain the chess team."
Paul turned back to the screen. "It says there'll be more information about the competitions at our school assemblies."
There was more information at the Amdexter assembly. But Kip was too distracted to absorb much of it. He'd been teased all through breakfast by Todd and his gang. They'd pointed at him and scratched under their arms and made gorilla grunts. And then it got worsre; Todd announced. "E.S.A.P. That's wrong. It should be A.P.E.S.--APES." Todd and his friends then laughed themselves silly.
And when Kip and the other grey shorts walked into assembly, Todd had called out, "Here come the apes!" Kip had tried "Here comes Todd and his toddlers." But it didn't help. All it did was make Todd's crowd mad at him. Kip was glad when assembly ended and he could escape to his first period class--even if it was Latin and with Todd in his class.
Second period was far, far better though: Social Studies with Mr. Thomas, and no Todd.
"Mr. Bates told me this morning," Mr. Thomas began, "that in your Roman Culture course on Saturday, you were taught about the Roman gods and myths. True?" The boys allowed that it was true.
"Then for balance, I thought I'd shelve Alexander the Great's conquests for the day and introduce you to the Greek gods and myths." Mr. Thomas paced as he usually did at the start of a class and Kip glanced to his left to see if Alex was listening or drawing. He seemed to be listening--or at any rate, he wasn't drawing.
"And," Mr. Thomas went on, "we can learn about myths, gods, and history, by starting with the Trojan War." He stopped pacing, as he usually did when he was ready to deliver the meat of lecture.
He discribed the long standoff between the Greeks and the Trojans, and then described the victory of the Greeks, through the ruse of the Trojan Horse.
"...And so, in the middle of the night, the soldiers hidden in the big wooden horse, snuck out and opened the gates to the city. The Greeks rushed through and...and masacred just about everyone." Mr. Thomas paused. "We now talk about a Trojan Horse as something that looks like a gift but is really just a device for sneaking past a place's defenses." He looked from face to face. "Can anyone think of an example of what could be called a Trojan Horse?"
After a few moments of silence where many boys shifted their gazes downward for fear of being called on, a boy said, "How about our carousel?"
Mr. Thomas looked at the kid with clear puzzlement. "What do you mean?"
Kip recognized the kid as one of Todd's friends.
"Well," said the kid. "The carousel seemed to be gift, but it is sort of the way that APES Kids got into Amdexter."
"ESAP, please," said Mr. Thomas with a frown. Then he brightened, "I like to think of the carousel as more like a bridge--connecting ESAP and Amdexter."
"It's like a Trojan Horse in both direction," another kid piped up.
The first kid laughed. "Yeah. It's a Trojan Carousel."
Mr. Thomas regained control of his class and guided the discussion back to the myths and gods of the ancient Greeks.
At the conclusion of the class, Kip and Alex walked out together.
"Boy, the Greeks had a lot of gods," said Alex. "You know. Maybe all gods are really the same--just different appearances."
"Like the wave-particle duality?" said Kip.
Alex made a face. "Huh?"
At Snack Bar that afternoon, Kip saw the chalked notice,
Gedanken Today--Where is that electron?
He noted it and then attended to the ESAP assembly, already in progress: Since no one seemed to care very much, Paul was chosen the manager of the baseball team and Wolfgang, now no longer all that enthusiastic, was made captain of the chess team. He said he couldn't take the chess match very seriously since they'd be playing without chess clocks. Mostly though, the talk was about the Amdexter kids calling ESAP kids apes.
"We'll just have to live with it until it dies down," said one of the kids.
"If it ever does," said another.
"But it makes me really mad, the Amdorks calling us names," said a third.
A bunch of kids laughed at the comment. And then another made a motion that all ESAP kids call the Amdextor kids Amdorks. Despite some protestations that not all Amdextor kids were dorks, the motion was voted and passed. Then, Dr. Ralph walked in and Kip turned his thoughts to quantum mechanics.
Dr. Ralph carried a large posterboard with an illustration on it and two smaller, strip-like boards which he laid face down on a table. He tacked the large posterboard to the wall. It showed a representation of a box with two slits at one end and a photographic plate at the opposite end and a gun pointed at the box shooting electrons.
"Today," he said, his back still to the boys, "we'll see that an electron, a single electron, can go through both slits at the same time."
"Why are you using posterboard?" said one of the kids.
Dr. Ralph turned around.
"I mean," the kid went on, "you could have drawn it on a computer and let the blackboard display it."
"I considered it," said Dr. Ralph. "But it would have been too slick. And it takes a lot of effort to prepare--especially for just one class." He juggled the chalk. "All right, then. The two-slit experiment. Here we go."
(For Dr. Ralph's description of the 2-slit experiment, read chapter 11X)
"And so,"--Dr. Ralph set down his chalk--"Each electron seems to go through both slits. That's the only way we could get an interference pattern."
One of the boys asked, "But how can just one single electron go through both slits?"
"That is the question." Dr. Ralph pocketed his pen. "I have no idea of the answer. Nobody does." He blew out a breath. "In fact, one theory says that everytime there are multiple outcomes to an experiment--for example, going through one slit or another--a seperate universe is created for each possible output. And interference is caused by the separate universes themselves interfering." He smiled, looking from face to face. "Yeah, I know. It's more like science fiction than science. But some physicists take that theory seriously." He paused. "It's fun, isn't it?"
The boys admitted that it was.
Dr. Ralph looked from face to face, finally stopping at Kip. "You don't look quite as mystified as the other boys," he said, lightly. "You do understand the problem. Yes?"
"Yes," said Kip, tentatively. But then he added. "No. I mean I can sort of visualize it, what's really happening to the electrons, I mean. I don't exactly see it in pictures really. It's hard to explain."
"Well...." Kip tried to put his visualization in words, but Dr. Ralph held up a hand.
"Wait," said Dr. Ralph. "Not now. It's just about time for the next class." He dismissed the boys. But as Kip started out of Snack Bar, Dr. Ralph held him back. "Wait a minute, Kip."
Kip stared at him expectantly.
When the rest of the boys had gone, Ralph said. "There's a saying: If you keep your head while everybody around you is in a state of panic, then perhaps you don't fully understand the situation."
Kip felt he was expected to laugh, so he did.
"So," Dr. Ralph continued. "As far as the two slit experiment, is it that you don't understand the problem? Or...." Dr. Ralph's voice became soft. "Or is it possible that you understand it far better than I do--far better than anyone does?"
"I probably don't understand it, sir, but... but maybe waves and particles are two different things, while being the same."
"Meaning what, exactly, please?"
Kip laughed nerviously. "I don't know about 'exactly'. But I mean maybe...maybe it's a problem with how you think about 'thing'."
Dr. Ralph stared at him through narrowed, contemplitive eyes. "You mean maybe the word 'thing' doesn't mean what it seems to mean?"
"Yeah," said Kip. "Maybe the wave part of the electron thing can be everywhere at once and the particle part can't."
Kip twitched as Dr. Ralph stared hard at him in silence.
After ten or fifteen seconds, Dr. Ralph asked, "And you can...can visualize those electron things?"
"Sort of," said Kip. "I'm not sure."
Dr. Ralph gave a good-natured chuckle. "Blessed are the uncertain, for maybe they shall see Heisenberg."
"The examiners were right about you," said Dr. Ralph, speaking to Kip, but sounding as if he wasn't. "You do have an exceptional physical intuition. Something to be carefully cultivated."
Dr. Ralph got a far away look. "This might validate ESAP." He shook his head. "Maybe it's just wishful thinking. But maybe.... God I'd kill to understand the two slit experiment."
"Better run off to your next class." Dr. Ralph gave a warm smile. "And see if you can find words to describe your visualization." He paused. "But don't hurry it."
Kip started away, but then stopped and said "I think I understand now what Korzybski meant when he said the map is not the territory."
In subdorm-8 that night after lights out, Paul spoke from his bunk into the darkness. "I used to believe in mathematics. I, like, thought it was perfect and logical." He paused. "But after Gödel's Theorem, I don't think I believe in anything."
"I don't either," said Wolfgang. "At least not in any religious stuff. My dad always says that it comes with the territory when you're a theoretical physicist."
"And so." Paul paused. "I've sort of decided that instead of a mathematician, I'm going to be a physicist--a mathematical physicist."
"Hey, great!" said Wolfgang.
"Really?" said Kip. "Nice....I wish that Alex had decided to be one, too."
"Alex doesn't think like us," said Wolfgang. "He's a civilian."
At the start of Kip's Social Studies class on Friday of the second week of school, Mr. Thomas announced that he was taking the class over to ESAP.
"Especially for Alex," said Mr. Thomas, "I borrowed a VritFlic on young Alexander the Great from the Greek Culture Society. And we can experience it in the ESAP planetarium." Kip thought he detected a touch of resentment in Mr. Thomas's voice.
Walking from Founders to the Planetarium Complex, Kip looked forward to watching the Amdexter kids ogle at the neat stuff they had at his school.
Dr. Ralph was there to run the equipment and supervise the distribution of the headsets.
"Why does science always get the best teaching aids?" said Mr. Thomas, softly, as the kids settled into their seats. Kip overheard it as he sat close to the console.
"Don't blame me," said Dr. Ralph equally quietly. "This came with the school. But actually, I don't use them. I prefer live experiments-it's so instructive when they go wrong."
A half-hour later, at the conclusion of the VritFlic, Kip removed his headset. He blinked and rubbed his eyes as he re-adjusted to non-virtual reality. Looking over at Alex, he saw that his friend had not removed his headset and was still staring up at the dome. He tapped Alex on the arm. "Hey, Alex. It's over. You can wake up now."
"What?" Alex took off his headset. "Boy. It was as if Alexander the Great was talking only to me. So I was watching more of it. And we talked more."
"You talked more?"
Just then, Mr. Thomas called his class to order and then shepherded them out of the dome.
As Kip left the building on route back to Founders, Todd said with a sneer, "Is that all you do at ESAP--sit around watching VritFlics?"
That day, Kip's fourth period Phys. Ed. class, met at the sports complex pool for swiming tests. Kip dreaded it. While he liked splashing around in the water, he wasn't a very good swimmer. And so he felt very nervous about demonstrating his lack of ability in front of the athletics master and the rest of his class--and while swimming naked.
Trying not to drown, he paddled hard, and was aware of his wake, ripples spreading across the pool--like an electron's ghost wave. Suddenly, he had another non-verbal and non-visual image of the electron's behavior in the two slit experiment. The nature of the wave-particle duality. He switched his concentration from water waves to ghost waves.
"Campbell," shouted the athletics master, "what's the matter? Are you all right?"
"Yes, sir," Kip gurgled, taking in the unmistakable flavor of chlorine pool water, and returning his attention to the matter of his swim test.
A little later, after fifth period Orchestra, as Kip padded across the Dalambertian toward Feynman Hall, he felt comfortable with himself and with his place in the universe. He was beginning to feel at home at school--even at Amdexter. He'd settled in, and the pecking order was well established; he knew which kids were smarter, which ran faster, were bigger and stronger, were nasty, were generally to be avoided because of being weird, having spotty personal hygiene, always borrowing stuff, being a trouble-magnet. He'd learned to avoid obvious dangers: kids wanting to beat him up, masters giving him punishment lines, arguments about whether physics was better than absolutely everything. And, because of the radio station preferring light classical music in the morning, the Beethoven rule had not yet come into play so he'd never been late to breakfast. And most importantly, he was making progress, a little progress anyway, in his understanding of what was really going on with quantum mechanics. And, to his surprise, he had passed his swimming test.
This day, the air was crisp and dry, making colors seem more vivid--making the world seem but newly painted. The grass, smelling tart and clean, glistened greener than green. The Dalambertian was alive with squirrels and the occasional rabbit. The sky radiated blue as if through a crystal. Today, life was good.
As he ambled through the door into Snack Bar, Kip saw in bold writing on the blackboard,
------------------SPECIAL Gedanken today!------------------
--------Sixth and Seventh period classes canceled.--------
Kip and the other boys puzzled over the announcement for a few minutes, and then Dr. Ralph came in. He carried a big mesh bag filled with yellow tennis balls which he plopped down on a table.
"It's a beautiful day out!" he exclaimed in a burst of enthusiasm. "Much too nice to be stuck in class."
Wolfgang leaned in and whispered to Kip, "Think we could use that excuse when we cut class?"
"I have decided that for today," Dr. Ralph continued, "I'll temporarily shift the focus from quantum mechanics to the other great pillar of theoretical physics"--he raised both hands over his head in what looked like a celebration of victory--"relativity theory!"
Then, accompanied by his usual pacing, he went on to explain that Einstein had changed the very perception of space and time, combining them into a single concept--space-time. "And he solved the great mystery of gravity." He looked out over his class. "What mystery, you might ask." He paused. "All right. Come on, somebody ask it!"
Kip giggled. "What mystery?"
"I'm glad you asked that." Dr. Ralph went to the board and drew a big circle--quot;This is the Sun."--and a small circle--"And here's the Earth." He swiveled around. "So! The pull of gravity between the Sun and the Earth keeps the Earth in orbit around the Sun. But. And Isaac Newton himself wondered this: how can something pull on something else through nothing. He called this 'action at a distance'. How can the Sun and Earth pull on each other through a vacuum?"
"Well, I'm not sure how it works exactly," said Wolfgang, "but I think--"
"That was a rhetorical question, Wolfgang." Dr. Ralph surveyed the boys. "Okay, okay. I know some of you wise guys know the answer. But bear with me. Einstein's big idea was that gravity could be explained as a curvature in space-time. Now this is a tricky thing to get a feel for. In a curved space, straight lines aren't what we think they are. The concept of distance between points isn't obvious." He picked up his bag of tennis balls. "So we're going to spend some time at the carousel." He tossed the bag up in the air. "I've borrowed these from the athletics department--so you can play catch on a moving carousel--to hopefully build an intuitive understanding of curved space-time. An understanding of gravity. Okay?"
"But what about magnets," a kid called out. "They pull on things, and I think they can do it through a vacuum. Is that also because of curved space-time?"
Dr. Ralph seemed taken by surprise. "They do pull through a vacuum. But, the case of how magnets work is still sort of open."
"Sort of?" asked Wolfgang.
"No one's yet been able to explain magnetism coming from a curved space-time. One can think of particles traveling through the vacuum carrying the magnetic force--instead of as a curving of space. Actually, you can think of gravity that way as well. It's two different ways of thinking of the same phenomenon."
"Another map, territory problem?" said Kip.
"Yes, probably?" Dr. Ralph started toward the door. "Come on! We'll forget magnetism for a while and just play catch to learn about gravity."
As the throng of boys left Feynman Hall, Kip looked across at the windows of Founders. There were kids in class behind those windows--and they were stuck there. To Kip, it was a partial balancing of the books. ESAP's school day lasted forty minutes longer than Amdexter's. So let 'em think we're just going to run around and have fun. With his nose in the air, he broke his gaze from Founders.
At the head of a line of boys, Dr. Ralph led the way to the carousel and up to the weatherized control box. It had a keypad lock.
"This is going to be fun," said Kip to Wolfgang.
Wolfgang didn't answer, but stared with cat-like intensity at Dr. Ralph as he keyed the combination and swung open the cover. On a hook inside the cover, was a key to the control panel.
"A simple keypad lock protecting a key," said Wolfgang under his breath. "Dumb!"
Dr. Ralph inserted the key and panel lights came on. So too did the lights for the entire carousel. And the sound of carousel music filled the air. "Oops!" Dr. Ralph flipped two switches; the lights and music ceased. He passed out tennis balls with a caution. "No horse heroics, please. It would be embarrassing to fall off a carousel horse."
"Can we stand on the carousel?" said Kip. "I think it would be hard catching a ball sitting on a horse."
Dr. Ralph pursed his lips for a moment. "Okay. We'll try it. But be careful."
Most of the boys opted for standing and took places on the perimeter. Dr. Ralph started the carousel and the boys began throwing balls back and forth. Most of the balls were not caught and wound up littering the grass.
"No. No. This is chaos." Dr. Ralph stopped the carousel "There are too many boys riding. We need about a third of you to stay on the grass to field the balls and toss them back to the riders. Volunteers?"
No one volunteered.
"I guess I'll have to choose volunteers."
"I'll go," said Paul. "If I can borrow a pencil and a piece of paper."
"Here!" said a kid taking a notepad and ballpoint from his shirt pocket. "You can use these."
"Okay, then." Dr. Ralph pointed to other volunteers.
"Why?" whispered Kip who was standing next to Paul on the perimeter. "It'll be more fun here."
"Scouting--to see what talent we have for our baseball team." Paul hopped off the carousel and began collecting balls.
With about twenty boys on the carousel and ten on the grass, Dr. Ralph again switched the carousel into motion.
The system worked well. Riders threw to other riders. Balls flew off the carousel. Fielders retrieved grounded balls and tossed them back to the riders. As time went on, the percentage of balls caught grew. The riders were getting the hang of it at the expense of the fielders who had less and less to do.
"Hey, Dr. Ralph," called one of the riders. "Can we have music?"
"Well...." Dr. Ralph threw a glance across the Dalambertian. "Sure. Why not? We're far enough away from Founders that it shouldn't be a problem." He threw a switch and the sound of a carousel organ filled the air. The occasion was becoming festive.
At one point, Dr. Ralph exchanged fielders with riders. Paul though, said he'd rather remain in the field.
"This isn't exactly a game," said Dr. Ralph. "It's a physics experiment. So, up on the carousel with you."
After another quarter hour or so, the riders had become very accomplished at throwing and catching--and some began to show off with killer throws and jumping catches.
"Hey, catch this!" one boy challenged as he let off a vicious, but inaccurately thrown, fast ball.
The intended catcher made a great leap with both arms outstretched. He caught the ball, but couldn't regain his footing. He fell to the deck of the carousel and grabbed the pole supporting a horse. The horse began to come down, its hooves descending down over the boy. He shrieked, released the pole, and rolled out of the way. He rolled completely off the carousel and, with a yell and with arms and legs flailing, tumbled onto the grass.
"Oh, my god!" Dr. Ralph ran to the kid. "Nick. Are you hurt? Don't try to move."
Nick waved the man away and jumped to his feet. "It's okay. I'm fine."
Dr. Ralph, looking shaken, stopped the carousel and ordered the riders off. "Nick could have been seriously hurt."
"No, I couldn't," Nick protested. "I know judo. I know how to fall."
The kids laughed and Dr. Ralph threw a quick glance to the sky. "Music was a bad idea." He switched it off.
"You're not going to stop us from...experimenting on the carousel, Dr. Ralph," said Kip. "Are you?"
Dr. Ralph ran a hand through his hair. "No," he said. "It's part of the curriculum. But I've got to come up with a way to make it safe. I can't have another accident."
Paul, standing next to Kip, whispered, "I think I'm going to put Nick at shortstop."
As Dr. Ralph lectured his class on the absolute requirement of safety and caution, Kip looked idly across the Dalambertian to Founders Hall. He observed some faces in the windows looking back. Kip thought that Alex's might possibly be one of them.
Tuning out his science master's droning voice, Alex gazed surreptitiously out the open window. Boys on the carousel were playing catch with tennis balls. It looked like a lot of fun.
He shifted his gaze sharply back to his teacher as he heard the man raise his voice.
"How in heaven's name," declared the master, breaking his drone, "are boys supposed to concentrate with that infernal so-called music?" He strode to the double-paned window and slammed it shut, silencing the carousel.
Returning to the front of his class, the master droned again.
Boring, boring, boring! Alex looked once more through the window at what was now a silent movie--in an increasingly hot and stuffy theater.
An eternity later, Alex snapped his attention back to his classroom as the master again tromped to the window. The teacher jerked it open, letting in both cool air and carousel music. "It's either noise or suffocation," he said with a sigh.
Alex gazed intently at the window; while he could feel the fresh air streaming in to the classroom, he wanted to see it as well.
On the carousel, one of the boys fell. As if in slow motion, Alex saw the boy looking up from the carousel deck as the great black hoofs of Bucephalus came down on him. But, as if the horse were showing mercy, the hooves started up again. At the same time, the boy rolled sideways and flew off the carousel and onto the grass.
Alex shivered. What if the hooves had kept coming down? Abruptly then, the music stopped. The music. Bucephalus was just dancing to the music.
"Thank God," he heard his science master say. At first Alex thought the thanks were offered for the kid's escape, but then the master went on, "Now that the racket has ceased, we can return to our discussion of atoms." He pulled down what looked like a window shade, revealing a chart with the heading, The Periodic Table of the Elements. After a second or two of silence, the master added, "Mr. Griffen. Kindly give us your attention."
"Yes, sir," said Alex, startled, forcing his attention from the window. If Bucephalus had reins, the kid could have grabbed them.
Disoriented and panicked, Alex gazed up at the sky filled with bright stars and a full moon. He lay supine on the rocky ground as a black silhouette, made visible against the sky by the absence of stars, grew bigger above him. He opened his mouth to scream as he saw that the dark void was Bucephalus, his horse, and its hooves were descending inexorably toward his face. And he was paralyzed, unable to move a muscle--not even able to scream. Why, Bucephalus? Why do you want to kill me?
Alex woke with a start, his face cold and clammy, his breathing heavy. He wondered if he really did scream--apparently not, for everyone in the dorm-row was still sleeping. Through the window, he saw the first dim light of early dawn. He had time for more sleep, but not the desire. He rolled softly to a sitting position and slipped his feet into his bathroom sandals. Then he slipped out of them again. This time, he'd go fully dressed. After visiting Bucephalus, he could simply stroll in to breakfast.
Kneeling on his bunk, he grabbed his clothes and dressed. Then, quietly, he put on his shoes and stood--and winced at the creaking of the ancient wood floorboards. He took a tentative step, putting his foot down slowly and gradually transferring his weight to it.
"Where are you going?" came a whispered voice behind him.
Alex gritted his teeth and turned, expecting that Todd had caught him again. But he saw Todd still asleep and Woodchuck leaning up on his shoulders.
"I'm...I'm going for a walk," Alex whispered.
"Shh." Alex turned and took another soft step.
"I'm coming, too," came Woodchuck's whispered voice from behind.
"What?" Alex hardly had any choice. "Okay. But be quiet." He waited for Woodchuck to dress. Then he took soft baby steps away from his dorm-row. Woodchuck followed.
"Woodchuck!" said Alex in a loud whisper when they'd passed through the door of the dorm. "Why are you following me?"
"Where are you going?"
Alex couldn't think of any answer except the truth. "I'm going to the carousel."
"Well, I.... I want to see it at sunrise. I bet it will look like Stonehenge."
"All right," Alex whispered, moving away to the stairs. "Come on."
On the ground floor, Alex explained that he was going to unlock a whole lot of locked doors to the outside. "I want to make sure I can back in before breakfast if I want to. The last time, I got locked out."
Woodchuck giggled. "Yeah, I know," he said. "Todd told me."
Alex pursed his lips and didn't say anything. Now he knew for sure that Todd was the one who'd locked him out. I'll get even, Todd.
They went out the front door and cut North across the Dalambertian.
At the carousel, Woodchuck said "This is sort of spooky." He glanced at the control panel box. "Boy it would be neat if we could turn on the carousel. It would really be spooky riding it in the dark." He nodded at the box. "Too bad we can't open that."
"Wolfgang could probably open it."
"The APES kid?" said Woodchuck in a disparaging voice. "Come on."
"Really!" said Alex. "Everyone knows Wolfgang can open locks. And it's ESAP not APES."
"Whatever." Woodchuck hopped on to the deck of the carousel and started to mount a horse."
"Not that one," Alex called out. "That horse is mine."
Woodchuck gave a puzzled look, then a tiny shrug. He moved to another horse and sprang into the saddle. "Hey, this really is cool," he said, gazing off at the dark school against a slightly less dark background. "It looks like a castle." He spurred his wooden horse with imaginary spurs, then looked back at Alex who was now astride his own horse. "We're knights returning home from a quest."
"Yeah," said Alex with a chuckle.
"Why don't we start a club," said Woodchuck, his voice brimming with enthusiasm. "Sort of like the Knights of the Round Table. We can have meetings, and secret ceremonies, and initiations--just like Knights. And we won't let kids in who we don't like."
Alex considered it--his dark riders fantasy becoming an actual organization. "There's got to be a better purpose to the club," he said both to Woodchuck and himself, "than just keeping other kids out."
"Well..." Woodchuck executed an athletic vault, flipping around in the saddle to face backward. "What did the Knights of the Round Table do?" He leaned back against the pole rising up from where the saddle's pommel would be.
"They defended the weak and fought infidels." Alex smiled. "I'm not sure though, but maybe I'm an infidel." He paused. "I think it's more fun being an infidel."
"Me, too," said Woodchuck. "Riding through the dark and yelling war cries to strange gods."
Alex warmed to the idea of a club. "How 'bout we name ourselves the Knights of the Dark Riders of Zeus."
"King of the gods. The god of the sky and thunder."
"Yeah, I like that," said Woodchuck. "Let's do it. A secret society. And we can each have our own horse--to take care of and keep him clean."
"And we'll call our leader the Lord of the Dark Riders." Alex visualized himself in that role. Sir Alexander Griffin. Lord of the Dark Riders of Zeus.
"I'm going to name my horse...Fang." Woodchuck vaulted once more, to again face forward. "On, Fang!"
"Geez! Not so loud. You'll wake the whole school--both schools."
Alex thought more about what the Dark Riders would do. "We could defend the innocent, actually." He had a fleeting vision of Todd. "We could stop bullying at the school."
"Yeah, sure. How?" Woodchuck slapped his horse's rump and then looked over his shoulder. "The bullies are bigger than we are."
"By the Dark Riders banding together."
"Yeah, maybe," said Woodchuck. "But I think we should keep out older kids. The fourth-formers would probably try to take it away from us." He stepped hard on the stirrup posts, raising his seat a few inches off the saddle. "And...and we could share our cookie packages from home, and let the knights see each other's homework....As long as we don't have too many knights."
"We'll have nine knights," said Alex, firmly.
"Why?" Woodchuck cocked his head. "There are a lot more than nine horses."
"It's only a nine-hole golf course."
"Come on." Alex did a flying dismount to the deck of the carousel. "Let's go get our lances."
Alex hopped from the deck and headed off to the golf course. "You'll see. Come on!"
When they'd reached the golf course, the dawn had come closer but color had yet to return to the world. The flag-sticks and their flags stood black against the less dark sky.
"Lances!" said Woodchuck, "Cool!"
They liberated two flag-sticks and played with them.
"This is fun," said Woodchuck.
"Yeah, but it's getting close to wakeup time. We'd better return our lances and go back."
"Yeah, okay," said Woodchuck, disappointment clear in his voice. But then he brightened. "Tomorrow is Sunday--no school. So why don't we come back tonight, after everyone's asleep."
"Fine with me," said Alex, starting away. "I like it here at night."
"And we can bring flashlights." Woodchuck ran to be level with Alex. "Can we invite Kevin and Roger?"
"Kevin's a good kid," said Alex. "But I don't know about Roger."
"He's no friend of Todd."
"How do you know?"
"He told me," said Woodchuck. "He said he hates Todd's guts."
"Fine, then. Invite him."
In the observatory, Kip, Wolfgang and Paul waited for the sky to become acceptably dark. A deep red light illuminated the interior of the dome--a color that wouldn't affect their dark-adapted eyes. The wait would be long since in mid-September, a black sky didn't come until just about their bedtime. But in view of the fact that boys could sleep-in on Sundays, Dr. Ralph had given permission for them to stay up long into the night--until they themselves decided that they needed sleep.
Wolfgang keyed the control to open the dome shutter. A motor thrummed and, appearing as a deep blue void against the red, a thin slit gradually opened in the dome. The slit grew to a meter-wide gash and the motor stopped, leaving the observatory eerily quiet.
Wolfgang increased the monitor contrast, making the grey screen black. With permission, he'd replaced the telescope eyepiece with an image intensifier photomultiplier tube, the output of which was sent over a wireless link to a computer monitor. That way, all three boys could see the telescope's image.
"Can't we just observe now?" said Kip, whispering in the silence. "Even if we won't see everything, we'll still see something."
"Yeah," said Wolfgang. "I guess it's dark enough now. Anyway, with the moon almost full, the observing isn't going to be all that great." He peered up through the dome door to get his bearings. "Oh, almost straight up." He pointed. "That's Deneb, alpha Cygnae, head of the Northern Cross." He paused. "We could look at NGC7000, the North American Nebula. That's near Deneb."
He selected NGC 7000 in the telescope controller and, with the whirring of motors, the telescope slewed to point at the nebula. As the telescope moved, so did the dome--rotating so the slit was always in front of the lens. The scope stopped and a nebulosity appeared on the screen, looking roughly like the outline of North America. Some individual stars could be seen in the image.
"That"s it?" said Paul. "I thought it would be, well, like...more impressive."
Wolfgang looked hurt, as if he were personally responsible for the splendor of the cosmos. "Sorry." He paused. "Well, if you want impressive, I'll show you M13, the Hercules globular cluster. That is one of the truly great sights in astronomy." He keyed for M13 and the scope pointed to the northeast, about half way to the zenith.
"Wow!" said Kip. The screen showed what looked like a spherical aggregate of thousands of stars, increasing in density toward the center where it seemed to be a solid mass of whiteness.
"Yeah. That is impressive," said Paul.
"Okay," said Wolfgang, smiling sheepishly. "Now how 'bout we go from a lot of stars to just two--a really beautiful double. Epsilon Boötes." He keyed the control and the scope moved to a point low in the Northwest sky.
"Izar," said Paul.
"Excuse me?" said Wolfgang.
"The other name for Epsilon Boötes."
"Oh." Wolfgang looked away at the dome slit. "Hey what's that?"
"What's what?" said Kip.
"Down near the horizon. I thought I saw a flash of light." He pointed. "There it is again. Wonder what's going on."
"Can you point the telescope at it?" said Paul.
"I think so." Using the direction arrows on keypad controller, Wolfgang directed the telescope toward the horizon.
"Hey, look," said Kip, watching the computer screen. "There's something happening at the carousel."
A big tree in front of the carousel obscured much of the screen. But through its leaves, Kip saw tantalizing snatches of moving shadows.
"There're people there," said Paul, squinting at the indistinct movement on the monitor.
"Kids?" said Wolfgang.
"Don't know," said Kip. "Oh, my god. They've got spears."
"Come on," said Paul.
"Look!" Kip pointed to a small area of movement on the monitor.
"Yeah," said Paul after a few seconds. "It could be."
"Let's go outside and see," said Wolfgang.
"But what about the foxes?" said Kip, not entirely in jest.
"Don't be silly. They're shy animals." Wolfgang chuckled. "And the headmaster said they don't eat kids. Come on."
"I'm a city kid," said Kip. "The only time I saw a fox, it was in a cage, safely behind bars."
"They put foxes in jail where you come from?" said Paul.
Kip threw an annoyed look at Paul and then went on. "All right. Let's go out, if you want." Then he added, "But let's sneak up on them."
"Who? The foxes?" said Paul.
"Paul. Cut it out!" Kip turned to Wolfgang. "I don't exactly feel like just walking in on a mess of people holding spears."
"Fine," said Wolfgang. "Stealth is good."
The three left the observatory, and cut across the corner of the Dalambertian toward the carousel. Wolfgang held his red flashlight--the one he used to read star charts without hurting his night vision. But he didn't turn it on; the moon was bright and, by now, the three knew the terrain very well.
At the last point of cover among the bushes bounding the Dalambertian, Kip whispered, "Down!" The three dropped to the grass and crawled single-file toward the carousel, Paul in the lead.
At the edge of the clearing surrounding the carousel, Paul signaled a halt. Kip and Wolfgang slithered level to Paul, and the three peeked out from the concealment of the bushes.
Kip saw three boys standing side-by-side on the deck of the carousel. A fourth boy stood on the grass looking up at them.
On the deck, the kid in the center held a sheet of paper while the boys on either side each held two spears. Each spear had a little flag on it.
"Those aren't spears," whispered Paul. "They're from the golf course."
"They look great, though," whispered Kip.
Two flashlights sat on the deck, turned on and pointing up. The light reflected off the horses and bounced to the carousel ceiling, providing a soft eerie illumination.
"I promise to do my duty to Zeus, god of the sky, and to the Dark Riders," said the boy in the center.
"That's Alex, isn't it?" whispered Wolfgang.
"Yeah," whispered Kip.
The boy on the ground repeated what Alex had recited, and then Alex continued, "To defend the defenseless, to help the helpless, to shine the light of Zeus on those with dark souls,"
The boy on the ground repeated it.
"Sounds sort of like the Cub Scout oath," Paul whispered.
"And," Alex went on, "to maintain the honor of myself, my horse, and my fellow knights."
After the boy repeated that as well, Alex took a spear from the boy on his left and passed it to the boy on the ground. The spear's flag displayed the number four.
Alex took a spear from the boy on his right. The flag was numbered one. All the boys now carried spears. Alex raised his spear ceremoniously. "Roger Carpenter, I now declare you the fourth knight of the Dark Riders of Zeus with all the rights, duties, and privileges thereunto pertaining." He then leaned down and handed Roger the sheet he was holding. Kip could see it was a picture of some sort, but he couldn't make out any details.
"Come up now sir knight and chose your horse," said Alex.
Roger stepped onto the deck and laid the sheet he carried next to two others. Then, as the four boys were busy evaluating wooden horseflesh, Paul scrambled to his feet. "Let's see what this is about."
As Kip and Wolfgang crawled from the bushes and scrambled to their feet, Alex looked their way. He froze with an expression that might have been surprise or embarrassment.
"Hi, Alex," said Kip.
"Oh. Kip, it's you," Alex stammered. "I didn't recognize you in the dark." He threw a glance to the other kids with him by the carousel. "We were having a...a club meeting."
"What club?" said Wolfgang.
Alex clutched his spear. "We're the Knights of the Dark Riders of Zeus. We defend...."--Alex seemed self-conscious--"We defend the carousel."
"This looks reeeally cool!" said Kip.
Alex brightened. He explained the idea of the Dark Riders, then picked up one of the sheets of paper from the deck and showed it to Kip. On it was a horizontal thunderbolt, exquisitely drawn, under which were the words, Roger Carpenter, Fourth Knight of the Dark Riders of Zeus in Old English lettering. It looked like something you'd see framed and mounted in a place of honor next to diplomas and awards. Kip wanted one.
"That's Roger," said Alex, pointing to the kid holding spear number four. Kip said hi. Then all the kids introduced themselves: Alex, Woodchuck, Roger, and Kevin on one side, and Kip, Paul, and Wolfgang on the other.
"Are you guys all like from the same dorm-row?" asked Paul.
"Yeah," said Woodchuck. "3E."
"And you were all able to sneak out of the dorm without anyone noticing?"
"Yup."Woodchuck laughed. "If Todd wakes up and looks around, will he ever be in for a big surprise. Only him and Martin are in the dorm-row now."
"Can I join the Dark Riders?" said Kip.
"Me, too," said Paul.
"I'd like to join, also," said Wolfgang.
"Well," said Alex, tentatively, "we're supposed to vote on new members." He glanced quickly at the other spear carriers. "So wait here while we talk about it." He gathered the other Riders and went to the other side of the carousel.
"I think this is great!" said Kip when the others had gone. "Sneaking out after lights out, secret ceremonies, the carousel in the dark, knights with lances."
"In the dark," said Paul, "the carousel looks really eerie."
Wolfgang seemed diffident. "It does look like fun," he said, "but it does seem a little...childish."
"No, it isn't," said Kip. "A friend of mine from my old school. His father's a Mason. They run around with swords, and have secret handshakes, and do all sorts of cool stuff."
Wolfgang nodded. He seemed relieved, having been assured he wasn't about to act like a little kid.
A minute or two later, Alex and the others returned. The memberships had been approved and everyone went off to the golf course to snag three more spears.
Then, back at the carousel, Kip and company, in solemn ritual, promised to do their duty to Zeus.
"Okay, sir knights," said Alex. "Now go and chose your horses." As Kip and co. leapt onto the deck, Alex added, "I'll have your thunderbolt certificates ready tomorrow morning."
"It's too bad we can't turn on the carousel," said Roger. "That would be fun."
Kevin nodded toward the locked control box. "We could operate the carousel if we could figure out the combination."
Kip looked down from his just chosen horse. "Wolfy could open it." He was sure Wolfgang had memorized the combination when Dr. Ralph opened it.
Roger glanced at the control box. "Fat chance!"
"Could you open it?" said Woodchuck.
"If I wanted to," said Wolfgang, his hand casually resting on a saddle.
"Why wouldn't you want to?" said Roger. "We're defenders of the carousel. And that makes us in loco parentis."
"In what?" said Wolfgang, wrinkling his nose.
"In loco parentis," said Roger. "It means we're in charge."
"Like, what are you talking about?" said Paul.
"I heard my dad say it," said Roger. "He's a lawyer in children's court. Mom took me to the visitor's gallery once to see him work."
"It's true," said Kevin. "His father is a lawyer. So it's okay for you to open the lock." He paused. "If you can," he added in a voice filled with challenge.
"Please," said Woodchuck, imploringly. "It'll be a lot of fun riding in the dark. And it won't hurt anything."
Everyone worked to convince Wolfgang.
"Yeah, okay," said Wolfgang, at length. He shrugged. "Since we're in loco parentis and all that." He went to the control cabinet, pulled out his red-beam flashlight, and went to work on the combination. He positioned himself so no one could see what he was doing.
After a scant fifteen seconds, there came a click and Wolfgang pulled open the door. He turned around to face the kids with the look of a magician who'd just pulled a rabbit from a hat. "Courtesy of Sir Wolfgang of CERN."
"Hey. He really did it, said Roger."
"Can you operate the carousel?" said Kevin.
"Sure." Wolfgang turned back to the panel. "I'll have to make sure the sound and lights are off." He peered at the controls. "There's a timer knob. Looks like a standard ride is three and a half minutes." Wolfgang took the key from its hook, inserted it into the panel and turned it. Indicator lights came on. Then he threw some switches. "Okay," he said. "Get on and I'll start it moving."
While Wolfgang stood waiting, the other six boys jumped to the carousel and mounted their horses. Two of them swept up their flashlights off the deck as they went.
Wolfgang turned the timer knob.
With the motor's soft sound, like a gentle breeze, the carousel started to move and then quickly gained speed. The boys were silent as they rode their horses in the moonlight. A kid with a flashlight pointed it outward and a shaft of light swept the darkness like the beam from a lighthouse.
Wolfgang sprinted to the carousel, jumped onto the deck and swung onto his horse.
Kip, on the horse ahead, looked over his shoulder. "Fun, Wolfy. Isn't it?"
"You know," said Wolfgang, "it actually is."
When the ride ended, Wolfgang jumped to the deck and then to the ground. "Want another ride?"
The boys yelled yes at a loud whisper.
Wolfgang loped around to the control cabinet, brought his hand to the timer--and then froze.
What's the matter, said Paul from astride his horse.
While the knights hurriedly dismounted, Wolfgang turned the carousel off, returned the key to its hook, and snapped closed the cabinet.
Just then two boys broke through the brush
Seemingly by reflex, a boy with a flashlight shined the beam on the two intruders.
"Todd and Martin," said Woodchuck under his breath.
Kip, seeing Alex's spear waver looked over at his friend. Alex looked nervous, maybe even scared.
Roger took a step forward. "Hi, Todd." He threw a quick glance to the others, as if for moral support. "We were just--"
"We saw you," said Todd in a tone of accusation. "We saw you riding the carousel. I don't think you're s'posed to be doing that."
"It's okay," said Woodchuck. "We're in loco parentis." He went on to describe the Dark Riders of Zeus.
"I want to join," said Todd, abruptly.
"Me, too," said Martin.
"Well," said Alex, "we're supposed to vote on new members."
Martin laughed. "Okay. What are you waiting for? Vote us in."
Todd gave a smile that turned into a leer. "I'm sure you're not supposed to be out here. And it might be dangerous if anyone who wasn't a member knew about it." He pulled Martin away. "Come on. Let 'em vote." He and Martin stood just outside the carousel clearing, glowering at the Dark Riders.
Alex looked down at the ground. "We'd better let them in." He spoke in a tone of resignation. "If we don't, then for me, it'll just be more pink belly and nuggies and wedgies and Indian rope burns."
"I don't know," said Kip. "They'll ruin the club."
"But at least they'll keep it secret," said Roger. "I think we'd better let them in."
The other boys agreed, but showed a similar lack of enthusiasm. They called Todd and Martin, and told them they'd been admitted as the Eighth and Ninth Knights of the Dark Riders of Zeus. Alex said he'd have their certificates by Sunday noon, and then suggested they go to the golf course to get their spears, the only two remaining on the course.
Todd and Martin went, and came back brandishing their spears. But instead of showing any gratitude, they marched up to Alex and Todd said, "I'm a prefect. I should be the leader."
Martin added. "Todd wants to be called the High Lord of the Dark Riders."
"No way!" said Alex.
"You'd better get used to the idea of me being the leader," said Todd, his face up close to Alex's.
They glowered at each other for a few moments. Then Roger came up and pointed to the edge of the clearing. "Why don't you go back over there while we talk about it?"
"There's nothing to talk about," said Todd.
"Well, we need to decide if there's nothing to talk about."
"Yeah, fine. Do that." With an air of superiority, Todd and Martin stalked away and, as they'd done before, glared back at the riders.
"The Dark Riders was Alex's idea," Woodchuck whispered. "He should be the leader."
The others agreed, but Alex said, "Todd could cause a lot of trouble for us." He paused. "And he'll bully me even more in the dorm."
"You want to make him leader?" said Roger.
"No." Again, Alex paused. "I hate it, but maybe we have to. Anyway, I don't really like to lead things and boss people around."
"That's why you should be leader," said Wolfgang.
"I have an idea," said Kip. "Why don't we just pretend to make him leader." He felt he had to laugh so he turned so that Todd and Martin wouldn't see. "We can tell him we've made him Big Chief High Lord of the Dark Riders, or something. But that's just words. Todd won't be the real leader of the Dark Riders. He'll just think he is."
"But what if Todd orders us to do something?" said Kevin.
"Well, if it's something we wanted to do anyway," said Kip, "then we'll do it. Otherwise, we won't."
"We can try it," said Roger. "If it doesn't work, we can always vote him ex-leader."
The other boys agreed--and voted.
Kip turned to Alex. "You're the real leader. What do you want us to call you?"
Alex thought for a moment. "How about Secret Master of the Knights of the Dark Riders of Zeus?"
"Master?" said Woodchuck. "Like a teacher?"
"I didn't think of that. No." Alex reconsidered. "Okay. I'll be the Invisible Knight Commander of the Dark Riders of Zeus."
"Cool," said Kevin. "I like that."
"All right," said Kip, looking out where Todd and Martin waited. "Let's get it over with." He gestured for them to return.
Todd and Martin swaggered back. Todd accepted his title of High Lord as if it were his born right, and immediately ordered more carousel rides. Alex gave a hint of a nod and Wolfgang went to the control cabinet.
After a few more rides, Roger said he was starting to worry. It was really getting late and he knew they did a late night dorm inspection, and they could get into deep trouble.
Todd suddenly looked scared. He ordered the carousel turned off and Wolfgang went and restored the control panel to its previous state, returned the key to its hook, and closed the cabinet.
Todd, watching, asked how they'd opened the combination lock.
"Wolfgang did it," said Woodchuck, brightly. "He just went to the lock and a minute later, he'd figured out the combination."
Todd turned to Wolfgang. "Tell me the combination. Whisper it to me."
Wolfgang stood mute, as if weighing his options.
"I'm the High Lord," said Todd. "I should know the combination."
Still, Wolfgang kept his silence.
"Tell it to me," Todd insisted. "Now!"
They argued but Wolfgang held his ground.
Finally, Roger stepped in. "You know," he said, "maybe it's a good thing that only one person knows the combination. Otherwise, if one of the masters found kids running the carousel, we could all be in big trouble."
After a few seconds of silence, Martin said, "Roger's right. We really could get into trouble."
"Yeah." Todd smiled. "If a master found any kids riding, only Wolfgang would be to blame." He turned abruptly away.
"Hey!" said Woodchuck. "Let's make Wolfgang the Stable Master of the Dark Riders."
The kids laughed--except for Todd and Martin.
Todd faced Alex and held out his spear. "I'm going back to the dorm. Take my spear back to the golf course."
Martin held out his as well. "Take mine back, too."
With a shrug, Alex took the spears.
"Okay," said Todd to all. "I'm calling the next meeting of the Dark Riders for next Saturday night--and every Saturday night."
No one objected.
Todd and Martin headed toward their dorm while Alex and the others went off to the golf course.
"I'm just as happy that Todd's not with us now," said Kip when Todd and Martin had gone. "It's not fun with them around."
Alex nodded. "I'll have to figure a way of calling a meeting without them knowing about it."
"I know Todd's not the real leader," said Roger, "but it makes me really mad that he thinks he is."
The boys returned their spears then headed back to their dorms by way of the carousel. As they neared the carousel, Alex, in the lead, held up his hand. "I hear something."
Kip heard it is well--not the light step of kids, but the firm confident steps of an adult, a master probably.
The boys melted into the undergrowth and, low to the ground, scurried back to their dormitories.
Kip woke exhausted next morning. He was tempted to sleep in, even if it meant skipping breakfast. But there was also that horrible ethics course to contend with. And he wouldn't want to have to sit through it hungry as well as bored.
Kip, as he went off to eat with Paul and Wolfgang, noticed that they seemed as tired as he was. In the refectory, they were even too wiped to rise to the taunts of APES from Todd and his ilk.
During the ethics hour, Kip struggled mightily to keep his eyes open and look as if he were listening. Consequently, he heard little of Brother Wakabyashi's talk. He tried to concentrate as Wakabyashi said 'Scientists must be especially attentive to ethical matters, babble, babble, babble'.
At the end, as Kip was leaving, Brother Wakabyashi stopped him. Kip worried that he might really be in for it. But instead, Wakabyashi gave a compliment. "I must say, Kip. You seemed so much more receptive this week than last. I am very pleased to see that." He gave Kip a friendly pat on the shoulder and sent him on his way.
That afternoon, still exhausted, Kip trudged off to batting practice. How did I let myself be talked into this? He wished he'd not let Paul talk him into being on the team. I hate baseball. But Paul had buttered him up by saying that he was fast and had endurance because he was a runner. Kip remembered back.
"You're a really good catcher," Paul had said. "I saw that while I was scouting at the carousel. And you'll be playing right field which means you really, like, don't have to know much about baseball."
"I'd rather go on not knowing anything about it."
Then Paul appealed to his sense of loyalty to his school and brought up the Amdexter kids calling them APES and said that all Americans should know how to play baseball.
"I mean it," Paul had said. "I really mean it."
After a lot more urging, Kip had given in. "Okay, okay, I'll be on the team."
As he neared the baseball diamond, Kip grimaced. Paul had conveniently forgotten to tell him he'd have to bat as well as field.
When the wake up chime sounded through subdorm-8 on Monday morning, Paradox jumped off of Kip's face. Kip sat and was about to climb down from his upper bunk when his clock radio clicked on. He'd been adjusting it for over a week to make it turn on during the chime. Kip sat listening for a moment, then flopped back onto his mattress. The cat came back and rested beside Kip's head. Kip moved a hand to hug it to him.
"Don't you feel well?" asked Paul who was sitting across on his upper bunk.
"That's Beethoven's eighth symphony," said Kip, staring at the ceiling.
"What?" said Paul, his nose scrunched.
"It's his Beethoven rule," came Wolfgang's voice from below.
Paul climbed down the ladder from his bunk and looked up at Kip. "You're going to be like late for breakfast."
"Not very late," said Kip. "It's already the third movement." He leaned over the edge. "Could you guys get breakfast for me?"
"I'm sorry," said Paul. "I don't do breakfast in bed."
"I mean put it on your trays."
Paul and Wolfgang agreed and Kip lay back to enjoy the music.
At the symphony's final note, Kip sprang to the floor, dressed quickly, grabbed his pre-packed bookbag, made a bathroom stop, and then headed out across the Dalambertian. As he padded toward the refectory, he ran into Alex.
"Are you a Beethoven fan, too?" said Kip.
"I mean, you're late for breakfast."
Alex flashed a bewildered look and then held up a file folder. "I needed to finish these certificates--without Todd or Martin seeing me." He slowed and opened the folder for Kip to see.
Wolfgang's certificate was on top, and it was stunning: a staff with an eagle sitting on it, a thunderbolt in brilliant yellow outlined in black, and old-English lettering in a rich blue.
"That's Zeus's scepter," said Alex.
"This.... This is fantastic. Beautiful!"
Alex beamed. "Thanks," he said, shyly. "But don't let Todd or Martin see them. Theirs are only in black and white and don't have the eagle."
They continued on to the refectory, and into grey-shorts territory. Kip saw that his friends had indeed picked up breakfast for him so, taking custody of Alex's folder, he went directly to his seat while Alex went to the food tables.
While Alex was off loading up his tray, Kip and co. talked about the two-slit experiment, hardly pausing for hellos when Alex came with his tray. There was a spot for Alex at Kip's table; Alex took all his meals now with subdom-8.
"Okay," said Alex as he sat. "You guys talk about this all the time." He turned to Kip. "So, tell me. What's going on? What are the electrons doing at these two slits of yours?"
"I can't talk about it," said Kip.
Alex looked hurt. "You mean you're not allowed to?"
"No," said Kip. "I don't have the words. It's like Korzybski says. The map is not the territory."
"Quantum mechanics is the territory and the words we use to describe it is the map. And it's a lousy map." Kip tried to explain it more and then said, "Do you see what I'm trying to say?"
Alex chuckled. "So, it's like an alien comes to Earth from the planet Zorgon. And this alien knows quantum mechanics but English has no words to describe it. Something like that?"
Kip chuckled as well. "Yes, something like that."
Alex went on. "So imagine that the Zorgonians have this machine that they can hook to your head. It'll teach you Zorgonian, but it'll wipe out your knowledge of English. And now you'll understand quantum mechanics, but you won't be able to tell what you know to anyone on Earth. Would you let them use their machine on you?"
Kip, Paul and Wolfgang debated the pros and cons for awhile. Then Wolfgang said, "If things work out, we won't need Zorgon. ESAP could give us that language."
"I hope you don't forget human language, though," said Alex.
Wolfgang chuckled. "We won't."
Alex's expression grew serious. "But...but I hope you won't forget how to be human, either."
Kip looked at him with narrowed eyes. "What do you mean?"
"I mean...." Alex laughed. "I don't have the words." He broke his gaze away from Kip. "Oh." He reached for his folder. "I almost forgot about these." He opened the folder and spread out the Dark Riders certificates.
"Wow!" said Paul. "This is, like, terrific!"
Just then Kip, looking over Alex's shoulder, saw Dr. Ralph get up from his seat at the masters' table and head their way. "Uh, oh." He realized that they'd been very noisy at their table. "Keep it down," he whispered. "Dr. Ralph's coming."
"Don't be a scaredy cat," said Paul. "We weren't that noisy."
Internally, Kip winced; he hated people thinking he was afraid--especially since very often, he was.
Alex slipped the certificates back in the folder.
Dr. Ralph stopped at their table. "May I join you?"
"Why? Are we coming apart?" said Paul. "I mean, yes, sure." He slid in to make room.
Dr. Ralph sat. "Nick was lucky," he said without preamble. "He could have been seriously injured."
"Yes, sir," said Wolfgang. "We know."
Dr. Ralph smiled. "The carousel can indeed be dangerous to young physicists." He looked hard at the three of subdorm-8 and Kip felt himself wilt; Dr. Ralph probably knew of their unauthorized use of the carousel.
"I'm afraid I'll have to do something about keeping the carousel safe," Dr. Ralph went on.
Now, Kip was relatively sure Dr. Ralph knew.
Dr. Ralph turned to Wolfgang. "I understand," he said, in an undecipherable tone of voice, "that you have some ability with locks."
Wolfgang visibly squirmed. "Well, I... I mean--"
"I have some ability in that area as well. It's something of a tradition with physicists."
Kip felt his eyes widen.
"So," Dr. Ralph went on, "I don't feel I can legitimately discourage your...abilities." He stood. "But, don't do anything you know is wrong, or you may get in serious trouble."
At this point, there was no doubt. Kip was sure Dr. Ralph knew.
Dr. Ralph widened his gaze to take in Kip and Paul, as well as Wolfgang. "Do you understand my meaning?"
"Yes, sir," said Kip and co., virtually in unison.
"Good." Dr. Ralph strode back to the masters' table.
Wolfgang watched him go, then said at a whisper "He knows."
"Yeah," said Kip. "He must have been the person we heard coming."
"I guess that's it," said Paul, "We can't use the carousel again."
"No," said Wolfgang. "I bet he's changed the combination. I think he was just challenging me to crack it. And if I do, my reward is that we can use the carousel--until he changes it again."
"Come on," said Paul. "I don't think that was his meaning."
Wolfgang didn't seem to hear. "After lunch," he said, "I'm going to the Carousel to see if the combination's been changed. I'm sure he's changed it."
"I don't think he did know it was us," said Alex. "Or at least he's not sure. Otherwise, he wouldn't have been pussyfooting."
"How could he be sure," said Kip. "He's a quantum physicist."
"What is that supposed to mean?" said Alex.
"He means the Uncertainty Principle," said Paul. "And I don't mean the school principal."
"I like that," said Wolfgang. "The uncertainty school principal."
"Let's go," said Paul. "We'll be late for Assembly." He glanced at Kip. "I don't think your Beethoven rule applies there."
Kip and the others gobbled down the remnants of their breakfasts and hurried away.
Some four hours later, they reconvened at the same table for lunch. Afterwards, Wolfgang stood and said he was going to the carousel to check on the lock. Without comment, Kip and Paul went with him; it had become a routine that whenever a boy of subdorm-8 went outside, they went two or three together--so there wouldn't be any bullying by Todd or his toddlers.
"I'll come, too," said Alex. "I have a sugar packet for Bucephalus."
Kip was about to laugh, but didn't as he saw that Alex didn't seem to be joking. Kip tried to keep concern out of his voice. "Yeah. Fine. Let's go."
At the carousel, Wolfgang, Kip and Paul went to the control box while Alex attended to his horse.
After wriggling his fingers like a pianist before a concert, Wolfgang started punching numbers on the keypad.
Just a couple of seconds later, there came a click from the cabinet.
"Hey," said Wolfgang, wrinkling his nose. "He didn't change the combination." He turned to the others. "I would have sworn that he'd have changed it" Idly, he pulled open the door. "Maybe he just didn't get around to doing it yet." He started to close the door again, but froze. "Dirty dog!"
"What's the matter?" said Paul.
Wolfgang pointed to the hook on the inside of the door. "The key. It's gone."
"He didn't have to change the combination," said Kip. "He just took the key."
"Yeah." Then Wolfgang smiled. "If that's the way he wants to play. Fine! After school, I'm going to see if Dr. Linda will give me a hairpin. And then I'll go to the school shop and grind it into a lock pick. I remember that key. Only four tumblers. Should be a simple lock to pick."
"I'm not sure that's a great idea," said Kip. "What if she tells Dr. Ralph? Won't he guess what you want it for?"
Wolfgang pursed his lips. "Maybe," he said after a few seconds. "But I really think he's challenging me." He balled a fist. "I don't think he really believes I can pick locks."
"Why is it, like, so important to you?" said Paul.
"It just is."
Late Wednesday morning, at the end of his forth period computer class, Kip darted outside for air and to let off steam. Computers, as usual, had been a total bore and waste of time. The teacher had, as usual, spent at lot of the time trying to show that he knew more about computers than did the kids. And the stuff he tried to teach was from the dark ages and he programmed in a language that hadn't been used since dinosaurs ruled the Earth.
Kip jogged around a small circular path on the Dalambertian, and as he came back around to his starting point, he saw Wolfgang coming his way. Wolfy's shop class was probably almost as boring.
Kip waved to him and Wolfgang waved back. But Wolfgang seemed happy, even enthusiastic. When they'd just gotten close enough to each other to talk without shouting, Wolfgang pulled something from his pants pocket. Then, after glancing around, furtively, he opened his fist revealing a small flat piece of metal. "Look at this." he said in a conspiratorial tone. "I just made it in Industrial Tech."
"Um," said Kip, looking down at Wolfgang's palm. "What is it?"
"It's a lock pick!" Wolfgang scanned his surroundings without moving his head. "Just holding it makes me feel like an outlaw."
Kip took the sliver of metal and examined it. It looked like something a dentist might use.
"I got a hair pin from Dr. Linda," said Wolfgang, "but it was the wrong kind: round, not flat. But I was lucky. I found a broken hacksaw blade in the shop. A hacksaw blade is the gold standard for making a pick. I used the grinder." He took the pick back from Kip. "Any professional lock picker would be proud to have this." He slipped the pick back into his pocket. "Fortunately, the shop teacher didn't recognize it as a lock pick. I told him I was making a tie clip."
"A tie clip? Cool." Kip had never seen Wolfy so enthusiastic about anything. "When are you going to try in out?"
"Right after school. At the carousel. I am, after all, the Master of the Stables of the Dark Riders."
Later, when Kip went into Snack Bar for the ESAP assembly, he saw on the board,
-- Gedanken Today -- Meow!
Nothing much happened at the assembly. The only two items were Paul scheduling the rest of the week's baseball practices and Wolfgang reporting on his chess team.
"And even if the Amdexter kids win the ball game," said Wolfgang, "we'll crush them at chess."
"Not Amdexter kids," said Chucky, "Amdorks."
"Sorry. I forgot."
"I don't intend for us to lose the ballgame," said Paul with some heat.
"Sorry," said Wolfgang, again.
Just then, Dr. Ralph came in. He carried a cardboard box and led Paradox in on a leash. He put the box on the table, tied the handle of the leash around a table leg, and then turned to the class. "I'm afraid this will be the last gedanken session for awhile," he said in a subdued voice.
Responding to a chorus of whys and aws, Dr. Ralph held up his hand. "I'm sorry. But my former thesis advisor said he strongly suggested that I not overload you with too much quantum mechanics information. "
"Strongly suggested doesn't mean you have to actually follow that suggestion," said Nick.
"I'm afraid it does. He's always polite. But he's also the chairman of the ESAP Science Advisory Board." Dr. Ralph bit his lip. "And he has a point. He thinks it'll be more productive if you guys know only the most blatant problems with the theory."
"Phoey," said another kid, Michael Lee. "This is the best part of ESAP."
"It won't be forever." Dr. Ralph sighed. "But it is too bad," he said softly, almost to himself. "I'd have liked to have exposed you to the Flegor Mandl experiment and a few EPR experiments and to Bell's theorem." He looked out at his class. "I've found that when I explore quantum concepts with you, I get new insights on them myself." He smiled but it looked forced. "Oh well, ESAP is about your insights, not mine."
"I always look forward to these sessions," said Kip.
"Oh, we'll still have sessions occasionally," said Dr. Ralph, "about relativity, though."
Kip looked at him quizzically.
"Not gedanken sessions, exactly. More in the nature of instruction. Yes, relativity has problems, but not conceptual ones. We have a good way of thinking about relativity."
Kip was about to ask what it was, but Dr. Ralph didn't give him the chance.
"The trick is to think of space and time as one thing: space-time."
"Like waves and particles are one thing?" said Michael.
"No." Dr. Ralph laughed. "With space-time, we know what we're talking about." He went to the board and picked up a piece of chalk. "But back to things where we don't know what we're talking about." He underlined 'Meow!'. "Today, we'll investigate the notorious Schrödinger Cat Paradox." He bent down to his cat. "And I don't mean you."
The class, as a whole, laughed, lightening the mood.
Dr. Ralph began pacing. "My advisor was reluctant to have me to talk to you about Schrödinger's cat either. He said it was too complex. And he's probably right. But I'll try to give you a taste of the problem." He stopped in front of the center blackboard. "You recall," he said, "that until the electron hits the screen, we have to think of the electron as just about everywhere--and it sort of decides to be at a specific place only when it hits the screen--or more generally, when it is measured."
Kip pursed his lips. His almost-vision of the electron's behavior couldn't really be described that way.
"And so," Dr. Ralph continued, "in some sense, each electron that goes through, goes through both holes. So the question is: if we can deduce this behavior for electrons, how about bigger things--like milk bottles, for instance--or cats?" He paused for a few seconds. "Well, according to quantum mechanics, as it's understood today, we could set up a situation where, for example, a cat in a box will be neither alive or dead until someone opens the box to see. That act of observation forces the cat to be either dead or alive."
"Come on," said one of the boys.
"Really. I'm not making this up." Dr. Ralph went on to describe the box, the cat, and the experiment.
(For Dr. Ralph's description of the Cat Paradox, read chapter 16X)
Kip really didn't see the paradox. In his half-formed visualization of quantum mechanics, the paradox wouldn't exist. But if all these scientists think there's a paradox--maybe my way of thinking about quantum mechanics is wrong. He felt a wave of sadness. Yeah. It must be wrong. He pursed his lips tighter, feeling his stubbornness surface. But maybe it's not.
Dr. Ralph talked some more, but Kip was preoccupied with his own thoughts and trying to visualize the unvisualizable.
After school that day, Paul rounded up his baseball team for a practice. There were only three days left until the Saturday game with Amdexter.
As they passed the carousel on the way to the ball field, Kip saw Wolfgang hanging around the control cabinet. Wolfgang was not on the team.
Before Kip could say anything, Paul called out. "Wolfy. You're coming to watch the practice, aren't you?"
"What?" said Wolfgang, obviously surprised. "Yes. Of course." He sidled up to Kip. "I did it," he whispered. "The Dark Riders will ride again!"
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 Schrödinger 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."
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!"
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.
"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 blanket.
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."
"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--whomever 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."
"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.
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."
"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.
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 not 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."
"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."
Kip had been up very late the night before, so it took two stimuli to rouse him: the beep of his wrist watch alarm which he'd set to ring a half hour before the school wake-up chime, and Paradox jumping none too gently off his face at the sound of the beep. Kip managed to drag himself out of bed and quietly, so as not to wake the others, went to his desk. There he word processed Alex's hand written petition in sixteen point Times Roman. He made two versions, differing only in the name of the school. Then, still in his pajamas, he took the memory stick onto which he'd copied his document and padded to the dorm's common room where there was a common use computer and laser printer. He printed out a copy of the ESAP version and, because Amdexter had a lot more kids, five copies of the Amdexter version. Then he tacked the ESAP copy on the common room bulletin board.
Emergency!!!! Please sign this petition.
We the boys of ESAP do strongly oppose any changes to our carousel. Particularly we oppose removing any horses and putting up a fence to keep people from falling off.
He saw that he'd printed 32 lines of Name. But ESAP only had 31 kids. Paul would no doubt point that fact out to him. He glanced at his watch. Late! He ran back to his subdorm. If I'd been thinking I'd have gotten dressed first.
The others had already gone. Kip dressed, grabbed his book bag, and went to his computer to turn it off. He'd left the word processor active. He giggled as he glanced at the screen.
Heisenberg meow meow meow meow.
Me. ow. -- Meow Meow! meow Paradox meow meow.
Heisenberg might have been here.
P.s. -- Say Meow! to Paradox for me.
Paul's work, no doubt. Kip didn't think Wolfgang had the imagination. Kip powered down the computer and gave Paradox a quick pat; the cat had returned to Kip's upper bunk. Then, with rolled up copies of the Amdexter petition in his hand, Kip ran off to Founders for breakfast.
Paul, Wolfgang and Alex were already there. With a quick hello, Kip plopped his book bag on the bench, dropped the petition copies down in front of Alex, and ran off to the food tables. He snagged some bottom scrapings of scrambled eggs and a few shards of bacon, then returned to the table.
"Meow!" said Paul.
During breakfast, Kip, Paul, and Wolfgang drifted into a discussion of Schrödinger's Cat Paradox. Kip thought that the cat, the box, and the person opening the box to check on the cat, must be a single quantum system.
"Call me Heisenberg," said Paul. "But I'm not certain I know what you mean."
"Me neither," said Wolfgang. "Not exactly."
"Well, I'm certain I don't know what you mean," said Alex.
After Kip tried to explain, they walked from breakfast to the assembly. With arms linked as they walked, they chanted "We are Paradox. We are the cat!" Alex neither linked nor chanted.
"Veritas et Scientia," the headmaster entoned, signaling the start of the assembly.
"Veritas and Scientia," came the solid, if unenthusiastic, response.
"Those of you who were at Amdexter last year," the headmaster began, "have doubtless noticed that we don't start assemblies with our school song any more. This is out of consideration for boys in our sister school. They should not have to sing our Amdexter song."
A few boos came from the Amdexter boys. The headmaster took no notice. "But now that a month has gone by since the start of term, I realize we are being unfair to our ESAP brothers."
A muffled call of APES came from the general area of Todd and his friends.
"No ape's my brother," Kip heard Todd say in a loud whisper.
The headmaster went on. "The ESAP boys have two assemblies they must attend: ours and also an afternoon assembly at their own school." He paused. "This need not be. Accordingly, from tomorrow on, this morning assembly is an Amdexter assembly." He chuckled, then looked out on the grey shorts. "So you ESAP boys will be able to sleep-in a little." He returned his attention to the assembly at large. "Anything concerning both schools will be posted on the main Founders Hall bulletin board, and anything truly important will also be e-mailed to you." He turned to the browns, then spread his hands as if offering a benediction. "I look forward to again starting the morning with the sounds of happy voices singing Amdexter Triumphans."
Yes! Kip made a fist of victory in his lap. More sleep! But then he grimaced. For some indefinable reason, the headmaster's announcement had left a bad taste in his mouth.
"....Then, in the summer of 326 B.C. Alexander secretly, with a small part of his army, crossed the Hydaspes and managed to draw the cavalry away from the main army and particularly, their war elephants." Mr. Thomas described the battle against the Persian Empire's King Porus. "And so," Mr. Thomas went on, "Alexander was free to continue his conquest of India--a part of it, that is. He had no idea how big India was." He threw a glance to Alex. "But the victory at the Hydaspes river came at a high personal cost to Alexander. Bucephalus, the horse he'd ridden into battle with for twenty years, died of his wounds."
Alex started, almost as if he'd been hit. Then his eyes showed great sadness.
Mr. Thomas talked more about Alexander's exploits and finally his death, some three years after the death of his horse. "And this finishes our roughly one month study of Alexander the Great and his time, the so called Classical Period of Greece." Then, in a concluding overview, Mr. Thomas lectured about Greek philosophy and art. "And as for Greek science..." He went on to describe Aristarchchus's revelation that the Earth was round and revolved around the Sun, and how Thales way back in 585 B.C. predicted an eclipse of the Sun. And he told about Anaxagoras realizing that the light of the moon was just the reflection of the Sun's light. He talked about Archimedes and Pythagoras and Hippocrates. Kip was astonished how much time Mr. Thomas spent on science. Despite being a teacher at Amdexter, the man really seemed to like science.
"So one could say that for the Greeks of the classical period," Mr. Thomas continued, "science was more in the nature of philosophy. In fact, I think the old term for physics was natural philosophy, Perhaps one of our ESAP boys could tell me for sure."
"Yes, sir," said Kip. "Dr. Ralph told us that."
Just then, out of the blue, Todd said. "Could you tell us about Greek Fire?"
"What?" Mr. Thomas swiveled his gaze from Kip to Todd. He cleared his voice and said, "Well. Greek Fire isn't exactly on topic. It was developed about, I don't know, a thousand years after Alexander the Great's time--during the Byzantine empire."
"Yeah, but what is it?" Todd insisted.
Mr. Thomas smiled and gave a hint of a shrug. "It was a weapon used mainly in naval battles. Liquid fire. It's formula was a secret--and still is."
"Was it like gasoline?" said one of the boys.
"Could have been. But some say it burst into flame when it hit the water." Mr. Thomas then forced the discussion back on topic and kept it there until the bell rang.
In the hallway, after Mr. Thomas's class, Kip saw Woodchuck scurrying around, accosting kids to get their signatures. After each of his classes, Kip saw Woodchuck gathering signatures.
Curious how his own petition was fairing, Kip stopped in at his dorm's common room on route to the ESAP assembly. Standing in front of the petition, he scowled. There were only two signatures. At the assembly, he'd have to actually ask kids to sign it.
"....so, all of you," Kip concluded, "go to the common room and sign the petition." Just then, Dr. Ralph walked into Snack Bar.
"What's this about a petition?"
"It's about the carousel."
"Ah." As Dr. Ralph came forward, Kip darted to a seat.
"Do you know about the carousel, sir?" said one of the kids.
"I do." Dr. Ralph looked angry. "And I have a meeting with the headmaster to talk about it."
"When, please?" said Kip.
"Today!" Dr. Ralph narrowed his eyes. "At four thirty. Why?"
"Oh,"--Kip shrugged and attempted to look innocent--"just curious."
When school let out that afternoon, Kip shanghaied Wolfgang to be a lookout while he'd try to eavesdrop at the back window of Founders--the window of the headmaster's office.
"I'm not sure this is such a great idea," said Wolfgang as he and Kip, with hands in pockets, ambled casually around to the back of Founders.
"Aren't you curious what's really going on with the carousel?" said Kip.
"Well, yeah," said Wolfgang, "but this could get us into real--"
"Shh." Kip pressed himself against the wall and pointed up to the window. The weather was warm for late September and the screened window was open about ten centimeters.
"If someone catches us," Wolfgang whispered, "we're toast."
"Go to the corner of the building and keep watch," Kip whispered. "And whistle, or bark like a dog or something, if you see anyone coming." He looked up the fifteen or so centimeters to the window's sill and listened. "It's Dr. Ralph." He paused. "And I hear Dr. Linda, too."
Wolfgang nodded and then padded off.
Kip, trying to merge with the brickwork, heard furniture being moved--chairs probably, followed by the two school heads exchanging pleasantries--although it sounded more formal that pleasant. And then Dr. Ralph said, "I would have thought I'd have been informed of any plans for alterations to the carousel--and certainly before workmen came here to start carrying them out."
"You didn't know?" said the headmaster. "I rather thought it was your idea."
"Mine?" said Dr. Ralph. "I didn't know anything about it."
"Interesting," said the headmaster in a voice so low, Kip could hardly hear it. "I must assume then, that the Science Advisory Board had thought you'd be ecstatic over the idea, and contacted me first. I am, after all, the headmaster of the senior school in our little partnership." He paused. "I assure you, I am most emphatically not in favor of the idea. But there is not much I can do about it. The Board controls the purse-strings." There came another pause. "The Board pays Amdexter full tuition for every boy in the ESAP program. And I'm afraid it's not as easy for us to enroll new students as it used to be."
"I imagine not," said Dr. Linda, "in this recession."
"I am curious though," the headmaster went on. "What do your boys think about the prospect of fewer horses. I'd think they'd be for it."
"I don't think they are. In fact, they've been holding after bedtime meetings about it."
"Outside their dorms, I imagine."
"I'm afraid so," said Dr. Ralph. "I'm sorry."
"Oh, it's against the rules, of course," said the headmaster. Kip was surprised how not angry his voice sounded. "It's a regulation, of course. But within limits, we can choose to ignore it."
"Boys will be boys, you mean," said Dr. Linda.
"Oh, we constrain them to a room built with walls of regulations," said the headmaster, "rubber walls against which they can run and fight without doing themselves injury."
"That's a refreshingly informed approach," said Dr. Linda. "I must admit, I'm surprised."
"Pueri pueri, pueri puerilia tractant," said the headmaster with a chuckle. "Children are children. Children do childish things."
Why does he keep babbling in Latin?
Kip heard the movement of chairs and then the headmaster's voice. "In any case, as long as the boys are back before the 11:30 bed check, I wouldn't come down too hard on them."
Now that's useful info. Kip filed it away for future use. 11:30 bed check.
"We keep a rather light reign on our boys," said Dr. Ralph, "There's a fair degree of self-governance at ESAP--so that the kids' concepts of physics won't be overly influenced by adults--adult physicists, that is."
"There is a saying, Omnes deteriores sumus licentia--Too much freedom debases us."
Kip rolled his eyes.
"Oh, I'm not sure I agree with that," said Dr. Linda.
"By the way," said the headmaster after some more sounds of shuffling furniture, "do you know the result of the boys' nocturnal carousel deliberations?"
"They've started a petition drive," said Dr. Ralph, "opposing the alteration of the carousel."
There came a pause where Kip couldn't hear anything. Then the headmaster said, "It might not be a bad idea. A strong feeling against, especially from your school, might give us some traction with the board."
Kip nodded. Even the headmaster thought the idea of a petition was a good one. Kip began to tune out. Despite the feeling of excitement from doing something dangerous, he was getting bored. He lowered to a crouch, preparing to move to safer ground.
He heard Dr. Linda's sparking laugh and reflexively focused on it.
"Kids and physicists," said Dr. Linda. "You can often tell the difference by height."
"Very funny," said Dr. Ralph. "But take Kip Campbell for example."--Kip snapped alert and slowly rose from his crouch--"He's already developed the beginnings of an entirely new way of thinking about quantum mechanics. I don't know if it will turn out to be fruitful, but I have a feeling it will." Dr. Ralph paused. "It's funny though. As far as imaginative ideas, he's adventurous and fearless, but as far as his physical safety is concerned, he's rather timid."
Kip lowered his eyes. He had to admit Dr. Ralph was right; he was a coward. How did he find out?
"It's not all that surprising," said the headmaster. "A kind of compensation. He's the sandy-haired boy with the cowlick, isn't he?"
"That's him," said Dr. Ralph. "At any rate, Kip is a treasure to be cultivated. Perhaps, in some respect, he is a genius."
Kip felt himself blush. He was glad Wolfgang couldn't hear this. Again, he crouched and turned to leave--but before he'd taken a single step away, he jumped, startled by a ringing phone.
Curiosity peaked, he stayed to listen. He heard the headmaster pick up the receiver.
"Is he all right?" said the headmaster. "Good. I'll be right out. Ask the officer to wait until I get there."
Officer? Kip wrinkled his nose. I wonder what that's about.
"Please excuse me for a moment," came the headmaster's voice. "It should just take a minute or two."
Kip heard the door open and close. He hoped that Drs. Linda and Ralph would talk more about him, but they didn't. Kip listened as they talked about nothing and he began to get bored again. Then he heard the door open and close again.
"We had a boy run away from school," came the headmaster's voice. "Fortunately, he's been found and returned."
"Is he all right?" said Dr. Linda, concern in her voice.
"Mainly, the boy is hungry, He had no idea how far the school was from civilization."
"Poor kid," said Dr. Linda.
Kip wondered if he knew the kid.
"We'll shovel some food in him," said the headmaster, "and then he and I will talk. It was bullying, of course, a common reason boys run away." Kip heard a chair moving back and then footsteps toward the window. Kip dropped down and pressed himself hard against the brickwork. His nose grazed the surface and he inhaled the subtle tart fragrance of the ancient stone.
"How sad," said Dr. Ralph. "Leaving home, just to be bullied at school."
The footsteps retreated.
Kip heard a sigh.
"Some of them are bullied at home as well," said the Headmaster. "In fact, we have two boys here, a third-former and his forth form brother. They were sent here to protect them from their father. The man, it seems, regularly beat them."
"That's horrible," said Dr, Linda.
Todd! It's got to be Todd and Dwayne. Kip had heard enough--and with the headmaster pacing, it was becoming unsafe. Wait 'til I tell Alex. Quietly, he padded over to where Wolfgang stood guard.
"Hear anything interesting?" said Wolfgang.
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.
By morning assembly, it seemed that the contents of the ESAP petition had spread throughout Amdexter--embellished as information traveled from boy to boy.
"Everyone says that just about all the ESAP kids want to rip out the horses," said Alex, sitting with subdorm-8 at breakfast. But unlike the others, he had no food in front of him.
"That's not true, of course," said Kip.
"I think maybe everyone saying it, makes it true," said Paul. "They're the observers," he added under his breath. "They define the quantum reality."
"Aren't you eating anything?" said Wolfgang.
"No." Alex lowered his eyes. "I'm not hungry. And...and I can't eat my meals with you guys any more."
"What?" said Kip. "Why? What are you talking about?"
"It's dangerous." Alex leaned in over the table. "They're always watching me," he whispered. "I'm sure they're planning to do something horrible to me--and it'll be worse if I hang around with you guys."
"Alex," said Kip. "You can't just--"
"Got to go," said Alex, furtively, his eyes flitting around the hall. "We can talk only when no Amdexter kids can see us." He grabbed his book bag, darted away and, taking a circuitous path, returned to the sea of brown shorts.
"Boy," said Wolfgang. "He really looked scared."
"I definitely think he's losing it," said Paul. "I think it's called paranoia."
"I wish I knew what to do," said Kip, watching Alex merge with the browns. "He's my best friend." Then he amended. "Except for you guys, of course."
As he went from class to class, Kip felt he was in hostile territory. And when he could, he moved between classes in the company of kids wearing grey. A couple of times, he saw Alex. Kip tried to talk to him once, but Alex whispered, "There are Amdexter kids here," and then scurried away.
Kip noticed the Amdexter kids giving him dirty looks and he began to share Alex's belief that bad things would soon happen. It was with relief then, when fifth period ended and he padded to ESAP with Wolfgang at his side.
"Why don't they like us?" said Kip. "It can't be just this stupid carousel stuff. They used to like us--or at least pretended to."
"I think it's because we're different." Wolfgang was breathing hard, for Kip's walk was much like a run. "And I think ESAP is making us more different."
The following morning, Friday, as he and his roommates left the dorm, Kip saw a group of kids staring down at something on the ground. But they were standing no closer than two or three meters from it.
As Kip drew close, he could smell the thing before he could make out what it was. It smelled like a latrine at summer camp.
"Boy, that stinks!" said Wolfgang.
Kip stood on tiptoe to get a better view. "It's a pair of shorts," he said. "Grey ones."
"Someone couldn't wait?" said Paul.
"Only if that someone was an elephant," said Kip. "It's lying in a pool of piss."
"The Amdexter kids did this," said one of the kids.
"Where did they get the shorts?" said another boy.
"Stole them from the laundry, probably," said the first. "The laundry's in Amdexter."
"I wonder who they belong to," said a kid.
"I'm not going to get close enough to read the tag," said another.
"I can imagine Dr. Ralph in a biological weapons suit," said Kit with a tight smile, "holding a RFID scanner over them."
Paul, his nose wrinkled against the stench, turned to go. "Next time," he said, speaking softly, "they'll probably do it with one of us in the shorts."
The rest of the Amdexter day, Kip endured not only the usual taunts of APES and carousel killer, but also smirks and kids glancing at his shorts and then holding their noses.
During the ESAP assembly, the defiled shorts was the only topic of discussion. And as the discussion progressed, the comments fed on themselves, increasing the level of anger to outrage and leading to talk of revenge.
A motion was brought up for a vote to shun Amdexter--to not talk to, or even acknowledge the existence of the 'Amdorks'.
Kip objected, saying that Alex Griffin was both a friend and also an honorary member of subdorm-8.
An exception was made for Alex.
Then Wolfgang said it wouldn't work. There was no way they'd be able to totally ignore the Amdorks. "We wouldn't even be able to tell them how stupid they are."
"But we've got to do something," said Nick. "And I mean something a lot more nasty than just an angry letter to the Dex."
"I think I could hack the Amdexter computer," said one of the kids. "We could give all the Amdorks Fs in all their subjects."
"That would just get us in trouble," said another.
After many suggestions, a boy said, "What if we sneak into Founders. We could steal the banner from the assembly hall."
"Yeah," said another. "The banner's big. We could all pee on it."
"That would be great," said the first kid. "The banner's really important to them. The way the headmaster talks about it, you'd think God came down and gave it to him in person."
"We'd have to sneak in at night," said the first kid. "But Founders would be locked."
"Wolfgang could pick the lock," said Paul.
Wolfgang squirmed as many pairs of eyes turned his way. "But peeing on the banner," he said, haltingly. "That would be...vandalism."
"Yeah," said Charles Yang. "That's the whole point."
"I...I won't do it."
The boys worked on him: calling on his loyalty to ESAP, saying they didn't believe he could pick locks, insisting it was only fair retaliation. But still Wolfgang refused.
"Well how 'bout," said Kip, "if we just turn the banner up-side-down. That'll show them that we could have done much worse--but didn't."
Wolfgang wasn't too thrilled with that idea either, but he finally agreed. It would be a project undertaken by subdorm-8 for the honor of their school.
Late that night, Kip and co, holding flashlights but keeping them off, skulked out of their dorm and made their way to Founders Hall. While Paul and Kip stood guard, Wolfgang employed his lock pick.
After a couple of long minutes, Wolfgang whispered, "It's open."
Paul and Kip padded from the corners of the building, darted up the steps, and the three crept into the main hall, softly shutting the door behind them. Then they went to the assembly hall where Kip switched on his flashlight and pointed it up at the back wall. "Well, there it is," he said, speaking at a whisper.
"Careful with the light," said Paul, softly. "Someone might see it through the window."
"I shouldn't have agreed to this," said Wolfgang, looking around nervously.
"Well, I think this is fun," said Paul.
"Yeah, right," said Wolfgang, "If they catch us, we'll probably have to copy out the complete works of Shakespeare." Then he chuckled. "But, yeah. I guess it is sort of fun."
Kip cupped a hand around the flashlight so its beam illuminated only the banner. "Hey," he whispered. "What if instead of putting it upside down, we hang it backwards, emblem against the wall." He giggled, softly. "It'll look like the banner's suddenly gone blank."
"I like that," said Paul. "We can say it's a backward banner for a backward school."
"And for backward kids," Kip added.
"How are we going to get up there," said Wolfgang, gazing up at the banner, the upper edge of which hung some three meters from the ground.
"We could push that speaker's thing to the wall and climb on it," said Kip.
"Yeah, I guess," said Paul. "It looks shaky, though."
They stared at the lectern in silence for a few seconds and then Wolfgang said, "I'm the tallest. I'll climb it."
"Really?" said Kip.
Wolfgang, his lips tight, stared at the lectern. "Sure," he said after a couple of seconds. "If you guys can keep it from falling over."
"Okay, good," said Paul. "Let's do it!"
They positioned the lectern under one corner of the banner and then Wolfgang climbed onto a chair and from there, stepped up onto the lectern.
"Hold it steady!" Wolfgang whispered, grabbing at the cloth for balance.
"I'm trying," said Paul.
Wolfgang removed the clip holding one side and the banner collapsed down, drooping like an ornamental drape.
"Looks sort of like a frozen waterfall," said Kip.
"Maybe we could just leave it this way," said Wolfgang, looking down at the others.
"No," said Kip. "They'd think it was just an accident."
"All right. All right." Wolfgang clambered down.
The boys moved the lectern to the cloth waterfall and Wolfgang climbed it again. He removed the other clip and caught the banner before it could fall. He maneuvered the unwieldy hunk of cloth back to front, clipped a corner to the wall and then, obviously showing off, he crouched and jumped lightly to the floor.
Once again, they repositioned the lectern. Wolfgang climbed it, pulled up the banner's other corner and clipped it to the wall.
"Terrific!" said Kip, playing his flashlight over the banner, now a featureless cloth square.
"Blank as a baby's mind," said Paul.
"Or Todd's," said Kip.
Wolfgang leaned back to look--and then lost his balance. He lashed out an arm for purchase and his hand grabbed the banner along its top edge.
There came a ripping sound and Wolfgang instantly released his grip. He wobbled, then fell taking the lectern down with him in a loud crash. Kip and Paul caught him, breaking his fall.
"So much for, like, being quiet," said Paul. "You okay?"
Wolfgang retrieved his glasses and scrambled to his feet. "Yeah," he said, breathlessly. "I think so."
"Uh oh," said Kip, again playing his light over the banner. The cloth had ripped to about a quarter of the way down and the frayed edges of the fabric flopped down like the ears of a Cocker Spaniel.
After a few seconds of absolute quiet, Paul said, "Let's see if there are any safety pins in the attendance office. We can hide the rip and put the banner up the way it was."
"Let's just get out of here," said Wolfgang, looking around nervously. "If they catch us in here, we're dead meat."
Kip, his nerves as frayed as the banner, agreed.
Paul concurred and then, stopping just long enough to set right the lectern and return it to the front of the stage, the boys bolted from Founders.
"Don't talk about this to anyone!" gasped Kip as they ran hard to their dorm with their flashlights off.
Kip went to bed worried and he had lots of time to worry. Since there was no Saturday assembly, Kip could worry all the way until Monday, when the deed would be discovered--when all the kids in Amdexter would see it at assembly. In bed with his eyes wide open, he worried that there might have been an RFID scanner at the door of the auditorium--just like those attendance detectors at the ESAP classrooms. He also worried that too many people knew that Wolfgang could pick locks, and if Wolfgang were confronted, he'd be unable to lie convincingly about it. And maybe they'll bring in the police and check for fingerprints.
In the morning, before breakfast, Kip suggested that since relations between ESAP and Amdexter at the moment were about as friendly as between swimmers and jellyfish, perhaps, just for safety, they should skip the Saturday night meeting of the Dark Riders. Paul and Wolfgang agreed.
"But what about the next meeting?" said Wolfgang. "How will we know when it is? I don't want Todd to think he's won and we've quit."
"I'll ask Alex," said Kip.
"You and Alex are still friends?" said Paul.
"Yeah. Of course."
Over much of the weekend, when he knew Todd would be busy playing sports, Kip hid out in the shed--thinking and worrying, and pretending to do homework.
On Sunday afternoon, Kip, startled, looked up from his books as Alex ran into the shed carrying a can of grape soda.
"Oh," said Alex, stopping sharply. "I didn't think anyone was here." He held out the can. "I'm going to sacrifice this to Zeus--and then ask him to save the carousel."
"I'm serious," said Alex. "What good is worshiping a god if he won't do things for you?"
"A sacrifice of grape soda?"
"Woodchuck wouldn't get the wine for me."
"Oh." Kip watched as Alex poured some soda on the dirt floor while reciting his prayer to Zeus. When it was all over, Kip asked about the Dark Riders. "What happened at the meeting last night?"
"Nothing." Alex paused. "Except they were mad that Wolfgang wasn't there to turn on the carousel."
"Were they very mad?" Kip smiled, hoping the answer would be yes.
"Yeah," said Alex. "Todd said he'd try to figure how to turn on the carousel himself, and then they could kick you all out."
"Everyone would still have to vote on it," said Kip.
"Todd wants to change things so people don't vote. He said Knights of the Round Table didn't vote on things."
"When's the next meeting?" said Kip. "I think Paul, Wolfy and I should be there."
"I don't know. Probably next Saturday. Todd said that since the Riders are a secret society, the meeting times should be secret. He said he'd e-mail us the night of the meeting." Alex went to the door and looked out. "I think it's because he doesn't want the ESAP Knights to ever attend again."
"Will you e-mail me after you get your e-mail?"
"Well...." Alex paused. "If it's not on Saturday, Todd'll know I told you."
"Alex. If we're going to save the carousel, you've got to tell me."
That evening, Kip decided to forgo the Sunday open carousel rides, preferring to spy on the activities from the safety of the shed--while keeping a peripheral eye out for Todd. He'd spent so much time in the shed of late that he was actually beginning to like the smell coming from the gasoline cans. And when he ventured back into the outdoors, the air at first felt sort of thin and insubstantial.
Monday finally arrived and, at breakfast, Kip wilted as most of the Amdexter kids looked accusingly toward the ESAP tables. Boy, wait until they find out about the banner.
That day, even more than usual, Kip went to classes accompanied by at least one other ESAP kid. Amdexter kids passing in the halls stared at him with clear malice, but none of them said anything to him.
Kip wasn't hungry at lunch and skipped it altogether, spending the time hiding out in the shed.
He looked up from his physics book in surprise as Alex padded stealthily in through the slit of the partially opened door.
"Hi, Alex," said Kip in feigned cheerfulness. Then, trying to sound nonchalant, he added, "By the way. Anything interesting happen in your assembly this morning?"
"Boy, was there ever," said Alex, animated and excited. "You should have seen it." He made a face--of mock horror. "The Amdexter banner was on the wall backwards. And somebody tore it. The headmaster was as mad as a wet wombat."
"Yeah?" said Kip, trying to sound interested but not too interested.
"The headmaster talked about criminal vandalism and insult to the school and stuff like that. You could almost see steam coming from his ears." Alex paused and looked at Kip with narrowed eyes. "Do you know anything about it?"
"No," said Kip, weakly.
"Well anyway," Alex went on, "The headmaster says he's going to go to the ESAP assembly today."
"Geez!" Another pang of worry shot through Kip. Why would the headmaster come unless he knew who did it?
Both Dr. Ralph as well as the headmaster were there when Kip and the other kids came into Snack Bar for assembly. As Kip walked to a seat, Dr. Ralph stopped him. Kip felt an instant of panic. But Dr. Ralph just said, "Kip. You smell like a gas station."
"Yes, sir," said Kip, continuing on to his seat.
Dr. Ralph, not sounding overly severe, gave the floor to the headmaster--and he looked very serious. With a stern voice, the headmaster talked about 'wanton vandalism' and ended by saying, "I assure you that the boy or boys responsible for this outrage will be found and severely punished."
Kip breathed a sigh of relief--a small sigh. Apparently there were no RFID readers in the assembly hall. Of course he was convinced that every kid in Amdexter as well as the headmaster, believed that kids in ESAP were responsible--but the man couldn't punish an entire school. Kip locked his eyes on the headmaster. Geez! You could power an engine from the steam from his ears. "...that if the boy or boys responsible would come to my office and admit it, the punishment will be much lighter."
Kip hoped that Wolfgang wouldn't fall for that line.
"...I assure you though, that I will find out who did this."
Kip thought that maybe a kid would find out first. But kids don't squeal. He hoped that was even true for Amdorks.
The headmaster talked some more and then, with an exaggeratedly stiff posture, trod out of Snack Bar the way an angry king or a dictator might.
After the man left, Dr. Ralph, much to Kip's surprise, consoled his boys. "Look," he said. "I don't know who did it, but it was clearly just a prank. I don't even think the rip was intentional. The banner is very old and fragile." He paused. "If this were a hundred years ago,"--He stretched his lips into a thin, tight smile.--"and not just a school that acts as if it were a hundred years ago, if the kids were found, they'd just be lightly beaten and the whole thing would be forgotten." His expression turned serious and he rubbed a hand across his forehead. "If any of you want to...to talk to me about something, I'd be glad to see you in my office."
After afternoon classes, Kip knocked on Dr. Ralph's door and was admitted. The teacher swiveled his feet from the top of his desk to the floor, transferred his laptop computer from lap to desk, and looked expectantly at his visitor.
"You said you wouldn't mind if kids dropped in to talk," said Kip, tentatively.
"Kip. I'm surprised." Dr. Ralph indicated a seat that Kip took. "I didn't think you'd be one to engage in that kind of behavior," he continued, his voice remarkably cheerful.
Kip felt his eyes go wide. Was it obvious? He felt as if his banner-guilt was tattooed all over his forehead. "No," he managed. "Actually, I'm here because I'm worried about one of my friends."
"A friend," said Dr. Ralph, his eyes narrowed in clear skepticism. Then his look changed to one of concern. "I'm sorry. I thought... Go on. About one of your friends?"
"Alex Griffin," Kip went on to tell of Alex's increasingly strange behavior. As he did so, Kip began to worry about his own increasingly strange behavior. In fact, over the weekend, Kip realized he'd grown increasingly hysterical--while at the same time, Alex's hysteria seemed to have diminished. Maybe it's a conservation law. Maybe hysteria is conserved.
"It does sound like your friend has a very good imagination," said Dr. Ralph when Kip had finished. "But yes, there could be something the matter." He paused. "It's not something I'm qualified to judge. And I don't have any authority for Amdexter boys." Again he paused. "But I'll talk to the headmaster about him. And I'm sure he'll set something up. Maybe he'll have Brother Kenji counsel your friend."
Kip wrinkled his nose at Wakabyashi's name.
"Brother Wakabyashi?" Dr. Ralph smiled. "Despite what you might think about his religion, he's a good man. He listens well and he has a background in clinical psychology."
"Is the headmaster a good man?"
"What? The headmaster? I think he is--for the most part." Dr. Ralph looked probingly at Kip. "It's just that flags and banners seem more important to him than some others of us--if you understand my meaning."
Kip didn't--but he felt the conversation was going in a dangerous direction. "Thank you, sir," he said. "I just wanted to tell you about Alex," Kip stood and waited nervously for a cue that it was okay to go.
"Have you always used 'sir'," said Dr. Ralph with a smile, "or is it something you've picked up at Amdexter.
Kip relaxed. "I've always used it--usually when my dad's bawling me out. But I've used it tons more since Amdexter.' He smiled and turned to leave.
"Oh, Kip. Wait a minute."
Kip turned with an expectant expression.
"Paradox didn't, by any chance, spend last night on your bed, did he?"
"Yes, sir. He did." Kip waited for more.
"Good. I was beginning to worry. I haven't seen him since yesterday. He should have come in around noon today for cat-lunch. But he didn't." Dr. Ralph did seem a little worried. "Usually, when he gets out, he comes back in the morning and howls to be let in."
"He hasn't come back yet?"
Dr. Ralph shook his head. "Not a cause for concern yet," he said, more to himself than to Kip. "Cats are strange creatures."
In bed that night, Kip waited for Paradox to slip in through subdorm-8's partially open door and jump up to his bunk. But Paradox didn't come. It's okay. Cats are strange creatures.
By Tuesday Morning, Paradox still hadn't returned. That afternoon, after classes, Dr. Ralph arranged another cat hunt--this time, a large and highly organized search. He assigned each subdorm a specific area of the large Amdexter grounds and some of the woods beyond. Snack Bar was the command center and there, Doctors Ralph and Linda waited for news.
As Kip, Paul, and Wolfgang prowled their search area, they endured, as they had for the past few days, taunts from passing Amdexter boys.
"If they'd found me alone," said Kip, "they'd probably have beaten me up."
"Yeah, it's good we're hunting in a group," said Wolfgang. "I wonder if Dr. Ralph planned it this way."
"These Amdorks are so, like, lame," said Paul. "I wonder. Do they hate us because of their stupid sacred banner, or is the banner just an excuse to hate us?"
"And why do they care that much about a moldy old banner anyway?" said Kip. "I mean, old people like old things, but kids? Maybe the Amdorks are just acting the way they think the headmaster wants them to act."
"Hey," said Wolfgang, scanning the ground. "Some kind of animal droppings. Wonder if it's from Paradox."
Kip peered down at the dark evidence almost hidden in the high grass still lush and green in early October. "No," he said. "I have a cat at home, and its poop doesn't look like this."
"Maybe it's from a deer," said Paul.
"I don't think so," said Wolfgang. "Deer poop looks more like pellets." He brightened. "You know. Maybe it's from a fox." He looked closer then drew sharply back. "It stinks."
"Must be recent," said Kip.
"This is cool," said Wolfgang. "Maybe we'll finally see a fox."
"It's probably just a squirrel with a sick stomach," said Paul. "Come on!"
They finished searching their area, seeing neither signs of cat nor fox, and then returned to Snack Bar to report. There they waited with the groups already back for all the other subdorms to come in.
Suddenly, four boys burst in through the door and ran up to Dr. Ralph. "Paradox," said one of them, gasping for breath. "He's dead! Near the carousel."
Dr. Ralph jumped to his feet.
"Butchered!" said another of the boys.
"Show me!" Dr. Ralph barked out.
The four started for the door at a run, followed by Dr. Ralph. The other boys followed, but Dr. Ralph shouted over his shoulder, "Stay here!" and then plunged through the door
After a few seconds of silence, a boy spoke up. "They killed him. The Amdorks must have killed him in revenge for the banner."
"I can't believe that," Wolfgang whispered. "He must have been killed by a fox."
"I don't know," said Paul. "I think it probably was murder. Todd, most likely." He blew out a breath. "But like with quantum mechanics," he said while gazing out through the glass door, "you can almost never be sure of anything."
Kip opened his mouth, but he was still too shocked to speak.
"Maybe in one world," said Wolfgang, "it was the fox, but in another, it was Todd."
"I'm interested in this world," said Kip, finding his voice and speaking through clenched teeth. "I'm going to kill Todd."
"Wait for data," said Wolfgang. "We don't know if it was murder. We don't know if it was Todd."
Paul looked quizzically at Wolfgang. "What do you think? If Todd killed Paradox in another world, can we blame him in this one?"
"Yes," said Wolfgang after a few seconds. "If he would have done it if he'd thought about it."
"I wonder," said Paul. "If different observers can have different realities, I'd guess different observers can have different...like different ethics too. Interesting!"
Kip felt his eyes tearing over. He couldn't stand it that his friends were talking as if his cat were just a quantum problem. He ran outside so his friends wouldn't see him cry. Wandering into the Dalambertian, he took care to avoid running into any kids. He emerged at the other side of the quadrangle and seeing the shed in the distance, he headed for it. He didn't care if Todd was there. In fact, he hoped he would be there. Even though Todd was heavier and taller, Kip would fight him in an instant. He'd practically kill him if he could.
Kip unlocked the shed and went in. The interior was almost as dark as was his mood. He closed the door behind him, cutting off the bulk of the illumination, and threw himself on to a chair; the rickety chair almost collapsed under his angry weight. He overlaid a mental image of Paradox with Sniffles, his very own cat. I really miss Sniffles.
Suddenly, Kip heard noise at the door. Someone was keying the combination. Todd! Grabbing what was at hand, in this case a short length of a metal cylinder, a corroded old exhaust pipe, Kip stood. Kip wielded the pipe like a club and stepped forward as the door opened. But it was only Alex.
With a squeak of a cry, Alex stepped back and covered his head.
Alex looked with feral eyes. "You were going to hit me."
"I thought you were Todd." Kip stepped back to let Alex in but Alex stood as if frozen.
"I'm sorry." Kip dropped the metal. It landed with a thud on the dirt floor. "Come in!"
Still, Alex didn't move.
"Come on, Alex. I said I was sorry." Then Kip had a bad thought. "What are you doing here?" he demanded. "You were following me, weren't you?"
Alex's expression changed from fear to anger.
"What am I saying," said Kip. "I'm sorry. I'm just really mad about what happened."
"What did happen, anyway?" Alex walked in and closed the door behind him--turning the brief daylight to dusk. He plopped down in a chair. "As a matter of fact, I guess I was following you. I saw ESAP kids hunting for something. And then they started rushing around like bees in a blender. And so when I saw you running out of your dorm, I followed you." Alex narrowed his eyes. "What's going on? I couldn't ask anyone outside because no ESAP kids would talk to me."
Kip was glad the shed was so dark; Alex couldn't really see his face, particularly his wet eyes. He sat down at the table and related the lost cat events, and ended with, "Todd probably killed him as revenge for...." Kip stopped. He didn't want even Alex to know about the banner.
"Yeah, revenge," said Alex. "I'm sure Todd did it. He hates you." He made a fist with both hands. "And he was practicing for what he's going to do to me."
"What are you talking about?"
"Todd wants to hurt me real bad," said Alex. "He's just waiting for the chance."
"But practicing? Come on! He's not going to butcher you the way he...he butchered the cat." Abruptly, Kip's veneer of control fell away. "Why did he do it?" he wailed. "Why does he hate me so much?"
"I told you," said Alex with conviction. "He did it for revenge."
"Because of the banner?" Kip bit his lip, regretting he'd not thought before he spoke.
"The banner? What does that have to do with anything?"
"Well. He might have thought that--"
"No," said Alex. "It's because Todd got caught by a master in his lines for money scheme. He's sure you told on him."
"Me?" Kip didn't want Alex to think he was a squealer. "I didn't. I couldn't have. I didn't even know any ESAP kids were still doing it."
Alex shrugged and said nothing.
Kip had to admit to himself that had he thought of it and if he could have done it without anyone finding out, he would have told on Todd. He wondered briefly if he'd done it in a parallel world--and if he was morally guilty of telling in this one. Why do I even care? "I wonder how Todd knew Paradox was sort of my cat."
"I'm in the shed a lot," said Alex, abruptly. Kip was surprised at the sharp change of topic. But then again, Alex did that a lot.
"There's a good view of the carousel from here." Alex went to the door. "I want to make sure my horse isn't stolen."
Kip found the statement funny, but Alex seemed completely serious.
Alex opened the door a sliver and peered out. "There's your Dr. Ralph. He's way out past the carousel. I think he's carrying a shovel."
Kip came to look. They stared silently until Dr. Ralph was out of sight. Then Alex said, "I'm going to visit Bucephalus." He glanced back at Kip. "See you later."
"Later," said Kip as Alex padded away, stealthily and crouched low to the ground.
Kip left the shed as well, and headed back to Snack Bar. Talking to Alex had made him feel better, but madder. He knew his enemy now. Todd! Directing his mind toward getting even, Kip increased his pace.
Loud voices washed over him when he opened the door to Snack Bar. There was a debate going on, not an organized one as when an adult oversaw it. This was passionate and angry. Kip slipped in, pressed his back against the door, and listened.
"We can't let them get away with it," said a kid, standing on a table. "It's murder!"
"I still think it was a fox," said Wolfgang, in among the crowd of boys.
"Couldn't be!" said another boy in the throng after the boos died down. "Cats are smart--especially Paradox, and they're fast. Paradox wouldn't have let himself be caught by a fox."
"Yeah!" and "Right on!" came from many voices.
"We have no choice now," the boy on the table continued. "We can't let them get away with it." He threw a glance to Kip. "We've got to do something. Big time!"
There were a few seconds of silence and then a boy said, "It's all about the carousel, isn't it?"
A kid raised a fist. "We want a centrifuge, not a carousel!"
"Yeah!" shouted another. "A physics lab."
"Rip out the horses!" came yet another voice.
"We demand a lab!" another kid shouted.
It became a chant: "Rip out the Horses! We demand a lab!" The chant reverberated off the walls as ever more boys echoed it. The chant grew steadily louder.
Kip noticed some kids looking at him. They seemed to expect him to say something or do something. After all, Paradox's murder affected him more than anyone except the doctors Hopcroft. Everyone knew how Paradox was pretty much his cat. Kip felt he had no choice. He too, picked up the chant. And it felt good. It felt as if he were mind-merged with the whole school--a single quantum system. Then Kip had a vision of Alex. His friend would be crushed if the horses went--especially Bucephalus. But Kip rationalized: Yeah. We can scream and protest and demand the removal of the horses. But it won't really happen. At least not any time soon. He might as well go along with the crowd--his crowd, his school.
Kip saw that Wolfgang's mouth wasn't moving--and in fact he looked sort of scared. That made Kip self-conscious about his own chanting. But people were looking at him. He couldn't stop. He thought of Todd and revenge, and that gave him a reason to keep making noise. It's ESAP's carousel. We can do what ever we want with it. Obliquely watching Wolfgang, Kip saw him begin to move his mouth. And he looked less nervous, less apart. Now, he looked like the other kids.
As the chant started to die of its own weight, the boy on the table held his hands up for quiet. "How about we start with another petition?" he called out. "This time against the carousel!"
"Let's write it now," Charles Yang, called out.
"Okay," said the kid on the table. "How about...We the boys of ESAP...support--"
"No," called Charles, "not the boys. We might get Dr. Ralph and Dr. Linda to sign."
"Yeah. Okay." The boy on the table bit his lip. "How 'bout...We, the members of the ESAP community support removing all the horses from the carousel in order to...to make a better laboratory...for the study of science."
"Yeah, great!" Charles called out. "Now someone write it down before we forget it."
A kid volunteered. He said he'd word process it and bring it to tomorrow's assembly when absolutely all the ESAP kids would be in attendance.
The boy, still standing on the table said, "And then, after we all sign it, we'll tack it on the Amdexter bulletin board--next morning, right before their assembly. That'll show them." At that, he hopped down from the table.
"We'd better make photocopies," said Charles. "Including signatures. Just in case the Amdorks don't appreciate our petition being posted on their bulletin board."
A few of the boys laughed.
When the war council broke up, Kip trod back to his subdorm with mixed feelings. Even though he knew it would hurt Alex to see his name on the petition, he would sign it. He pretty much had to. And he pretty much wanted to.
Later, at lights out when the boys were in bed, Wolfgang said, "We were a mob back there. A big, mindless mob."
"So what?" said Paul. "Maybe it's not always so bad being a mob."
Kip kept his silence.
"Rip out the horses! We demand a lab." Wolfgang spoke the words with a strong cadence. "That's mob talk."
"Oh, come on!" said Paul.
"My grandfather grew up in Germany," said Wolfgang into the darkness. "And starting when he was very little, his parents took him to concerts. And at the end of the music people would start clapping. And sometimes it wasn't the clapping that sounded like...like when my mom fries bratwurst in oil."
Paul laughed. "I always thought applause sounds like television static.'
"But sometimes everyone clapped together--clapping in unison, my grandfather calls it."
"So?" said Paul.
"Well, my grandfather said clapping in unison always scared him. He said it still does. He says it turns thinking people into an unthinking mob. And...and I think shouting things in unison is even worse."
By the middle of the following day, Kip felt a lot better. And he was distracted from the previous day's sorrows by the excitement of Wolfgang receiving a parcel from home. In subdorm-8 after classes, Kip and Paul hovered over the package.
"Come on, open it," said Kip.
Wolfgang ripped off the brown paper wrapping, revealing a brown cardboard box. Inside, nestled in a nest of crumpled newspaper, was a metal container. Wolfgang opened it and the scent of chocolate filled the room. Wolfgang pulled out a dark brown cake. It was big but thin, with Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Wolfy written in white photo frosting over a full color image of the Earth as seen from space.
"Nice!" said Kip.
Then Wolfgang giggled as he pulled something else from the can--a pack of birthday candles.
"What's it say?" said Kip, looking the cake. "And when can we eat it?"
"It roughly means happy birthday," said Wolfgang as he dug deeper into his package.
"I wonder if German birthday cakes are wide instead of thick," said Paul, "because German words are longer."
"I can understand the Wolfy," said Kip, staring at the frosting.
"Except in German it's pronounced Voolfy." Wolfgang withdrew another tin--this time containing a massive cache of chocolate chip cookies and a file card containing the instruction, 'Share with Kip and Paul'.
"I like your parents," said Kip.
Wolfgang dug deeper still and pulled out a last item: a box wrapped in a highway map.
"A map of Canada?" said Paul.
"Dad says it's silly to spend money on wrapping paper--something that's just going to be torn up and thrown away." Wolfgang ripped off the paper. "Yes!" he said raising a fist. "My night vision scope!"
"Hey, sweet!" said Kip. "Let's go out and try it."
"Can't." Wolfgang scanned the instruction booklet. "Daylight can hurt the photomultiplier tube. Have to wait 'til tonight."
Paul finished off his cookie. "Very good! Sehr gut!"
"Sehr gut?" said Wolfgang. "I didn't know you knew German."
"Just a little."
Kip chuckled. "Do you memorize languages, too?"
"I'm starting to," said Paul. "The more languages you can speak, the better you can think....I think."
That night, the three did go out and try the scope. Dr. Ralph had given them leave to do some astronomy observing.
Standing in the middle of the Dalambertian, Wolfgang raised his glasses to sit on his hair, then looked through his scope at the sky, to the Milky Way near Cygnus. "Wow! Zillions of stars." He passed the scope to Kip. "Press the button. That activates the phototube. And refocus it for your eyes."
Kip looked into the scope. "Fantastic! But I sort of prefer white stars. Not green." He passed the scope to Paul.
"Picky. Picky," said Wolfgang.
"This is pretty good," said Paul, his neck craned back, his eye to the eyepiece.
"Hey!" said Wolfgang. "Let's go foxhunting."
"What?" Paul handed the scope back to Wolfgang.
"It's a night vision scope!" said Wolfgang.
"What'll we do," said Paul, "if we should somehow happen to find a fox?"
"I don't know," said Wolfgang, waving an arm in impatience. "Follow him. See where he lives."
"Yeah, okay," said Paul. "Sounds good. Let's go."
"I think I'll go back to the dorm," said Kip. "I...have some homework to do."
"Don't you want to, like, see a fox?" Paul joked.
Walking from the Amdexter assembly the following morning, Alex casually scanned the bulletin boards as he plodded off to first period English. Seeing a sheet of paper brazenly tacked on over other notices, he stopped to read it.
A Petition From ESAP About The Carousel
We the members of the ESAP community strongly encourage the removal of all the horses from the carousel in order to make a better laboratory for the study of science. We request that it should be done as soon as possible.
Alex inhaled sharply as the words registered. Anxiously, he scanned the signatures and then, near the bottom, he saw 'Kip Campbell'. Alex felt his face wrinkle and his eyes blur with moisture.
"I thought Kip was my friend," he whispered. Then another voice in his mind said, He was just pretending to be your friend. He betrayed you. "He is my friend." No, he isn't. He wants to hurt you. He's just as bad as Todd. "He's my best friend. He would never try to hurt me." He would!
Alex blinked a few times to clear his vision. Then, lips pressed tightly together, he lashed a hand out and ripped the petition from the board. He crumpled it tightly, as if he could make it go away, as if he could make it to never have existed. The sound of paper crumpling sounded like a fire.
He needed to do something to save his horse. But there was nothing he really could do. He gritted his teeth. After school, he'd get some rope. At least he could make a bridle and reins for Bucephalus.
As Kip passed the Amdexter main bulletin board on the way to lunch, he saw that the petition wasn't there anymore. After a quick flush of anger, he felt somewhat relieved. Alex might not have seen it. Kip sighed. If Alex did read it, Kip knew he'd have a lot of explaining to do.
In second period Social Studies, a class they had in common, Alex didn't say a word to him even though their seats were next to each other. Kip took that as a sign that Alex did see the petition.
"I'm sorry, Alex," Kip whispered as Mr. Thomas stood from his desk. "I had no choice. I had to sign it."
"Yeah, right," said Alex. "I'm sure they put a gun to your nose."
Mr. Thomas started teaching, making further conversation difficult.
After the class, Alex hurried away to his next class--a different class than Kip's and in the opposite direction.
On his way to art class, Kip saw that another copy of the petition had been posted. On his way from art class Kip passed the bulletin board again and saw that the petition had vanished yet again--except for bits of paper around the thumb tacks.
Later, at the ESAP assembly, Nick suggested that they make a lot of photocopies of the original petition and each kid carry copies so he could post another one as soon as the previous one had been torn down. But Kip wanted the petition stuff to just go away. They'd made their point.
The following morning, Friday, Kip saw that the petition had again been posted. He walked by the bulletin board just a few minutes later, and saw no petition. He ambled nonchalantly back ten minutes later and saw it re-posted. Kip sighed and decided to avoid the board for the rest of the day.
Before the start of Saturday classes, Kip saw on the Amdexter board, not the ESAP petition, but in its place, another document with a ton of signatures:
ABCDEF Amdexter Boys Carousel Defense Emergency Force ABCDEF
On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to my school and to its carousel. I promise to defend the Amdexter carousel and protect it from anyone who wants to hurt it, especially from people who want to make it into a science experiment.
Kip scanned the signatures, looking for Alex's name. They'd begun talking again and had even resumed their friendship, damaged as it was. Kip saw Alex's name. It was no surprise, and Kip felt almost pleased by it. Alex's signature here was a squaring of the books. Now they were even.
By the end of Saturday classes, even that document had been taken down. Instead, the bulletin board held a big, sterile proclamation. Kip, Wolfgang, and Paul stared at it.
Official Amdexter and ESAP notices ONLY!
Amdexter student notices may be posted on the bulletin board in the dormitory common room.
"So ends the war of the petitions," said Paul.
Kip nodded. Even though the communication had not been especially friendly, it was still communication. And now even that had been cut off. "I don't like this," he said. "I'm starting to feel like an alien here in Amdexter."
"You've just discovered this now?" said Paul.
The three left Founders and wandered to Snack Bar to hang out. On the way they saw graffiti: ABCDEF scrawled in chalk on ESAP buildings and also drawn in bold, artistic letters on the tiled expanse of the Heisenberg Commons. Examining the lettering--done with a sure and skillful hand, Kip wondered if Alex had been responsible for it
"Maybe if they study real hard," said Paul, glowering down at the chalk-work, "the Amdorks might be able to remember the rest of the alphabet."
"I wonder what will happen next," said Kip, "now that we don't have petitions as an outlet anymore."
"Maybe everything will just die down," said Wolfgang.
"Today's Saturday," said Kip.
"Duh!" said Paul.
"I mean I wonder if there'll be a Dark Riders meeting tonight?"
"Alex hasn't sent you an e-mail about it?" said Wolfgang.
"Can you still, like, trust Alex?" said Paul.
"Trust but verify," said Wolfgang, "my dad always says." He opened the door to Snack Bar. "Ah. Sanctuary."
That night, at about the time when kids would be leaving their dorms for a Dark Riders meeting, Kips and co. took turns observing from their window. They'd trained Wolfgang's night vision scope on the front door of the Amdexter dorm. But after an hour, they gave it up. No one had left the Amdexter dorm.
"I guess there's no Riders meeting tonight," said Kip.
"Guess not," said Paul.
"Just as well," said Wolfgang.
Kip and company slept in on Sunday, skipping breakfast, surreptitiously continuing their sleep during Wakabyashi's ethics lecture, and then pigging out at lunch. They mechanically bore the afternoon mandatory sports activities and then they hid away in their subdorm studying. In the evening though, they made a point of going to the open carousel rides. It was pretty much the only setting where Amdexter and ESAP boys were in one place without the masters being in total charge. Kip hoped he might be able to sniff out some information about the activities of the Riders. Maybe Alex or Woodchuck would tell him something.
They arrived just as a master, standing at the control cabinet, keyed the combination. While he did so, Kip saw Todd staring at the master with the intensity of a cat watching a bird through a window. The master then took a key from his pocket, plunged it into the lock of the panel and turned it. He flipped two more switches, turning on the lights and starting the music. Then Todd turned away.
Hypnotized by the music and lights, Kip felt his eyes drawn to the carousel. "Geez!"
"What?" said Paul.
"Bucephalus," said Kip, pointing. "It has a rope bridle and reins."
"Reins on a carousel horse?" said Paul.
"He found...a cat's scratching post in the garbage," said Wolfgang. "That's where he got the rope."
The bright lights of the carousel and the bubbly, cheerful barrel-organ music stood in sharp contrast to a tension that was clearly in the air. There were a lot more kids at the carousel waiting for rides this night than on previous Sundays. They rode in groups defined by shorts color. And they rode, for the most part, in silence and with stiff posture--a carousel cavalry. The ESAP and Amdexter kids kept their distance from each other.
From somewhere within the clump of ESAP boys on the ground, arose the chant of "Rip out the horses. We demand a lab." It was immediately answered by a much louder and repeated shout of "ABCDEF-Go!"
"Impressive," said Wolfgang. "It shows planning. I wonder what else they've planned."
"I reeealy don't like this." Kip looked across to the shouting Amdexter kids and then tried, without success, to persuade the ESAP boys closest to him to stop chanting. He was afraid the shouting back and forth would turn into a fight--and the ESAP kids were outnumbered by about three to one.
As the music blared and the boys shouted their various slogans, the Amdexter boys began to coalesce and surround the cluster of ESAP boys. And they began to shout "APES, APES, APES," repeatedly and in unison.
Then came pushing and shoving--and then raised fists and insults. Kip was scared; a fight seemed inescapable. He looked longingly at his dorm, wanting to take shelter there, but he couldn't--not without losing face.
But then the master at the controls turned off the carousel, silencing the music. The boys fell silent as well. The master, looking angry and very much a symbol of school discipline, said everyone's behavior was unacceptable and he sent all the boys to their respective dorms.
Kip didn't have the chance to talk to Alex or Woodchuck. Kip learned nothing.
In the refectory during lunch, Monday, Kip could feel the tension between the two schools, and the taunts were more nasty than usual. But Kip was in no mood to play that game. He gobbled down his food and left--spending the time until his next class meandering around the Dalambertian.
At the north end of the quad, Kip noticed a man nosing around the carousel. The guy didn't look like the workman he'd seen earlier--the one checking how hard it would be to rip out the horses. Too bad! Right now, I'd be just as happy if they'd rip out all the horses--every single one. It would serve them all right!
Curious, Kip walked over. This man didn't have a clipboard as the previous man had, but he was writing in a notebook--holding a tape measurer over the horses and then writing stuff down.
As Kip drew close, he saw that it was an old man with grey hair, and his clothes didn't look American. Kip greeted the man politely and the man returned the greeting just as politely, and then turned back to the carousel. The man had a strong accent. He sounded a lot like Wolfgang's father, except with an even heavier accent and he was much harder to understand.
"Are you from Germany?" asked Kip.
"Entschuldigung?" The man pulled his gaze away from the horses. "Aus Deutschland, Ja. Yes. I am from Germany." He smiled, as one would at a puppy, and then went back to measuring a horse. The man seemed nice, but he clearly was very involved in what he was doing and didn't particularly seem interested in conversation--especially with a kid.
Kip wished Wolfgang were here with him.
After watching the man for a while, Kip asked "When are they taking the horses away?"
"Horses. Ja," said the man, distractedly, his eyes still locked on the horse. "Sehr schön."
Kip didn't want to annoy him further. And he had gotten the answer to his question--he thought he did, anyway. He remembered that sehr meant very in German. And the other word, 'shoon', or something like that, sounded like soon. So the horses are going 'very soon'.
Kip waved goodbye at the man, then headed back. Checking his watch, he saw that he had only a couple of minutes before his next class. He put the carousel out of his mind and sprinted back to Founders.
Early that evening, back in subdorm-8 with Paul and Wolfgang, Kip checked his e-mail and found a message with the subject: Dark Riders meeting.
"Hey," said Kip, opening the e-mail. "There's a Dark Riders meeting, tonight."
"I guess you could rely on Alex after all," said Paul.
"Yeah," said Kip with a chuckle. "Oh wait. It's not from Alex." He wrinkled his nose in puzzlement. "It's from Todd."
"Weird!" said Paul, also sitting at his computer. "Wait. I've got one, too. Also from Todd."
"I wonder what's going on," said Wolfgang. "Do you think maybe Todd wants to be friends?"
"Friends?" Paul laughed. "Like I wouldn't count on it."
"Maybe they just miss having carousel rides in the dark," said Wolfgang.
"Well, I think we should go," said Kip. "I want to know for sure what happened to Paradox."
"What more's there to know?" said Paul. "Todd killed him."
"I'm really not sure of that," said Wolfgang. "I still think it might have been a fox."
Late that night, Kip, Paul and Wolfgang padded from their dorm to the golf course. Kip and Paul carried flashlights while Wolfgang had his night vision scope dangling from around his neck. The weather had turned autumnal, with a cool damp breeze and an overcast sky. Cold, dew-laden underbrush soaked their pajama bottoms and numbed their ankles.
As they pulled their lances from the golf cups, Kip scanned the greens with his flashlight. "Hey, wait a minute," he said. "All the other lances are still here."
"We can't be that early," said Paul, sweeping his flashlight beam over the course, illuminating the golf-stick flags.
"Maybe they just decided not to take their lances for this meeting," said Wolfgang. "Or maybe it's too cold for them." Wolfgang wore a cardigan over his pajamas.
"Or maybe it was a trick," said Paul. "Just to get us out here in the middle of the night for no reason. Ha, ha. Big joke."
"Okay," said Kip. "Then we'll just have our own meeting."
"It's cold," said Paul.
"Well," said Kip. "Let's just go over to the carousel and check it out."
Warily then, just in case Todd and his friends had worked up a more sinister joke, they approached the carousel. But no one was there.
"What now?" said Paul.
"Do you want to ride?" said Wolfgang.
"No," said Paul.
"Let's wait a little and then go back," said Kip. "Just in case."
A few minutes later, scanning the terrain with his scope, Wolfgang pointed to the golf course.
Kip could see dim flashes of light--the fleeting beams of flashlights. "There they are," he said at a whisper.
Kip and company watched as, in single file, the Amdexter Riders marched to the carousel.
"Dark Riders, halt!" Todd barked in cadence to the footfalls. Like a disciplined scout troop, the boys halted.
"Lances rest!" In unison, the boys slammed the bases of their spears on the ground, making a single thump sound.
"Attention!" The boys snapped to attention with lances vertical, the number flags fluttering above their heads.
"I don't like this," Wolfgang whispered.
"Turn right!" The boys turned to face Kip and co. Kip envied them; they all wore sweaters.
Todd walked to the front and center of the row of Amdexter Knights. The boys at each end of the row held up flashlights with sheets of paper tied around them to give the illusion of torches.
"We're going to have a vote," Todd proclaimed, standing stiffly erect, "to expel you from the Dark Riders."
"Who cares!" said Paul.
"I want to know what happened to Paradox," said Kip, evenly.
"The cat?" said Todd. Then he sneered. "I'm glad it's dead."
"You killed him," said Kip, almost shouting in spite of himself.
"Me?" Todd hesitated an instant and then said. "Maybe I did. So what?"
"You stinking skunk!" Kip swept his lance horizontal and ran at Todd. But before he'd managed more than a step, Paul and Wolfgang grabbed and held him. At the same time, Todd dodged out of the way.
Wolfgang leaned his head to Kip's ear. "I don't think he did kill Paradox," he whispered. "He just said that to make you mad."
Todd sauntered back to the center of his knights and, in the glow of the torch-like flashlights, scowled at Kip. "You tried to attack me," he said, imperiously, the effect ruined by his treble voice, "the High Lord of the Dark Riders. Now we have double the reason to throw you out,"--he directed glances at Paul and Wolfgang--"to throw all of you out."
"Except Wolfgang," Roger cut in.
Todd turned sharply toward him.
"We still need him," said Roger in an apologetic voice. He seemed to wilt under Todd's stare. "I mean as Stable Master--if we ever want rides."
"No, we don't!" Todd smiled. With a theatrical flourish of his hand, he pulled something from the pocket of his pajamas. It was a key. "And I know the cabinet combination, too. We can ride whenever I want."
Todd flashed a toothy smile at Kip and then returned his gaze to his knights. "All right. We'll vote now." He pointed his lance at the leftmost boy in the row. "Kevin. Vote! The APES--in or out?"
Kip thought fast. There was no doubt they'd be voted out. But he didn't want to put Alex in a position where he'd have to vote. That might hurt their friendship beyond repair.
"Martin! In or out?"
Kip decided he'd resign. That would save Alex.
"Roger! In or out?"
Before Roger could respond, Paul called out, "Forget it!" He threw down his lance. "I quit!" He kicked the lance away. "When I was a little kid, I used to like being in a Mickey Mouse outfit."
"I quit, too," said Kip, startled that Paul had acted before he did. He also threw down his spear.
Wolfgang, let go of his spear and watched it topple to the ground. He seemed more amused than angry. "This stable master quits," he said, lightly. "You can clean up after your horses yourself."
"Pick up those lances," Todd commanded. "And take them back to the golf course."
"Drop dead!" said Paul.
"Turn blue!" said Wolfgang.
Todd swung down his lance. His face looked savage.
"Wait a minute," said Kip. "None of this matters anyway. A man came to look at the carousel today."
"What?" said Kevin. "What are you talking about?"
Todd pursed his lips and rested his lance.
"He came to measure the horses," Kip went on. "He said they're taking them away real soon."
Paul looked to his side in surprise. "Really?"
"Yeah. But I totally forgot about it."
Paul half raised a fist in victory. "Good!" He turned his gaze on Todd. "The carousel belongs to ESAP and this will make sure it always will. And no one will be able to steal it from us."
Todd, pointedly ignoring Paul, glared at Kip. "I don't believe you."
"It's true," said Roger. "I saw the man, too. And I saw him talking to Kip."
"No!" screamed Alex in a cry of anguish. He looked imploringly at Todd. "We won't let them take the horses, will we?"
"Never!" Todd drew himself to his full height and thumped his spear to the ground. "We'll never let the APES turn our carousel into their science lab. No way!"
Kip felt hurt that his friend had turned to Todd rather than to him.
Adding some foul language, a few of the other Amdexter kids echoed Todd's sentiments--and they started making unfriendly gestures with their lances.
"Well," said Wolfgang, smiling sweetly at Todd. "Since you've got everything under control, we'll leave now." He put an arm each around Kip and Paul and turned, moving his comrades with him. "Come on," he whispered. "Things could get nasty." Wolfgang led them away.
From behind, Kip heard Todd say, "Forget them. We have work to do."
When they'd re-entered the brush, Paul turned to Kip. "That carousel inspector. Did he really say the horses are going to be removed real soon?"
They walked onto the main North-South path of the Dalambertian.
"Yeah." Kip thought back. "Well actually he said very soon--I think."
"You think?" said Paul.
Kip reconstructed his conversation with the man. "Yeah," said Kip. "He seemed not to be paying attention to me, but he did say sehr soon."
"Sehr soon?" said Wolfgang, wrinkling his nose.
"Well actually, he said it more like sehr shoon."
"But...." Again Wolfgang wrinkled his nose. "Shoon doesn't mean soon." He paused. "I don't think shoon means anything in German."
"But the guy said it," said Kip. "And he said he was from Germany."
"Wait a minute," said Wolfgang. "Do you think he might have said sehr schön?"
"Yeah. That was it."
Wolfgang laughed. "That doesn't mean very soon. It means very nice."
"Oh." Kip felt himself flush from embarrassment.
Paul chuckled. "Let's let the Amdork knights keep thinking it's very soon."
They walked silently though the damp darkness for a minute or so, and then Paul said "Maybe since the Amdork Knights are at the carousel doing work, whatever that is...like maybe we should try to sneak into their dorm and...I don't know...pee on their beds."
Kip laughed. "You must have been great fun at Scout camp."
"That is very childish," said Wolfgang.
"Well, I just don't want to go back to bed," said Paul. "I'm not tired anymore."
"Me, neither," said Kip. They stopped walking.
"Then how 'bout," Paul went on, "we be good citizens and just make sure their dorm is locked...and if it's not, we can...like, lock it."
Again, Kip chuckled. "I wouldn't mind Alex using the spare bunk, but I wouldn't want them all to barge into our subdorm."
"All right. All right," said Paul with frustration in his voice. He pointed back the way they'd come. "Then why don't we use the night vision scope to spy on the Amdork Riders--to see what that work of theirs might be?"
"If they catch us spying," said Wolfgang, "we're carbonized toast."
"Come on," said Paul. "Let's do something."
They discussed what they might do until, abruptly, Kip whispered "Shh." He pointed down the path. "Listen!"
Boisterous, loud whispers flowed down the path and, presently, they saw the distant beams of flashlights playing randomly over the trees.
"The Riders meeting must've ended," Wolfgang whispered.
"Hey, I know," Paul whispered. "What if after they go by, we--"
"Shh. Come on," Kip whispered. "Let's get off the path."
They hid in the cover of a well-behaved copse of saplings that had been at Amdexter scarcely longer than had they.
Seeing the distant beams flickering between the trees, Paul said, "Maybe it's just one beam going through multiple slits."
"No," said Kip after a short pause for thought. "It's many separate beams. I don't see interference. I don't think multiple beams can interfere."
"But wouldn't we have to see the interference on a target, the ground maybe, instead of in the beam themselves--itself?"
"Quiet," whispered Wolfgang. "Here they come."
They crouched low as the circles of light came down the path and the flashlight-toting boys went by. In the rear--way in the rear, a kid followed the others. He kicked at stones and swooshed his flashlight's beam around. He made vroom sounds and swished his flashlight beam against an invisible foe.
"It's Woodchuck," said Kip at a very soft whisper.
"Woooodchuck." Paul whispered the word in the voice of a ghost.
For an instant, Woodchuck stopped in his tracks, bringing his flashlight to chest level and grasping it more like a shield than a source of illumination. The beam caught Paul and Woodchuck visibly relaxed. "Oh, it's you guys," he said with a cheerfulness that seemed forced. "I'd hoped it was a ghost."
Since the other Amdexter knights were far ahead and out of view, the boys engaged in some good natured banter as together they walked down the Dalambertian path. At the junction of the transverse path running west to the Amdexter dorm and east to ESAP's, the boys paused.
"I'm really sorry about that vote," said Woodchuck. "I didn't want you expelled."
"You mean you would have voted to keep us in?" said Paul.
Woodchuck canted his head down, and he didn't answer.
"It's okay," said Wolfgang. "We understand."
Woodchuck looked up. Although it was too hard to see in the dark, his body language suggested a smile.
"What was that...that work," said Kip, "that Todd said the Riders had to do?"
"No work" Again, Woodchuck looked down. "Except...."
"It's okay," said Wolfgang. "We won't tell."
"All right," said Woodchuck eagerly and as if sharing a secret he didn't want to keep, "It was Todd. He asked us to get extra milks at lunch and open them without tearing the cartons. He said we could dump out the milk for all he cares. He just wants the cartons."
"Why?" said Wolfgang.
Kip didn't need light to detect Wolfgang's puzzled look. They'd been roommates long enough that Kip could see it in the dark. One are all and all are one.
"I don't know," said Woodchuck. "Got to go. Bye!" He padded west down the path.
"Milk cartons?" said Kip, watching as Woodchuck vanished into the darkness.
"Weird," said Paul.
When Kip's clock radio went on, filling his dorm room with bright, morning classical music, he opened his eyes--and closed them again. When the dorm's wakeup chime augmented the Mozart, Kip rolled over and slid his head under his pillow. Even though the music wasn't Beethoven, he remained in bed.
Paul also made no move to leave his bunk.
Wolfgang though, sat and reached groggily for his glasses and then his clothes. "Gosh, I'm exhausted." He dressed, stood, and lifted the pillow off Kip's head. "Come on, get up."
"I can't," said Kip. "I'm skipping morning classes. I need sleep more than knowledge."
Wolfgang tried Paul next, and with no better results.
"I'm with Kip," said Paul with his eyes closed.
Wolfgang sighed. He sat, rested his head in his hands for a moment, and then flopped back onto his bunk. "So am I."
An hour later, with all three of them still in bed, Wolfgang said, "I'm not going to go to these late night things anymore--except for astronomy."
"Fine with me," said Kip, supine. "I'm here to learn physics and math but I've been so tired that by sixth period, I can hardly solve x equals one plus one."
"X equals three, right?" said Paul.
"I think so."
"But it was sort of fun, though." Paul spoke with some sadness. "Especially riding the carousel in the dark."
"Yeah," said Kip, the word muffled as he'd now rolled onto his stomach.
"There's nothing that says we can't, like, do it by ourselves," said Paul.
"Just the three of us?" said Wolfgang.
"I don't know," said Wolfgang. "It would feel sort of silly."
Paul chuckled. "You mean it didn't feel silly--nine kids riding with pretend spears on pretend horses?"
Kip thought about it. "Maybe when a lot of people are doing the same silly thing, it isn't silly anymore."
"Do you think they'll really take out any horses?" said Wolfgang, abruptly.
"I don't know," said Kip. "Probably not. Not any time soon."
"You mean anytime nice," said Wolfgang.
Kip threw his pillow. "Very funny."
Kip, Paul, and Wolfgang stood while Dr. Ralph, sitting at his desk, gazed thoughtfully at them. "I've consulted with the school nurse," he said. "She said you're probably, for some reason, just not getting enough sleep. But, as a similar situation has also occurred with some boys at Amdexter, she thinks that there's a small, a very small, chance that it's an outbreak of mononucleosis. Do you know what that is?"
"Yes," said Paul. The other boys nodded.
"Good. So, for a while, anyway, I'm afraid I'll have to rescind your astronomy observing sessions and...and ask that you to forgo any other late night activities. If your tiredness continues, let me know. The nurse will run some tests."
Kip walked from Dr. Ralph's office with a niggling concern. While it was completely logical that his tiredness was due to the late night meetings, he still worried that he might possibly have mono. To convince himself that he hadn't contracted the disease, that he still was healthy and fit, he chose to go for a long-distance run.
His worry having overcome his reluctance to wander around the Amdexter campus alone, he went without his dorm-mates to the athletics building. He trotted downstairs to his locker and changed into white athletic shorts, tee shirt and running shoes, then left the depths of the locker room for daylight.
Outside, the clean white brightness of his clothes sparkling in the afternoon light lifted his spirits and he took a long, solitary run. He passed the golf course, which he'd only infrequently seen in daylight. He smiled as he circled the mowed artificiality of the course. The flags on the cup-hole sticks were a brilliant crimson. He'd not particularly noticed the flag color at night. And the sticks looked as if they belonged there. They looked nothing like lances. not in the daytime, anyway. Wolfgang was right. It was silly. Everything about the Riders was silly. Breathing heavily and sweating from the run, Kip felt good--his body was performing well. And although he knew it was probably just a reflection of the 'runner's high', for the first time in a while, he felt healthy, happy, confident, and elated.
He slowed to a jog to cool down and then padded up the steps of the athletics center and then down the staircase to the locker room. He showered, grabbed a fresh towel and wrapped it around himself like a kilt. Then he padded to his locker and concentrated on opening his combination lock; it was quirky and one had to turn the dial very slowly and land exactly on the right number. And it wasn't all that easy to concentrate with the piped-in rock music reverberating off the walls and lockers.
Suddenly, Kip felt the towel whipped from his body. He spun around and saw Todd's big brother--his humongous, stupid, forth form brother, Dwayne, holding his towel. Todd, grinning like a maniac, stood beside Dwayne. The two of them wore matching gym shorts, tees, and sneakers, and Todd held a basketball.
"Very funny, Dwayne," said Kip. "Now give me the towel." Kip made a grab for it, but Dwayne swept it out of his reach. Kip couldn't read Dwayne, couldn't tell if he was mad or not. He'd always called the guy Lame Bwain Dwayne but of course, never to his face. Kip hoped Dwayne hadn't heard that nickname. Kip made a few more unsuccessful grabs for the towel.
"How does it feel," said Todd in a low gravelly voice, "when you don't have your friends to hide behind?"
Kip was scared, and ashamed that he was. And, being unclothed when the others were fully clad, Kip felt like a dumb trapped animal. Frantically, he looked down the double row of lockers to his left, seeking an escape route. Hopeless! And even if he did manage to push by, to get outside where his long-distance running skills could come into play, he'd be running naked. He'd rather face death by Todd than die of embarrassment. And anyway, there was no way he'd get by Dwayne.
"Don't be afraid, Kippy Wippy," said Todd. "We're not going to hurt you--now."
"What...what do you want?"
Todd gave an unpleasant laugh that echoed off the ceramic-tiled walls. "We just wanted to tell you that the Dark Riders have made the shed our official club house."
"And if they ever find you in there," said Dwayne, "I will hurt you a lot." While he talked, he flourished the towel like a whip. Then he nodded at Todd. "Come on twerp," he said. "Let's go play some basketball."
"That's all, Kippy Wippy," said Todd, turning to go. Dwayne turned also, but as he started away, he swiveled around sharply and delivered a savage towel thwack to Kip's stomach.
Kip, taken by surprised, let out a shriek of pain.
With a grin, Dwayne threw down the towel.
Todd gave Kip a look of contempt and then followed his brother out of the locker room.
Alone again, Kip opened his locker and dressed. As he put on his underpants, he noticed that the thwack had already turned into a welt. Kip pulled the elastic waist-band lower to avoid the raised redness. He stepped into his shorts and buckled his belt one hole looser than normal.
He finished dressing and, as he walked drearily from the athletics building towards his dorm, realized that yet another thing had been taken from him. He'd liked being able to hide out in the shed and now he couldn't do it anymore. Kip sighed. He felt that Todd's sphere of influence was growing--like a hungry black hole. It had even sucked in Alex.
As he plodded along, Kip took in his surroundings--seeing them as if for the first time. Amdexter felt hostile to him now. It seemed that every building evoked bleak memories. ESAP was an oasis, the oasis, the only place he could feel at home. But most of his class time was at Amdexter. He wondered what had gone wrong. He was pretty popular at his old school. But back then, he wasn't completely immersed in quantum mechanics. He sighed. It seemed that the deeper he delved into quantum mechanics, the less he was able to talk to the Amdorks--the civilians. And the more they hated him. He began to wonder if ESAP was worth it.
Kip breathed easier as he reached the sanctuary of Snack Bar. With the shed gone, this was his only refuge now. He glanced at the comforting high-tech blackboards, the snazzy chairs at the round tables, the vending machines for snacks either free or tasty.
Crouched over one of those machines, Kip saw Dr. Ralph working hard with a hacksaw. Wolfgang was also there, watching him. As Kip drew close, he saw a little padlock with its hasp around the hole in the green vending machine's crank. No fruit's going to come out of this machine for a while.
"I'm sure it was only someone's joke, sir," said Wolfgang.
"Sure. A joke," said Dr. Ralph, sawing away at the hasp. "But I'm the one who bears the brunt of it." He emphasized his words with a vigorous stroke of the saw--and also with a loud snap as the blade shattered. "Damn!"
Kip couldn't help laughing. "I didn't know you were an experimentalist, sir."
"Very humorous." Dr. Ralph stood erect, then leaned backwards and stretched as if getting a crick out of his back.
Kip glanced to his side. Wolfgang's eyes seemed locked on the broken blade shards. Suddenly Kip coveted the metal fragments as well. After all, Wolfgang already had a lock pick.
"Kip, my boy."--Kip snapped his attention to Dr. Ralph--"How are you feeling?"
Kip started. He wondered how Dr. Ralph could possibly have learned about the towel-thwack. Then, he realized that Dr. Ralph was referring to his previous exhaustion and the possibility of mono.
"Fine!" Kip spoke with forced cheerfulness. "I feel terrific! Perfect!"
"Good." Dr. Ralph turned a disgusted glance to his broken saw. "Then perhaps you'll do me a favor and run over to Founders. Mr Dembinski should still be in his shop class."
"Sure," said Kip. "Why?"
"See if you can borrow his battery powered saber saw--the one with the metal blade."
"Aren't all blades metal?"
"You know what I mean." Dr. Ralph withdrew a file card and ball-point from his shirt pocket. "Here. I'll write you a note."
Wolfgang put a hand around the lock. The hasp was sawed about a quarter through. "What a cheap lock. Plated brass. Not even hardened steel." He raised his eyes to Dr. Ralph. "A bolt cutter is what you need. It would take that hasp right out."
Dr. Ralph finished writing and, his eyes on Wolfgang, handed the note to Kip. "I don't happen to have a bolt cutter."
Kip giggled. "You don't have a hacksaw, neither."
Kip glanced at Wolfgang.
"I'll go along with Kip," said Wolfgang.
As Kip and Wolfgang turned to leave, Kip scooped up the three hacksaw blade fragments. "I'll take care of this litter." When they'd walked through the door of Snack Bar, Kip slipped the fragments into his pocket. "It would be great," said Kip, taking the initiative, "if I could have my very own lock pick." He withdrew one of the bits of metal. "Would you grind it down for me?"
"Sure," said Wolfgang. "But it takes skill to use."
"Could you teach me?"
"Yeah!" Wolfgang chuckled. "Every physicist should know how to use one. At least that's what my dad says."
The two jogged the rest of the way to Founders; kids in rapid motion were less likely to be victims.
With a warning to be careful and respectful to the tool, Mr. Dembinski did lend the saber saw. The saw was awkward and heavy so Kip and Wolfgang walked rather than jogged back toward Feynman Hall. And, as it was daytime and they were on official business, Kip felt relatively safe. In daylight, the masters run the schools. But at night, the kids rule.
"Uh oh," said Wolfgang, motioning with his head. "What are they doing here?"
Kip saw Todd and Martin coming down the path.
"We could cut through the grass," said Wolfgang.
Kip hefted the saw. "I'd rather cut through their throats." He was furious about the incident in the locker room. And now Todd didn't have his brother with him. "We have as much right to use the path as they do--more in fact; the Dalambertian belongs to ESAP."
"They call it the Big Quad. They think it's theirs."
"They're wrong," said Kip. "Just like they're wrong about the carousel."
When Todd and Martin had gotten within confrontation distance, Todd called out, "It was fun in the locker room, wasn't it?"
Martin leered and Kip was even more furious; Todd had obviously described the humiliation in the locker room.
Kip aimed the saber saw at Todd and pulled the trigger. With the loud growling sound of serious machinery, the blade began reciprocating. To Kip, the sound was like a machine gun and, with the recoil of the blade's motion, it felt like one as well.
With the confidence borne of weaponry, real or imagined, Kip released the trigger and said, "You'd better say goodbye to the carousel." He punctuated his comment with a burst of machine gun fire.
"What the hell are you talking about?" said Todd.
"The ESAP Dark Riders have decided to take out a few of the horses ourselves." Kip liked the sound of his own words and went on. "The horses will make great trophies. You'll be able to see them through the windows of Feynman Hall."
"You're not really going to do that, are you?" said Martin. He spoke without his usual persona of a boy with an attitude.
"We'll probably do it tonight," said Kip, making it up as he went along. "A couple of hours after lights out."
"You wouldn't dare," said Todd.
Kip smiled, sweetly, then turned to Wolfgang. "Come on, Wolfy. We have work to do."
While Todd and Martin looked unsure what to do or say, Kip, with Wolfgang following, stepped by them and continued down the path toward Feynman hall. They walked faster than they had before.
"What the heck were you talking about back there?" said Wolfgang, rushing to keep pace. "Taking out the horses ourselves. That's crazy."
"I just wanted to scare them."
"Well, you certainly scared me," said Wolfgang. "I really thought you were serious."
Kip smiled. "I almost thought so, too."
"By the way. There are no ESAP Dark Riders anymore."
Kip answered with another burst of gunfire.
"And what was that stuff about the locker room?"
Kip told about Todd declaring the shed the exclusive domain of the Dark Riders, but left out any mention of the towel thwack.
"Their exclusive clubhouse?" said Wolfgang. "They can't do that. It's not fair." He paused. "Actually though, I don't think any kids are allowed to be there." He paused again. "And it's a pretty smelly place with all that gasoline. I wouldn't want it to be my clubhouse."
Kip gritted his teeth and didn't say anything.
"I wonder what they want it for," said Wolfgang, thoughtfully. "And why now?" He looked back over his shoulder. "By the way, it looks like maybe you did scare them."
Kip also looked back. Todd and Martin were now jogging away rather than merely swaggering.
As Kip and company walked into the refectory just in time for dinner, Kip saw eyes following him--hate filled eyes, from just about all of the Amdexter boys.
"What's going on?" Wolfgang whispered, furtively.
"I think," Kip whispered back, "that Todd must have told everybody that we're going to cut down some horses tonight."
"And they believed it?" said Paul.
"Apparently," said Wolfgang.
Walking to the food tables, Kip caught sight of Alex. He looked disheveled: shirttails half out, dirty fingernails. He didn't seem much concerned with his appearance anymore.
Paul noticed it as well. "I think Alex is being bullied out of his mind."
"I wonder if we should tell someone," said Kip.
"Don't know," said Paul. "Maybe Alex should."
Kip nodded, sadly. He knew what Paul meant; kids don't tell.
They filled their trays and as they carried them to a friendly, grey-inhabited table, Kip nodded out toward one of the brown tables. "They seem very keen on milk, today."
"Woodchuck was right," said Wolfgang staring at the overabundance of milk cartons on that table.
The salad that day consisted of greens and whole plum tomatoes. And as soon as Kip sat, one of those tomatoes sailed through the air and landed in his chicken noodle soup. The effect was something like an asteroid slamming into the Atlantic; a great wall of hot liquid rose from the bowl and impacted Kip and his neighbors.
"Ha, ha!" came a voice from the browns. Kip looked and saw the voice belonged to Martin.
Paul, seemingly by reflex, grabbed a tomato from his own salad and, with the practiced arm of a pitcher, half rose from his seat and blasted it at Martin, catching him squarely in the forehead.
Who threw the next pitch was not obvious but within seconds the air was filled with tomatoes and the cries of boys. Then the projectiles got heavier as desert peaches and plums took to the air. And the projectiles came with shouts and crude insults from both sides.
"Stop this at once!" shouted the headmaster in the voice of God. He stood in front of the masters' table and glowered out at the boys. "I have never seen such behavior in all my life."
The boys did stop it at once. They sat and looked with expressions of contrition or innocence at the headmaster.
"Res in cardine est," said the headmaster. "Things are on a knife's edge. This union of our two schools could be a brilliant success or it could collapse in discord and misunderstandings. I cannot accept the latter." His countenance was fierce: deep angry eyes, chin jutting forward, hands stiff like claws. He lectured about behavior, loyalty to one's school, responsibility to one's parents. Then he said, "Dinnertime is over! Perhaps you will think better on empty stomachs." His expression grew milder. "I leave you with the words of Seneca: Dum inter homines sumus, colamus humanitatem--As long as we are among humans, let us be humane."
The refectory reverberated with the murmurings of boys.
"I'm reeeally getting tired of the headmaster showing off with Latin," Kip whispered to Paul and Wolfgang. "The big phony!"
"Yeah. It's a disease," said Wolfgang.
Maybe a communicable disease. Kip cast a sideways glance at Paul. He's quoting Hamlet an awful lot these days.
While the headmaster had been talking, Dr. Ralph came forward. He stood behind the headmaster, waiting his turn. The headmaster stood aside and Dr. Ralph came forward. He gave a lecture very similar to the headmaster's. And while he talked, the boys seized the moment and scarfed down their food like ravening wolves.
Dr. Ralph ended with the same point that the headmaster had begun with. "Things are at a point of unstable equilibrium," he said. "like a pencil balanced on its tip. Zero-point energy alone could plunge us into a chaotic state."
Kip heard a stage-whispered voice from the browns. "Why can't he speak English?"
Then, Dr. Ralph sent the boys from the refectory. Many of the boys took portable items of food with them: rolls, fruit, milk cartons.
Outside, although many boys had items of ammunition, few were thrown. Apparently the provisions were more valued to be eaten or drunk--except for the milk.
As Kip and company headed to Snack Bar, a place of suddenly important free food, Kip glanced back and saw boys pouring milk out on the ground. Then Todd came by with a black garbage bag and collected the milk cartons.
"Todd looks happy," said Paul. "I'll probably sell a lot of candy bars tonight."
"There were garbage bags like that in the shed," said Kip.
"I really would like to know what Todd's going to do with the cartons," said Wolfgang.
Just then, Kip saw Woodchuck. He seemed to be ambling aimlessly. "Let's find out!" Kip ran out, intercepted Woodchuck and brought him back to where Paul and Wolfgang stood talking.
"Why does Todd need milk cartons?" said Kip.
Woodchuck looked around nervously. "He's getting together a lot of milk cartons."
"Yeah, we've noticed," said Paul. "Why?"
"Well. The Dark Riders'll pour out the milk and fill the cartons with gasoline. There's lots of it in our clubhouse. And then they'll staple closed the tops."
"What?" said Paul, his head canted.
"Todd calls it Greek Fire." Woodchuck pawed the ground.
Kip felt a shiver of fear.
Paul eyed him suspiciously. "Why are you, like, telling us this now--when before, you were afraid to even talk to us?"
"Well," said Woodchuck, pawing the ground. "You know."
"No, we don't," said Paul. "Why?"
"I think...," Woodchuck stammered. "I think Todd wants you to know."
"You think?" said Wolfgang.
"Okay," said Woodchuck. "He wants you to know,"
"Know what?" said Kip in exasperation. "What's it all about?"
"Todd said that if Amdexter can't have the carousel, ESAP won't have it either."
"Come on," said Wolfgang in a tone of incredulity. "You're not saying that Todd intends to set fire to the carousel, are you?"
"We will if we have to. We're not going to let you cut down any horses." Woodchuck spoke confidently now. "Todd says we'll all get together around the carousel tonight."
"All of the Alphabet kids?" said Paul.
"What?" Woodchuck scrunched his nose.
"The ABCDEF," said Wolfgang.
"Todd said we don't need them." Woodchuck drew himself up to his full height--a half-head below Wolfgang's. "The Dark Riders will lead the entire Amdexter third form. Todd says we can cream you guys." Woodchuck suddenly looked fearful. "That's...that's what Todd said."
Kip couldn't believe what he was hearing: burning down the carousel if they had to. It didn't make sense. It wasn't logical. He probed for confirmation. "Tell me again. Why are you getting together tonight?"
Woodchuck looked surprised--as if Kip had just asked a self-obvious question. "To defend the carousel from ESAP. To keep you from sawing down the horses. And if we can't, Todd says he'll use Greek Fire."
"You're serious," said Kip half as a statement, half as a question.
Woodchuck shrugged. "That's what Todd said."
Kip knew he should tell Woodchuck that he was only joking about sawing off the horses. But he didn't think Woodchuck would believe him--and Kip didn't want to lose face. Still, I'd better set him straight. Before he had the chance, though, Paul took the initiative.
"Alright, Woodchuck. You've told us. You might as well go. And you can tell Todd.... No. Forget it. Don't tell him anything."
Kip didn't speak and Woodchuck jogged away.
"I think I should have told him," said Kip, watching Woodchuck rejoin the browns, "that we're not going to saw off the horses."
"Nah," said Paul. "Let 'em worry. It's good for them."
"Well," said Kip. "We should go to Snack Bar and warn the others. I expect everyone'll be there now--because of the free food."
"I think," said Paul as they started for Feynman Hall, "that Todd's milk bombs are just a threat and he doesn't intend to use them. Otherwise he wouldn't have made sure Woodchuck told us about them."
"I don't know," said Kip. "I think Todd's serious."
"Well," said Wolfgang, "even if he's not, I'm still worried. My dad says that when a country has developed an advanced weapon, it's hard for it not to use it."
Paul gave a snigger of a laugh. "Milk cartons filled with gasoline isn't exactly an advanced weapon."
"To us, it is." No one spoke for a few seconds and then Wolfgang added, "And back home, I knew a kid who liked playing with matches."
"Meaning?" said Paul.
"Meaning that if Todd likes playing with fire, he just might start one--by accident."
At Snack Bar, Kip collared a kid whom he knew had a loud whistle and asked him to stand by the door as a lookout--to warn of a possible approach of the Doctors Hopcroft. Then Kip leapt onto a table, shouted for the kids to quiet down, and then told what he'd learned from Woodchuck. "The Amdorks are going to burn down the carousel," he said. "And they're going to do it tonight--after lights out." Looking down and to the side out of the corner of his eye, he saw Wolfgang looking at him with a mixture of puzzlement and annoyance to the point of anger. But Wolfgang kept his silence.
Kip jumped down from the table. He was surprised at himself; he'd always before been shy and afraid of talking to a group. Suddenly he felt very proud of himself. He cast a furtive glance at Wolfgang--who still looked angry--and suddenly Kip felt like a sleazy politician; he'd overstated his case, maybe dangerously so.
The boys talked noisily among themselves and then a kid, Charles Yang, shouted out, "Why don't we just tell Dr. Ralph?"
"No!" Paul stood. "This is our problem, our world. I think we should go out and defend the carousel ourselves."
"I still think telling Dr. Ralph would be the responsible thing to do," said Charles.
"I'm not sure it would be," said Wolfgang. "Aside from him thinking we're bonkers, we'd just be turning our backs on the problem--handing it over to someone else to deal with."
Kip looked at Wolfgang in surprise. He'd expected that Wolfgang would have wanted to turn the matter over to adults--especially considering how angry he'd looked.
"I don't really think they mean to burn it down," said Wolfgang. "But they could. They've got the weapons. And I don't trust them to be rational. I'm scared of what they might do by accident."
After a minimal amount of discussion, the boys decided that, after lights out, they'd sneak out and guard their carousel.
"All right," said Paul. "Let's all of us meet in the planetarium." He paused. "We shouldn't go all at once. Maybe we should--"
"I know," one of the boys broke in. "Each of us can calculate...lights out time plus thirty minutes plus thirty times rand minutes. And at that time, he can sneak out. That'll get us all there by lights out plus one hour."
"Cool," said another boy. "And if any of you don't have a zero to one random number generator, you can find one on the Net."
"Okay, good," said Paul, taking command. "I like that. Wear long pants and a long sleeved shirt, the darker the better and carry your sneakers until you get to the planetarium. Oh, and check the weather. It might be cold. But even if it is, don't wear a coat. Use a sweater--a dark one if you have it."
"Sounds like you've done this before," said a Kid.
"Yeah," said Paul. "I've been in fights."
"But there are an awful lot of Amdexter kids," said one boy. "Three times as many as we are."
"Only the Amdexter third form kids are coming out," said Kip.
"No more ABCDEF?" said Paul.
"Guess not," said Kip. "Only the third. I guess the higher forms wouldn't like to be seen with us babies."
Most of the boys laughed, but not Paul. "Only their third form," he said, evenly. "Then it'll be a fair fight."
A loud whistle reverberated through Snack Bar. "Dr. Ralph's coming!" the lookout at the door called out. "
There was a great rush of trying to look innocent. They took seats around the tables. But the quiet was deafening; it didn't seem as if anyone could think of any small-talk. So they sat in silence.
Dr. Ralph walked in. Looking uncharacteristically serious, he walked to the front of the room. "The Amdexter headmaster," he said in a low, sad voice, "as punishment for the food fight, has sent all his boys to their dorms. They are grounded until breakfast, tomorrow. I'm afraid I have to do the same." He looked from face to face. "I know it was just a food fight. No big deal. But the taunts and the insults and the foul language.... Maybe I was wrong to treat you as colleagues--scientists rather than boys." He shook his head. "Go to your subdorms now," he said in a stronger voice. "And stay there!" He strode to the door. Before leaving, he looked back. "You've disappointed me. I expected better from you."
Todd paused at the door of the common room and glanced at the sign he'd tacked up an hour earlier.
Third Form Prefects Meeting
Do not enter!!!
(Unless you are a prefect)
Opening the door and doing a quick headcount, Todd saw that they were all here: six, including himself. Apparently they'd all read their e-mail. Todd felt warmed by power; he'd called a meeting and everyone had shown up.
Although, he was pretty sure everyone already knew about it, Todd told them that some APES kids had said that tonight, they'd come and saw off some of the horses. And the APES had a really big battery powered saber saw.
Hugh, wide-eyed, said, "Do you think they'll really do it?"
"Yeah, I do," said Todd, grimly. "Anyway, they might. They might do anything. They don't think the way we do."
"I bet," said Bill, "that if we beat them up real good, they'll start to think the way we do."
"Yeah," said Clifford. "And there are more of us. About thirty five to thirty, I think."
"Science kids are wimps," said Bill. "It should be easy."
"We'll have to beat them up bad," said Trevor. "So they'll never ever think about touching our carousel again."
Todd smiled. Things were going as he'd hoped. He told them then, that if they were organized, they could really whip the APES.
"What do you mean, organized?" said Trevor.
Todd said they'd learned about it in Social Studies--about the Greek stoichis, a small group of fighters led by a decadarchos.
"You learned about it, maybe," said Bill.
Todd ignored him and went on. "And a lot of stoichis combined to form a lochos. And they--"
"We're talking about a fight," said Bill, scornfully. "Not a Greek lesson."
"The Greeks never lost a fight," said Todd. "I learned all about it. Each dorm row can be a stoichis, and each of you will be its decardarchos and lead your dorm row. I'll tell you how the Greeks did it. The APES won't have a chance."
"But the Greeks had lances and shields," said Trevor.
"But we have...." Todd stopped himself in time. Best not to mention the Greek fire. Not yet. "It's all about strategy," Todd went on. He stood stiffly erect, envisioning himself as the strategos--the general in charge. "What we have to do is--"
"I want a lance," said Alfred, suddenly. "The Greeks had lances."
"We don't have lances, Alf," said Trevor, throwing a glance to the ceiling.
"The Dark Riders have lances." Alfred looked around at the other boys. "I think all the prefects should have lances."
The other prefects, talking over each other, concurred.
Todd wondered how they knew about the Dark Riders--a supposedly secret organization. Probably Woodchuck. He's a real blabbermouth.
Todd tried to talk them out of the lances, saying running around with spears was silly. But the boys were adamant. Finally, Todd realized that if he was going to be the strategos, he'd have to make sure his decardarchos were happy..
"All right. Fine," said Todd, forcing a smile. "All of you will get lances."
"When?" said Alfred.
"Tonight. Before the fight."
"You think there'll really be a fight?" said Trevor.
"I hope so."
"You hope so." Said Bill.
"I mean, yes," said Todd. "There'll be a fight." He raised a clenched fist then lowered it. "Okay, then. We'll go to the carousel a half-hour after lights out."
"We shouldn't all go at once," said Hugh. "If everyone leaves the dorm at the same time, we're sure to wake our dorm mother."
"Yeah," said Todd. "We should come five minutes apart--by dorm row number."
"But what if they get there before we do?" said Hugh.
"They won't," said Todd. "I know they're coming veeery late. We'll meet in the Large Quad--in the clump of trees near our dorm. Then we'll go together to the golf course. You guys wait at the first hole while my stoichis goes to get the lances. Then we'll have a...a lance ceremony." Todd hoped they wouldn't fight over the numbers on the flags--over who would get the lower numbers.
"And then we'll be Dark Riders?" said Alfred.
"All right, then," said Trevor. "What do all us Greek fighters do when we get there?"
"Okay," said Todd in a conspiratorial, soft voice. "First of all, we should have only one flashlight for every two kids. That'll give us more hands free for fighting." He gathered them in close. "The APES will be coming to the carousel from their dorm. So we'll have three stoichis on--"
"In English!" said Bill.
"We'll put three dorm rows on either side of the carousel so when the APES get there, we'll run at them from both sides. I'll give three short barks like a dog. That's the signal to attack."
"Why not just shout 'attack'?" said Hugh.
"I don't want to give them any warning," said Todd. "Oh. And fight without making noise. In the daytime, screaming works to scare the enemy. But at night, silence is much scarier." He glanced at the door. "And anyway, I don't want to take the chance of the masters hearing us."
A few of the kids looked suddenly pensive.
"We're really going to be in big trouble after this is over," said Alfred. "We'll probably be expelled."
"Naah," said Todd, regarding Alfred with a sly smile. "All of us are doing it. The school's not about to expel the entire third form. They need our tuition money. We'll get a lecture and some lines. That's all."
"Boy, I hope you're right," said Alfred.
"You can bet on it." Todd turned his attention back to the battle. "Okay. When we attack, you guys, the lancers, will lead. And you'll fight in front--with your lances."
Clifford wrinkled his nose. "You mean you want us to stab 'em?"
"Stab 'em?" Trevor laughed. "Yeah. I like that."
"That could do a lot of damage," said Clifford. "I don't like that."
"My plan," said Todd, "is to pull off the flags right before we attack. The lances are fiberglass you can use them as a whip. A really nasty, whippy whip."
"Hey, cool!" said Bill.
"But whip at the body, not the head," said Clifford. "We don't want to kill anyone."
"Just hurt them bad," said Todd. "Oh. And if you just hear two dog barks instead of three, that just means everybody come back to the carousel--without attacking."
"Why?" said Clifford.
"Just in case they come to talk or something."
"Yeah, fine," said Bill. "And then we'll beat them up."
After the meeting, deep in thought, Todd walked slowly back towards his dorm row. Now that the APES had been kicked out, there were three unused lances. But he needed five. He'd have to take lances away from two kids in his row. But which two? He wished he didn't have to do this. He felt a responsibility to his other dorm row occupants; it was as if he were a Mafia chief and they were his mob. He could be brutal to them, but he was supposed to protect them from everyone else. But now he had no choice. Todd visualized the kids in his dorm row and tried to choose. Martin was his best friend. There was no way he'd take away Martin's lance. And even though he didn't particularly like Roger or Kevin, they each had lots of friends--and influence at Amdexter. He turned his thoughts to Woodchuck. The kid was harmless--sort of like a fluffy bunny, And he did probably blab about the Dark Riders. Yeah. Woodchuck will lose his lance. Todd nodded softly to himself. The kid won't be nuts about it. But I'm sure I can buy him off with a few candy bars.
And that leaves Alex. Todd bit his lip. Alex would be a problem: If his lance were taken away, he'd probably refuse to draw up more membership certificates. Todd smiled as he realized having more of them in circulation would cheapen them--would make them less desirable. But still, Todd didn't look forward to taking away Alex's lance. The kid'll probably cry. Then Todd had an idea. Maybe he should just tell Alex that, since he started the Riders, he should be its leader. But at the moment, because of his friendship with Kip, it would be better if he were its secret leader. I'll tell him it's just for now. Todd liked the idea. He could be the.... I'll let Alex think of his own title. Todd quickened his step.
Although the day had been warm, the night, clear and crystalline, arrived with an autumnal chill. Todd had prepared for it. Earlier, he'd checked the local weather on-line. So now, he ventured forth wearing a heavy pullover. He'd all but ordered the other boys in his dorm row to do the same. In a fight, he knew it would be good if his forces were warm and comfy while the enemy, the APES, were occupied with thoughts of how cold they were. And as an added aid to warmth, Todd gave, rather than sold, a candy bar to each boy in the dorm row. He knew he was attempting to buy loyalty with chocolate--but he was okay with that. It was important that his forces win.
Todd, at the front of a line of six kids, made for the golf course. And behind that line, five more lines followed, each led by a prefect--a decardarchos. Todd thrilled to the dark and the sounds of the night. And his skin tingled, not so much from the cold as the excitement. He had to admit to himself that he was less concerned about the ownership of some stupid carousel than about showing up the APES--the arrogant scum who thought they were better than everyone. And it was great being the general in charge of the entire Amdexter third form.
At the golf course, Todd left the other dorm rows behind as his fighters went to get the lances. Now they were no longer a dorm row, but instead the Six Knights of the Dark Riders--Todd had dropped mention of Zeus.
As the boys started to scatter to different holes to pick up their flags, Todd asked Martin, Roger and Kevin to each collect a second lance.
"Why?" said Roger.
Alex and Woodchuck exchanged puzzled glances.
"We're inducting more knights--prefects," said Todd. "We'll need all nine lances."
"All the prefects?" said Kevin. "That'll take twelve--no, eleven lances."
"Just do it," said Todd, growling even at a whisper. He wished he'd told Martin, Kev and Roger about the redistribution of lances, but he'd not had the chance.
Todd watched them go. Now he'd have to tell Woodchuck and Alex the bad news. Fortunately though, he'd not have too much time to do it--hopefully not enough time for them to make a scene.
Todd called Alex and Woodchuck to come in close. He, speaking at a whisper suggesting he was conveying a great secret to trusted friends, explained to them about having to surrender their lances, and how he considered Alex the real leader of the riders--but at the moment, its secret leader, and he ended with. "I'm really sorry. I had no choice." He knew he'd never been able to say I'm sorry when he'd meant it. But here, he didn't mean it.
To Todd's astonishment, Alex, although he clutched his sketchpad tightly, took the news in silence. Woodchuck started to protest, but Alex cut him off. "Not now, Woodchuck," he said. "It's just temporary. The important thing is that they're going to help us protect the horses."
Todd was pleased with himself; his stratagem seemed to be working. He tried for a look of subservience. "And since you are really our leader," he said to Alex, "you should think of a title for yourself."
"Invisible Knight Commander of the Dark Riders of Zeus," said Alex without a moment's hesitation.
"What?" said Todd, taken off guard by how quickly Alex had responded. "Yeah. Good. Perfect."
Martin, Roger, and Kevin returned carrying six lances between them. At that point, with great apparent enthusiasm, Todd told about Alex's new exalted rank of Invisible Commander. And he explained that Woodchuck was also going covert. He was now Alex's second in command: the Invisible Knight Lieutenant Commander of the Dark Riders...of Zeus.
Todd handed Roger and Kevin each a repossessed lance, and then led his stoichis to the first hole where the rest of the army awaited them. There, at the tee, Todd held an impromptu ceremony. He knew it wasn't a very good one. Alex is much better at making up stuff. But it concluded in the handing over lances which seemed to be the most important part to the other prefects.
Then Alex piped up. "You guys are going to protect the horses, aren't you?"
"Yeah, sure," said Bill with a shrug. "Whatever."
"We will protect them," said Todd in a voice of anger as well as conviction. He flourished his lance. "We'll fight for them. And if we can't have the horses, no one will. If we have to, we'll burn down the whole carousel."
In the soft light of many flashlights, Todd saw surprise and even fear in many eyes.
"No!" Alex shouted.
"Shh," said Woodchuck. "You'll wake the masters."
"No," said Alex again--softly this time but expressing agony. "You can't burn the horses. It's not right. What have they ever done to you? You mustn't do it." He looked imploringly at Todd. "Promise you won't.
"They're just wood," said Roger. "They're not real."
Alex kept his eyes locked on Todd.
Todd again felt the responsibility of a leader. "Look, Alex," he said, gently. "The APES know all about the milk cartons filled with gasoline. I think that'll keep them from sawing off the horses. They're not going to fight against Greek fire."
"You think." Alex sounded scornful. "If that was true, that ESAP won't hurt the horses, then why are we here? You've got to promise not to use the milk bombs."
"Wait a minute," said Clifford. "Nobody told me about setting fire to anything."
Alex opened his sketchbook and frantically thumbed through the pages. "Here." He thrust forward the pad into Todd's hands. "Here. This is Bucephalus. He's a good horse. You mustn't hurt him."
"Damn it, Alex." Todd felt his anger rise as if it had burst out of a bottle. "It's not a real horse!" In an unthinking fury, Todd ripped up a few of the pages. "It's not freaking real!" Then he threw the sketchpad down hard onto the grass. Looking back at his troops, he saw some of them looking at him if he were a monster. And that hurt.
Alex, with an audible sob, scooped up his notebook and darted away. Todd could hear the kid crying as he ran.
Woodchuck made an attempt to stop him but Todd said, "Let him go. He'll be alright." Woodchuck looked questioningly at him and then got back into line.
"Come on. Let's get to the carousel." Todd started away and, in silence, the rest followed. "The APES should be getting there real soon, now," Todd added. His voice sounded hollow to himself against the screaming quiet of his army.
As he walked from the golf course, Todd considered what had just happened. He knew that if he had thought about the deed, about tearing up the sketchpad, it would have been an act of cruelty. But it wasn't. It was just impulsiveness. He remembered back to once when he'd been punished by his father--beaten with a belt folded double. His mother had said it wasn't cruelty, just impulsiveness. And she'd asked him to forgive his dad. And I would have if he'd ever asked. Todd bit his lip. But he didn't.
Todd well knew that the reason he and Dwayne had been sent to Amdexter was to protect them from his dad's impulsiveness.
Todd wished he could just snap a finger and reverse what had happened, that Alex's drawings would magically become whole again. Reversing things. Todd shuddered, reliving the recurring nightmare. In it, he'd murdered someone. The horrible part was that he couldn't undo it; he couldn't reverse the murder.
"Alex is actually a good kid," came a whispered voice from behind. Todd knew it was not directed at him--not directly, anyway.
"Yeah, but he acts like a baby sometimes," came another voice.
"These days, most of the time," said the first voice.
I've as much as stomped on a baby. Todd was truly sorry about tearing up Alex's sketchbook, but couldn't show it--or apologize. He'd never learned how to show any gentle emotion. When ever he'd tried to, his dad had beaten him down. Boys don't cry. Boys don't show their feelings. He could only be sad in private. And with having to share a room with Dwayne, there wasn't much privacy to be had.
When Todd and the troops reached the carousel, Hugh pointed at a horse. A kid was astride it, holding the reins and leaning low over the mane and looking forward.
"Alex!" Todd called out in a shouted whisper.
Alex sat upright, looked Todd's way, and seemed to freeze in that position. He appeared as rigid as was his horse--and his eyes were fixed on Todd.
All right. Be that way, then. On impulse then, Todd went to the carousel control cabinet. He opened it and, after checking that both lights and sound were turned off, set the carousel in motion--for a long, fifteen-minute ride. He tried to convince himself he did it because he thought Alex would enjoy it. But he knew it was so he wouldn't have to feel Alex's eyes constantly on him. Then, he had another thought; if the carousel were moving, it would be a lot, lot harder for the APES to saw off the horses. And when the APES come, they'll just think Alex is joyriding alone.
Todd turned to his troops and said he was going to get his Greek fire.
"Do you have to?" said Clifford.
"Yes. The APES have to believe we'll use it if we have to." As he started away, Todd said "It'll take me a few minutes to prepare it."
"But what if the APES come when you're gone?" said Alfred.
"Bark twice. Loud!" Todd started away. Then he stopped and looked back. "And keep your flashlights turned off. We don't want them to know we're here."
"Shouldn't we get into position?" said Trevor.
"Wait until I get back."
Todd hurried off to the shed, opened it, and stepped inside. He left the door open a few inches so that he could hear barks should they happen, and also so he could keep his eye on the carousel. Not that he could make out more than a hint of it in the dark."
He switched on his flashlight. Carefully, he emptied the bag of gasoline-milk cartons. He knelt, then took his scout knife from his pocket--a restricted item at the school--and picked up a milk carton. Lips pursed in concentration and with his flashlight held between his knees, he scored around the perimeter of the little box, but not deep enough to cut through. It took a steady hand as well as knowledge--a skill he'd learned at Scout camp. A carton scored this way would explode on impact. Of course at Scout camp, the cartons were only full of milk. He smiled, grimly. His proficiency at making milk bombs had made him much in demand at Scout camp.
Quickly and methodically, Todd scored each carton and then returned it to the bag. When he'd finished, Todd stood, then slipped a hand into his shorts' pocket and fingered his cigarette lighter--an item absolutely prohibited at Amdexter. Furtively, he closed the shed's door, withdrew the lighter, fondled it, and then snapped it on. Mesmerized, he stared at the flickering flame. It wouldn't be murder--except of wooden horses. But it would be something he couldn't reverse. Once he did it, it would be done for all time. The idea was frightening--but also oddly thrilling. He released his thumb, extinguishing the flame. Then he hefted his bag of filled milk cartons and headed back to the carousel.
Todd gingerly set the bag down at the base of the control cabinet. Then, suddenly changing his plans, he said that he'd keep his own stoichis with him at the control cabinet--five rather than six kids as one of them was riding the carousel. Then he ordered the others into position: three stoichis to one side of the carousel and two to the other side.
"But," said Roger, at the head of his stoichis, "what if they don't come?"
It hit Todd like an electric shock. He'd never considered that case. Maybe it was a joke. Todd felt himself flush. It would be horrible if it's a joke. He felt a rising anger. I'll kill Kip if this turns out to be a joke.
"Todd?" said Roger.
"If they don't come," said Todd, thinking quickly, "then that means that Kip is a big liar--and a coward." He smiled. "Yeah. A real coward."
"Well," said Roger, softly. "I guess if they don't come, we've saved our carousel."
"Yeah," said Todd.
Roger looked away at the carousel--at Alex going around and around. "I hope they don't come."
"We'll wait a half hour," said Todd, "and then go back to the dorm."
Discussing strategy in their subdorm, Kip, Wolfgang, and Paul began to have second thoughts. And as they walked to the planetarium, they refined those thoughts.
When they passed through the door of the theater, the dome suffused with the dim blue light of a simulated early dawn, they saw that about a third of ESAP had already arrived. Sitting in the circles of seats, the boys whispered excitedly among themselves.
A half-hour later, every single ESAP kid had shown up. No one had backed out. At that point, Paul, the appointed strategist, went to the planetarium control console and waved the boys to silence. "We've been thinking a lot about this," he said. "And Wolfy wants to say something." As Wolfgang started toward the console, Paul added. "Kip and I agree with what Wolfy's going to say." He threw a glance at Wolfgang. "Like what we think he's going to say, I mean."
"The Amdorks just want to have a fight," said Wolfgang, standing beside Paul.
"Yeah, and so do we," said a kid in a shouted whisper.
"But it doesn't make sense," said Wolfgang. "I mean what are we fighting for? There's no way they'd set fire to the carousel on purpose. Yeah, it would be kind of exciting fighting those creeps in the dark. It just doesn't make sense. All that would happen is that we'd all get in deep trouble. We should stay home. If we don't show up, it'll make them look stupid."
"But they are stupid," a boy called out. A lot of kids laughed.
"But what if," said Charles Yang, hesitatingly. "What if... if just for spite, they do set fire to the carousel?"
The murmuring that followed showed that many of the boys had the same concern.
"No, I don't think that's likely, Chucky," said Wolfgang. "I think they're more likely to do that if we all rush out there for a fight."
"Well," said Chucky, "I think we should tell an adult."
"They wouldn't believe us," said a kid.
"Dr. Ralph would," said Chucky.
"Dr. Ralph's pretty mad at us now," said Paul.
"You mean the food fight?" said a kid.
"Yeah. I'd rather to keep out of his sight for a while."
"Well, what do you think we should do?" said Chucky.
"Kip, Wolfy and I think we have to keep an eye on the Amdorks--just us three."
"How?" said one of the kids.
Wolfgang held up the night vision scope which was hung around his neck.
"We'll be scouts," said Paul. "We'll use Wolfy's night scope and we'll sneak out to the carousel and watch over it."
"What about us?" a boy called out. "I'm not nuts about just going back to the dorm."
"You guys go to the observatory," said Kip. "Someone point the scope down at the big tree in front of the carousel--and use the image intensifier tube so you can all watch the monitor. If we get in trouble--if it looks like the dorks are going to catch us or something, we'll shine our flashlights on the tree."
"Yeah," said Paul. "It'll make it look like a Christmas tree and it'll really stand out on the monitor. If you see that, run out and help us--fast. But if you see the light flashing on and off, it means that they're trying to set the carousel on fire. In that case, one of you should run and wake Dr. R. and everyone else come out and help us--really fast. And come out screaming!"
"I volunteer to wake Dr. Ralph," said Chucky.
"Good." Paul blew out a breath. "I really wouldn't mind a fight with the Amdorks, but Wolfy's right." He thumped a fist onto the console railing. "It shouldn't take more than like an hour for all this to end."
"We'd better start our scouting now," said Wolfgang. "It's getting late." He paused. "That is if all of you agree that it's the right thing to do."
There were no objections and the boys left the planetarium
With the door open, one kid went to the console and turned off the dawn--leaving the dome in the blackness of a night without stars.
Kip, Paul and Wolfgang padded softly down the steps of the planetarium complex and darted the five meters or so to the Dalambertian. At a crouch then, they cut north-west, parallel to a path running to the north exit of the quad--the route to the carousel. It seemed un-sneaky to take the path. At the exit, they again avoided the path and dropped to the ground, concealing themselves in the undergrowth.
"Let's wait here," Paul whispered, "until our eyes dark adapt."
The other two agreed. Kip could sense a tone of superiority in Wolfgang's voice, secure as he was in his high-tech, dark-seeing eye.
Lying prone, Kip dropped his head to the ground cover--not the manicured grass of the golf course but the rugged, diverse, prickly mass of vegetation--dense and all competing for space. The blades of foliage tickled his nose and the brush was cold and damp against his cheek. He was conscious of his breathing and the beat of his heart. He could hear them both, and also the chorus of chirping and humming insects. Attentive as he was to the need for silence, he was startled at how noisy was the night. He wondered if in addition to his eyes adapting to the dark, his ears did also.
"It's funny," he said at a whisper hardly louder than the night chorus. "When we're doing real stuff, stuff like this, quantum mechanics has nothing to do with it."
"Seems to have nothing to do with it," said Wolfgang.
"More than seems," Kip insisted.
"Well, if you're talking about size--macroscopic instead of microscopic," said Wolfgang, "Schrödinger's cat talks about--."
"I don't mean size. I mean...relevance. The real world doesn't--"
"Be quiet!" Paul barked in a loud whisper. "If the Amdorks hear us...."
In the relative silence that followed, Kip thought he heard a rustling in the brush. Maybe it was a breeze--but maybe it wasn't.
"Guys," he whispered, trying to keep his tone casual. "Do foxes hunt at night?"
"Don't know," said Wolfgang.
"Me, neither," said Paul. "Why?"
Paul blew out a breath, sounding like a distant dust-devil. "Okay, I guess our eyes are adapted enough." He raised himself up on his elbows. "Let's go! Wolfy. You lead--single file, then Kip, and I'll take the end. And we should crawl. 'kay?"
"Fine." Kip was glad he'd worn jeans; crawling in shorts would be horrible.
It was October, but still early in the month. The trees still had their leaves and the vegetation was still alive and supple. The boys could go silently, without being betrayed by the crunch of leaves or the crack of twigs. The ground was warm, but the air had turned cold. Kip was sure that if he turned on his flashlight, he'd be able to see his breath.
They crawled without speaking for a few minutes and then Wolfgang said he was stopping for a look-around. He sat, cross legged and scanned the darkness with his scope. Kip lowered his head to the ground, taking what rest he could; crawling was hard.
"The coast is clear," said Wolfgang.
"Wait a minute," said Kip. With an ear against the ground, he heard a thrumming sound. "I think the carousel's moving."
"Well, I don't think it'll get very far," said Paul.
"I'm serious. Listen to the ground."
Paul and Wolfgang both pressed an ear to the earth, Wolfgang clearing a patch before putting his ear to it.
"Yeah," said Paul. "I think you're right."
"Maybe everything's fine," said Wolfgang. "Maybe it's just the Dark Riders--riding."
"Or maybe," said Paul in a slow, deliberate voice, "they're taking one last ride before burning it down."
For a few seconds, no one spoke or moved. Then Wolfgang started crawling forward again. "Come on."
Kip and Paul followed. A few minutes later, they held up again while Wolfgang did another scan. They were close enough now that Kip could see the peaked roof of the carousel, dark against the sky pricked with bright stars. But it didn't seem to be rotating. Kip put his ear against the ground and confirmed it; the thrumming was gone.
"Uh, oh," Wolfgang whispered.
"What's the matter?" said Kip.
"I can't make out the details." Wolfgang spoke while squinting into his scope. "Mainly body heat."
Kip and Paul crawled forward to be level with Wolfgang.
"There are two groups," Wolfgang whispered. "No, three. There's a big bunch of kids on either side of the carousel--off in the bushes." He pointed. "And I think there're a few kids right at the carousel."
"Sounds like an ambush," said Paul.
"They seem pretty sure we were coming." Wolfgang lowered his scope. "If we were smart, we'd just go back. And let them hide in ambush all night for all I care."
"After all this, I'm not sure we can just turn back," said Kip. "I don't think the kids in the observatory would be happy if we just give it up."
"Then what'll we do?" said Wolfgang.
Paul, stretched out flat, pressed his hands to the ground arching his back and raising his torso and head like a cobra. He gazed into the darkness toward the carousel. "They're expecting all of ESAP, obviously." He sounded as if he were talking to himself. "So I think since it's just the three of us, we could get up real close--to the kids at the carousel. They're probably the leaders. I'd really like to hear what's going on."
"But if they catch us," said Kip, "it's all over."
"Yeah," said Paul, thoughtfully. "Game over." He lowered himself, resting his chin on the ground. After fifteen seconds or so, he rolled onto his side and said "I think we should like split up. Two of us could sneak up close." He glanced at Kip. "You and me. Since we know where the bad guys are, I don't think we need Wolfy's scope." He turned his gaze to Wolfgang. "And you should stay here until we get back. Stay and observe."
"And then what? And what if you don't get back?"
"Well..." Paul bit his lip. "If we do get into trouble, we'll shine our lights at the tree. That'll bring out the troops."
"If they're watching the monitor," said Wolfgang.
"They'll be watching," said Kip, "If they run, the kids in the observatory should be able to reach us in about a minute, maybe two."
"But what should I do?" said Wolfgang.
"Stay here,"--Paul threw a glance at Kip, as if asking approval in advance--"and if, I don't know, fifteen minutes goes by and we're not back and we haven't lit the tree, then you sneak up. And don't take any chances. If you get into any trouble, any trouble at all, give the emergency signal--flash the light on and off. You're our insurance."
"Okay." Wolfgang pushed the backlight button on his watch and checked the time. "In fifteen minutes."
"Right." Paul reached out and tapped Kip on the shoulder. "Let's go."
With Paul leading, the two crawled single file toward the carousel. Soon, Kip could see light reflected off the trees--a soft, false dawn of many flashlights. At the boundary between unkempt and kempt grass, Kip crawled up beside Paul and, like Old English Sheepdogs looking through the fur covering their eyes, the two peaked out through the high grass.
"That's Todd," Kip whispered.'
"Yeah, and Martin, too."
"It looks like all of Todd's dorm row," said Kip. "If Wolfgang hadn't seen lots of other kids, I'd be tempted to think only dorm row 3E is here. But where's....Oh. There he is. The carousel. Alex is on his horse." Kip noticed a black garbage bag leaning against the console stanchion. "And next to the control cabinet. There's the bag filled with milk bombs."
"Shh," said Paul. "Listen."
Kip saw four kids more or less lounging around the console. And Todd, holding his lance as if he were at attention, stood a few meters from the carousel. He looked as stiff as a light pole, and he talked to Alex--or at least tried to.
After several failed attempts at communication, Todd called out in clear frustration, "Come on, Alex, get off the horse. It's not going anywhere."
Alex suddenly sat erect in the saddle, holding the reins low and looking haughty, like a master of foxhounds gazing out at his dogs. He looked as much made of steel as did Todd. "My name is Alexander," he said in a haughty voice. "And you are not my friend."
Paul leaned to whisper to Kip. "I almost thought that Alex had forgotten how to speak."
"I wonder why he's so mad," said Wolfgang, also at a whisper.
"Maybe Todd's really going to burn down the carousel," said Paul.
"Yeah, maybe," said Kip. "But Todd's not exactly my idea of--"
"Trick or treat!" came a voice from above and behind.
Kip gave an involuntary yelp and, moving with the alacrity of a break-dancer, swiveled on the grass and looked up. Kids glared down at him--six of them. "Dorm row 3A at your service," said the biggest kid--very big for a third-former and with a voice that had already changed. "Get up and don't try to get away." He pulled Kip up by the belt. Another did the same to Paul.
Todd, at the carousel, turned in their direction. "What's going on?" he called in a loud, angry whisper.
Martin, standing next to Todd, turned his flashlight on them and by its illumination, Kip recognized the 3A kids as the stars of the Amdexter football squad.
"We've caught a couple of spies," said the biggest kid.
"Spies?" Todd sounded startled. "Okay. Bring 'em here."
Under both constraint and pushing from behind, Kip and Paul found themselves propelled toward the carousel. At the same time, Martin came up beside Todd. He carried a flashlight and directed its beam into Kip's eyes.
"You!" said Todd, angrily. He jerked his head left then right with the sharp movements of a squirrel. "Where are the rest of the apes."
"We...." Kip, squinting against the light, thought hard. "We came to...to ask if we could rejoin the Dark Riders."
"Sure you did." Todd turned his attention to one of the captors. "Any other apes in the woods?" Todd asked.
"Not so as we could tell."
"These two might be scouts," said Todd.
"I told you. We didn't see anyone else."
"Well," said Todd, tentatively, seemingly reluctant to antagonize a football player. "I guess this time, it's only these two." He paused. "Might as well call everybody back." Then he barked like a dog--giving two short, sharp barks.
Kip canted his head and furrowed his brow.
"What?" said Paul in a puzzled whisper.
Martin transferred the flashlight's beam from Kip to Paul and, no longer blinded by the light, Kip could see kids streaming in from the underbrush on opposite sides of the carousel. The barks were obviously a signal. Kip worried. Why the heck hasn't Wolfy given the ESAP signal?
"What'll we do with these stupid apes?" came the voice of the boy holding Kip.
"Look," said Kip, expressing his disgust even though his arms were held hard behind his back. "I'm getting really sick of this apes stuff."
"But you are a stupid ape," Todd said, lightly, smirking with Martin. "Smart apes wouldn't be caught so easily."
"I'm sorry we don't have any bananas for you," said Martin.
"Shut up, Martin!" Kip struggled to break free but a 3A thug had him tight and was almost breaking his arms.
"Maybe," said Todd with a glance at Martin. "Maybe Kippy-wippy really isn't an ape. Maybe he's a pig." He looked over Kip's shoulder at the kid holding him. "You should have seen him in the gym--pink and naked and puny. He got towel-thwacked and he squealed like a baby--like a baby pig."
The captors laughed.
Kip felt himself go red with indignation, shame and anger. But as the 3A kids guffawed, Kip felt the grip weaken on his arms. Taking advantage of the distraction, Kip, with a sudden yank, pulled himself free. He staggered forward, glowered at Todd, and then stopped cold and balled his fists.
"So you want to fight, huh?" said Todd, balling his fists. "Good. Let's fight."
Although he tried to look fierce and ready, Kip was having second thoughts. Fighting is stupid. What would it solve?
"I'm waiting," said Todd with a sneer. "What are you? Scared?"
Kip felt as if he'd been struck. He hated it when people called him a coward. And not for the first time, he wondered if maybe he was. No. What I need to do is signal ESAP. Kip looked from the corner of his eye to a break in the group of kids. And I'm a runner. I know how to run.
Kip took a step forward as if he were going for Todd, but then he veered sideways and darted toward the heavy brush at the edge of the carousel clearing.
He'd taken no more than two or three strides when he felt arms wrapping around his waist and forcing him to the ground.
"Great tackle!" came a voice from the side. "Coach Howard would be proud."
As if he were nothing but a heavy back-pack, Kip felt himself hauled up and deposited in front of Todd.
Kip, afraid after the fact, struggled. He knew he wouldn't be able to break free, but he thought he was expected to struggle. But he didn't want to struggle so hard that someone would hurt him.
Todd looked past Kip. "Will you hold him, this time?"
"Yeah," said one of the 3A kids. "But we can't hold him forever.
"What'll we do with them?" said Martin, glowering alternately at Kip and Paul.
"Tie 'em up." Todd spoke with confidence now--now that the rest of his army had come in from their hiding places.
Martin jerked his head toward Todd. "What? How? We don't have any rope."
Todd grabbed Martin's flashlight and played the beam over Kip's and Paul's sneakers. "Take off their shoelaces!"
"Huh?" said one of the captives.
"Just do it," said Todd.
Two of the 3A kids knelt and unlaced the sneakers.
"You mean to tie them up with shoelaces?" said Martin, his voice brimming with incredulity. "That's impossible."
Todd gave a sniggering laugh. "We'll tie them up by the thumbs." He handed his lance to Martin, and then took the laces from the captors. "Watch and learn." He turned his attention to Kip. "Hold him by the wrist, Martin," said Todd, his eyes still on Kip. "And keep his hand steady." Martin did so and Todd tied an end of one shoelace around Kip's thumb.
"It's a granny knot not a square knot," said Todd, showing a Boy Scout's attention to knots. "Granny knots are nearly impossible to untie." Todd yanked the knot firm, taking out the slack.
"Ow!" said Kip. "Not so tight."
"Shut up!" Todd tied the other shoelace around Kip's other thumb. Then he pointed to the tree that stood near the carousel. "Take him there. Face him against the tree and hold his arms around it."
Kip saw that he was going to be tied to the signal tree. At least it'll be easy to tell when Wolfy gives the signal.
Todd followed as the kids of 3A forced Kip to the tree. Todd stepped behind and tied the two laces together--pulling Kip's stomach against the bark and his arms tight around the tree, as if hugging it. Then, looking around the tree, Todd smiled sweetly at Kip, meeting his eyes. "Having fun, Kippy-Wippy?"
"Wow!" said Martin, his eyes on Kip's bound thumbs. "Where did you learn to do that?"
"I went to a really nasty Scout camp," said Todd, his eyes still locked with Kip's.
"Lots of fun, thank you," said Kip, forcing a smile and trying to act like a movie hero. Maybe being brave is just acting brave. For moral support, Kip glanced around the tree at Alex astride his horse. But Alex's face showed no emotion. He looked no more alive than was his horse.
Todd leaned in close, until his and Kip's noses were just inches apart. "You always think you're better than anyone else. But you're not."
"No," said Kip, struggling to keep his smile. "Just better than you."
"Shit head!" Todd gave a sharp yank to the shoelace and Kip gasped in pain.
"You're in big trouble," said Kip through clenched teeth. "When the school finds out about this, they'll phone your parents and then you'll be in really big--"
"Shut the hell up!" Todd went into a rage. He grabbed his lance back from Martin and glowered at Kip with fiery eyes. "If you even try to shout for help," he said, menacingly, "I swear,"--Todd swished his lance through the air--"I'll pull down your pants and whip you. And it'll hurt so bad you won't be able to stand it."
"Okay, okay," said Kip in a very soft voice. "I'll be quiet."
"You'd better!" Todd turned away. Then he supervised as Paul was tied to the same tree. After that, he and everyone not tied up walked away--back to the carousel.
"Okay," whispered Kip when they had gone. "What now, Indiana Jones?"
"Wolfy," Paul whispered back. "I hope." He glanced toward the carousel. "I wonder what set Todd off like that."
"Why doesn't Wolfy just shine the light on the tree?" said Kip. "My thumbs really hurt."
"Maybe," said Kip. "Maybe they caught him too."
As Todd strode away from the tree, he couldn't help but feel embarrassed that he'd lost it with Kip--that he'd exposed his deep feelings to the enemy. And furthermore, he didn't feel as if he'd really won anything. Sure, Kip, his big enemy, was tied to a tree--helpless and vulnerable. But that resolved nothing. What he really wanted was a big fight: Amdexter against ESAP. Only a real battle would settle things. Todd knew his planning was good. He'd assembled his forces and had instructed them well, but the fight wouldn't happen--at least not this night. Todd bit his lip, worried that he'd not be able to assemble the forces again. And even if he could, how many times could he cry wolf?
He wished the carousel would just be struck by lightening. Without thinking about it, he looked skyward, checking for storm clouds. But he saw only a blanket of stars. And he took that as a personal affront; stars meant astronomy and astronomy meant science and science belonged to ESAP. The APES, I mean.
Todd heard the rest of his dorm row walking behind him and saw the rest of the third form at the carousel. They're going to ask me what we do next. He stretched his lips into a tight, humorless smile.
As Todd got to the assembled boys in front of the carousel, Martin came from behind and drew level. "What do we do now?" he asked. Todd leaned against the control console. He was about to say, 'How the hell do I know', but checked himself. A Strategos would never say that. As a ploy to give himself time to think, Todd reached down into the black garbage bag and withdrew a milk carton bomb. He juggled it in one hand, and his studied nonchalance gave him confidence. "Maybe," he said. "Maybe we should just set the carousel on fire and get it over with." Todd didn't believe that himself, but it felt like something a strong leader might say.
"No!" screamed Alex from astride Bucephalus. The carousel had stopped with Alex and his horse directly in front, across from the control console. "You promised to defend the carousel."
"Alex. Shut up!" Todd had no patience for Alex, right now.
"I won't shut up." Alex pointed an accusatory finger. "I won't take it anymore. I'm through shutting up--about your lousy punishment lines for money business. About your bullying. About your cheating. And--"
"Damn it, Alex," Todd shouted, and was startled at how loud his voice sounded after everyone had been whispering all the time. "I mean it. Shut up!"
Alex went on even louder. "And your selling stuff the school doesn't allow. And the Indian rope burns and the pink belly and towel thwacks. Todd, you're scum."
"I warned you!" Todd flung the milk carton bomb he held. It missed Alex and burst against the carousel platform, releasing eight ounces of smelly gasoline.
"Scum bag. Scum bag. Scum bag!" Alex shouted. "Everyone hates you!"
"Stop it! Go away! Leave me alone!" Todd reached to the console and twisted the timer to maximum. The carousel began to rotate--taking Alex and his horse away.
But every time Bucephalus carried Alex back into Todd's view, Alex shouted more abuse.
Todd stationed himself at his bag of milk cartons and whenever Alex came into range, Todd threw one. But he seemed unable to compensate for the carousel's motion; Most of the cartons landed behind Alex--against other horses or chariots or the lacquered wood floor. Some of them fell into the bucket-like sleigh that followed Bucephalus.
The other boys just watched. Some of them laughed.
In angry response, Todd threw a carton with his full strength--and grimaced as it landed with a splash in the sleigh.
From the tree, Kip watched. "I hope this ends soon."
"Maybe when Todd runs out of ammunition," said Paul.
"It's like a game," said Kip. "Like shooting ducks at a circus arcade: Todd shooting and Alex ducking.
"Where the hell is Wolfy?" said Paul, twisting to look into the darkness behind him.
But then, at the next revolution, Alex shouted. "Everyone really does hate you. Even your father hates you."
Todd gave an anguished cry and, in his renewed rage, he squeezed the carton as he readied to throw it. It burst, covering his hand and arm in gasoline. He cursed and then wiped away the foul smelling liquid with the flag at the end of his lance.
"Damn it, Alex," Todd shouted, strangely blaming Alex for the mishap.
"You are worthless!" shouted Alex at the next revolution. "Totally worthless."
Todd, having run out of milk cartons and needing to do something, pulled out his cigarette lighter. He snapped on the flame and held the lighter over his head like the Statue of Liberty.
"Worthless shitface!" Alex shouted as he rode by.
"Todd. Careful," Martin shouted. "That's dangerous with all the gasoline around."
"Put it out," shouted another kid.
Todd felt empowered by the warnings of the kids. He smiled and held his arm forward--as if Alex might want to grab the bright little yellow flame as if it were the brass ring.
As Alex came around again, he pointed at Todd and shouted. "And that's why you were sent to Amdexter--because your dad hates you. That's why he beats you."
Todd recoiled. He felt as if he'd been punched in the gut. "How did you...." he said under his breath as Alex rotated out of sight. How did he find out? Todd flushed with shame and outrage. If Alex knows, the whole school probably knows.
As Alex came around, he repeated the taunt. "Your father hates you and he beats you."
Todd shuddered, and without really knowing what he was doing, he touched the cigarette lighter's flame to the bottom of the golf flag. He was astonished at the low fwumf sound and the smoky brightness at the end of his lance. And, standing motionless, as if turned to stone, he felt mesmerized by it--and then he felt a wild exhilaration. Fascinated now by the living flame, he spun the lance like a baton. The golf-stick's heavy ferule made the spin slow and even, and inexorable.
But as the fire, fed from the twirling rush of air, grew vast, Todd felt its heat. Holding the lance as if it were a giant's arrow with its fletching on fire, he shot it away. He threw it not at the carousel, but upward where it rose like an apparition, like a great celestial fireball. It arced noiselessly through the night and, narrowly missing the carousel's roof, sailed in among the rising and falling horses, and landed in the sleigh behind Alex's horse.
There came a second fwumf and a monstrous luminance as the sleigh erupted into a smoky cauldron of fire. Then, an orange glowing snake of fire slithered down the side of the sleigh and, following a grove in the planking, devoured a rivulet of gasoline on its way to the central support pillar of the carousel. And, as a red ring of fire lapped around the base of the pillar, Todd shuddered with the realization that he had done something truly terrible, something irreversible.
Kip, his eyes locked on the arc of fire, gasped as the lance, with a leaden thunk homed onto the sleigh, turning it into an angry volcano with thick black smoke rising from a bed of flames.
For an instant then, no boy spoke or moved. Only the movement of the carousel and the thrum of its motor broke the silent, frozen tableau. Alex looking over his shoulder with wide eyes, sat stiffly astride his horse with his mouth open as if to scream. But no sound came from him. Then he turned forward and leaned low over Bucephalus's mane, like a jockey near the end of a race. Kip could see air under Alex's seat as the kid moved up and down with the rhythmic rising and falling of his horse.
Then a boy, breaking the stunned stillness, jumped onto the carousel and danced around the fire, hopping over the low flames running from the sleigh to the central pillar. A few moments later, he hopped to the ground and stood with his hands over his head in a sign of victory--whether in celebration of the burning of the carousel or just reveling in his recklessness around fire, Kip couldn't tell.
Forced to be a passive spectator, Kip could only watch as more kids jumped on the carousel and cavorted among the flames.
"Listen to them laugh," said Paul. "The jerks. Making a game of it."
Kip pushed himself hard against the tree, trying get some slack in the shoelace binding his thumbs, stretching his fingers along the lace. But it was hopeless. He couldn't even reach the knot, much less untie it. "Damn it. Where is Wolfy?"
"It's not a game to Todd," said Paul. "Look at him."
Todd had not moved since he'd launched the spear. He stood as if stunned, and he looked scared.
"It's not too bad," said Paul, looking away at the carousel. "There doesn't seem to be much danger. The fire doesn't seem to be spreading. It'll probably just go out."
"I hope." Kip saw that the flames in the sleigh were abating, but he worried about the glowing dull orange ribbon of embers encircling the base of the support pillar. "I just wish I could get--"
"Hey, look!" Paul called out. "The tree is flashing."
Kip gazed up at the branches and saw a reflected light, blinking on and off. "The 'come out screaming' signal!"
"Thank you, Wolfy!" Paul whispered under his breath.
Kip looked into the darkness, staring in the direction of the observatory.
"It'll just be a minute," said Paul. "Then we'll be free. And then I'm going to strangle Todd."
Kip, repeatedly shifted his gaze from the fire ahead to the darkness behind. Then he heard a distant shouting. "Here they come!" The shouting grew louder and soon a few of the Amdexter kids turned toward the darkness--and then shouted an alarm to Todd.
Todd snapped into motion, the spell of the burning carousel broken. He shouted for the kids to stop playing and to get into formation. Some boys did line up but as the screams from the ESAP kids grew loud, whatever Greek formation there was, broke up. The boys clumped together in a mob and answered ESAP with their own angry shouting.
The ESAP kids broke into the clearing and the two groups of boys became one--hitting, clawing, wrestling and kicking.
"Hey!" shouted Kip. "Over here. Help!"
A boy, Nick, looked Kip's way and ran over.
"Holy cow!" said Nick. "Who did that to you?"
"Todd," said Paul.
"Hurry!" said Kip. "Untie us."
Nick circled to the back. "I can't," he said after a few seconds. Then, his fingers having failed, he tried using his teeth, worrying the knot like a dog.
"Nick!" Paul called out. "Behind you. Look out!"
Nick turned just as an Amdexter kid lunged at him. The two tumbled to the ground punching as they fell. Kip tried to kick at the Amdexter kid, but he was just out of distance.
Again, Kip and Paul shouted for help, but no help came; every ESAP kid, other than Paul and Kip, were engaged in hand to hand combat.
Forced to be a mere observer, Kip began to feel a sense of detachment, as if he were watching a movie--except it wasn't a movie.
He swiveled his head toward Paul. "This is horrible!"
"Yeah. But I guess it had to happen."
"Nothing has to happen," said Kip. "We learned that from quantum mechanics."
"This isn't quantum mechanics."
"Everything's quantum mechanics." Kip looked again out at the war. "Stop!" he shouted. "Stop it!" But no one paid any attention.
Kip glanced across at Alex as the carousel swung him back into view. Alex seemed oblivious to the fighting, leaning forward as if urging Bucephalus forward, as if trying to outrun the fire behind them. Kip saw that the fire was subsiding and switched his attention to the smoke. It rose from the sleigh like a stripe on a candy cane--drifting up and diffusing until becoming indistinguishable from the Milky Way. And the smoke, vile and black, smelled with the stench of a campfire where the wood was salvaged: old, rotted and painted. It smells like something dead.
A muffled yet loud explosion burst forth from the core of the carousel, blowing out a framed mirror and a panel holding a gargoyle head. From the opening, a fireworks display of sparks and burning liquid spewed forth, igniting about a half-dozen small fires on the deck between the horses. With the noise came the smell of burning electronics.
"Oh my god!" said Kip, looking over his shoulder from the tree.
"Smells like a transformer fire," said Paul. "At least this should wake the masters."
"I wouldn't count on it," said Kip. "With those double windows closed, you can't hardly hear anything outside.
But the explosion did halt the fighting. The boys from both schools stopped and gazed in silence at the carousel still turning, with its motion fanning the new pockets of fire.
"Wait a minute," said Kip. "The carousel seems to be speeding up."
After a few seconds, Paul said, "Yeah. I think it is. The transformer was probably some kind of speed controller."
As the carousel picked up speed the flames grew large and wild. Fire again burst from the sleigh, this time engulfing it and spreading out onto the carousel deck.
"Holy shit!" said Paul under his breath. "The whole carousel is going up."
"Alex!" Kip shouted. "Get off. Get off, now!" Kip tried to pull away from the tree--and let out a cry as a sharp pain radiated from his thumbs to his wrists and up his arms. Kip, with a gasp, dropped back against the bark.
His cry seemed to have broken the spell, to have set time in motion again. Now the boys at the carousel shouted for Alex to jump off--their voices loud and frightened.
But Alex ignored them. He seemed entranced. The flames were behind him and he, astride his horse like a jockey, appeared to be trying to outrun the fire.
"Turn off the carousel power!" Kip shouted. "The wind is helping the fire." But nobody seemed to have heard him. All the boys faced the carousel, their features intermittently illuminated in flickering yellow as the carousel continued to revolve.
Kip almost cried from the frustration. He was powerless. He could only look on, as if watching a nightmare from which he could not wake. He held his breath as the ring of fire around the base of the central pillar lapped upward toward the wood beams supporting the peaked roof.
Then, feeling a yank on the strings binding his thumbs, Kip let out an involuntary yelp of pain.
"Be quiet!" came a shouted whisper from behind. There're Amdexter kids around."
Kip swiveled his head and saw Wolfgang holding a blade of his Swiss army knife against the laces.
"Boy, am I glad to see you," Kip whispered.
"Me too," said Paul. "What took you so long?"
"I had to wait...." said Wolfgang, his voice distracted. Not having any luck with his knife, he grimaced. Then he let go of the laces and tried cutting them against the bark of the tree. "Had to wait until there were no Amdorks around."
"I think the war's over," said Paul, looking out at the spinning carousel and the kids arrayed around it.
"Hurry!" said Kip. He turned his head toward Paul. "And forget Todd. Run to Amdexter--to faculty housing. We need grown-ups."
"Yeah. Okay. Good."
"There!" Wolfgang cried out.
The shoelaces snapped free and Kip set off like a rabbit toward the carousel with the ends of the laces still tied to his thumbs. But after only a few steps, he tripped over his sneakers, loose without their laces. He staggered forward, trying to get his feet under him, trying to regain his balance. He fell, then scrambled out of his sneakers and ran on to the edge of the carousel.
Kip waited for a fire-free section to rotate into view, a spot in front of Alex with a horse that didn't move up and down. Even though the carousel was rotating out of control, it seemed to take forever. And in that interval of time, Kip was scared--afraid he wouldn't have the courage to jump on, and afraid of what might happen if he did. As his chosen jump-on point rotated close, he knew this was it; he'd find out whether or not he was a coward.
His jump-on point came close, then rotated away. Kip bit his lip. I'll do it when it comes around again--I really will!
The point came again, but much too fast. As the point went by, Kip started running, trying to match speed with the carousel. Kids scattered out of his way. Then, looking over his shoulder, Kip saw his jump-on point coming around again. With a gasping cry, he cleared his mind. Thought was the enemy. And he jumped.
He grabbed for the leg of the horse. It was all he could do to hang on. In effect, the carousel was a centrifuge now. Kip forced his concentration away from the dizzying outside world and onto the carousel--an isolated world with its own forces, its own physics. Gravity seemed not to pull him so much downward as outward, forcing him to brace himself against the pole supporting the horse.
He paused, trying to catch his breath before trying to make his way back, against the direction of rotation, to Alex and Bucephalus. The air and the flank of the horse he held were hot, and he felt heat rising up through his socks. But worse was the smoke--and the fumes.
Coughing and choking, Kip struggled on. He felt woozy--lightheaded from the chemical-laden smoke. At the next horse, the one directly ahead of Bucephalus, Kip had to grab onto its raised leg while he lowered his head and attempted to breathe some less noxious air. The leg of the rising horse pulled him upright. It was as if the horse were trying to help.
Kip worked on breathing. He felt his heart pounding and heard his wheezing breaths. And through it all, the horse he held undulated silently and gracefully, gliding up and down, up and down. Hanging on, Kip felt he was a part of the wave motion of the horse. The ghost waves that guide the horse. Kip was seized with a thought: The horse is the waves.
Having drunk some cleaner air, Kip resumed his mission and staggered forward to Bucephalus. But he couldn't help thinking about quantum mechanics, or help thinking about thinking about quantum mechanics. Why am I working on quantum mechanics now? It was crazy. He was crazy. It must be the smoke. He grabbed for Bucephalus's leg.
"Go away!" Alex shouted. "Leave me alone!"
"The electron is the wave that guides it," Kip shouted back. "The problem is with is, the meaning of is." That's it! That's almost it.
Kip became aware of Alex looking on him with wild, confused eyes. And suddenly Kip remembered why he was there. "Alex!" His shout ended in a fit of coughing. "Jump off!" Kip released his hold on the horses foot and, wobbly and dizzy, reached out to grab Alex's leg. "There's something more important."
"No!" Alex pulled up his leg out of Kip's reach. And then, as Bucephalus came down, Alex kicked out, catching Kip in the chest.
With a cry, Kip fell backwards. He felt a wind gust fluttering his shirttails and then felt himself in free fall, the carousel a blur at the edge of his vision. Then time went funny; he saw the world as if in slow motion. In the distance he saw a few teachers in bathrobes running toward him. He saw the sky bright with stars and thought of Wolfy.
Then he felt a shattering pain at the back of his head and the stars went black.
Alex watched as Kip moved away--as that whole world moved away. And in that disconnected world that wasn't his, Kip lay motionless. Alex leaned in low over Bucephalus's mane to shield himself as much as he could from the smoke. "I'll save you, Bucephalus," he whispered into the horse's erect ear. He made a slip knot in the reins and stuck his hand through, then drew the knot tight around his wrist
Another revolution and Alex saw that Kip had still not moved. But there were other kids around him, now. The carousel revolved once again and Alex saw yet more kids around Kip. It was as if time were moving in chunks--like a series of snapshots. Alex remembered what Kip had told him about quanta--about the chunkiness of things. Alex wondered if time could be chunky too. He made a mental note to ask Kip about it the next time he saw him--after the battle...the desperate battle with the Babylonians. Alex took a tortured breath. He had no idea how hot it could be in India. Alex leaned yet lower and buried his head in Bucephalus's mane, trying to filter out the smoke of battle. He closed his eyes, trying to filter out the fearful sight of the fire. An instant later, he opened them. It felt hotter with his eyes closed.
"Alex! Get off. Jump!" came a voice--came many voices.
He heard a crackling sound from behind and looked back over his shoulder. The horse behind his, behind Bucephalus, was engulfed now in great fearful flames. The Fire Horse will consume everything in his path and wreak havoc wherever he goes.
Another revolution, from the darker, silent side to the half where a swarm of monstrous fireflies sent glowing white rods of light through the shifting smoke. There, Alex could only see a clump of kids--of Babylonian warriors. His motion seemed slower, now. Like the Earth progressing around the Sun, one revolution, one year. Alex heard a shouted voice. "Turn off the carousel!"
He saw someone running toward the control cabinet and as that world revolved out of view, he heard another voice. "I can't. The switch doesn't do anything. Lights don't work either." Then Alex heard a momentary snatch of barrel-organ music. And then a voice: "Keep it on. Maybe it'll wake the school."
Then, another cry over the martial music, over the trumpets and drums of the Macedonians: "Get off! Get off!" And a moment later. "Jump! It's all going up."
Alexander heard another scream, this time from his world. Again, he looked back and saw a boy outlined against the flames--the thunder god Zeus in human form, in boy form. And the god was coming for him--lurching toward him.
As Alexander watched in fear and wonder, the thunder god shouted his name. And then the god himself burst into flames, his body becoming the thunderbolt. Zeus screamed. Yellow-orange flames issued from the god's sweater and pants. As Alexander watched, the boy god Zeus crumpled.
Alexander smelled a sweet chemical perfume and felt a rush of vertigo as his world spun faster. Yet again he closed his eyes against the flames. Turning and turning in a widening fire. He saw his sketchpad and the horses on the pages moved, coming to life and fleeing the paper and the fire. Some could not leave, having been ripped in half. Alexander grieved for them. He cried for them.
Alexander felt himself sliding from his horse. He held tight to Bucephalus's soft, dark mane as he slipped sideways from the saddle, his feet encircling the horse like fingers around an artist's brush. He smelled the equine sweat as he nuzzled his horse. Unable to keep in the moisture, he blinked his eyes. Cool for a moment, the tears heated and scorched his face. "I love my horse." As he fell from his mount, he whispered. "Bucephalus. I will name a city for you."
With consciousness fading, Alex felt the reins, like a noose around his wrist, pulling his arm up toward his horse.
In the silent starlit darkness, Kip sat astride Hrimfaxi, the Viking god-horse of the night. Stiff and motionless stood the great white beast with its flowing mane and black blaze.
Hearing a squeak of leather, Kip looked to his side and saw Alex leaning forward in his saddle, patting Bucephalus's neck. Glancing behind, Kip could make out the two schools in black silhouette against the sea of stars. Founders' Hall looked like a deserted castle. Kip shivered at the sight and turned his gaze forward. About a hundred meters ahead, the clearing abruptly ended and beyond, Kip could see the fuzzy outline of trees with gaps between them--paths into the night.
"There's a lot to explore out there," said Kip.
"I guess." Alex sounded uncertain, maybe even afraid.
A loud whinny rent the still air and Hrimfaxi reared up on his hind legs. As Kip struggled to hang on, he saw a fox darting out in front of his horse.
With a loud thud, Hrimfaxi brought his legs to the ground, then reared up again, twisting sideways, whinnying in clear terror, flaring his nostrils and drawing away from the fox. Kip felt himself slipping off to the side and he grabbed Hrimfaxi's mane. But it slipped through his fingers. The horse leaped and Kip, thrown free, found himself clawing at the air
The ground came up fast--too fast. Kip threw up his arms to try to protect his head and face but, as he kicked and spun, the back of his head hit the ground.
Kip's eyes teared over from the pain and through the blur, he saw Alex do a vaulting dismount from Bucephalus and run toward him.
"Kip," Alex shouted. "Are you okay?"
"It's getting darker," said Kip as Alex knelt beside him. "The stars are going out."
"It's a fog," said Alex. "It's coming in really fast."
Kip struggled to sit up, and then to stand. "My head hurts." He steadied himself by leaning on Alex.
Alex, looking startled, pointed out into the fog. "What's that?" he said in a quavering voice.
Coming toward them through the mist, Kip saw a shadow that then materializes into Dr. Ralph. He's was wearing a white robe. He looked like a priest or something--or a ghost. As the man drew close, Kip said "Tell me the secret of quantum mechanics."
"I can't," said Dr. Ralph. "I don't know it. I don't even know if there is a secret." He extended his arm away toward a lonely, featureless plane. "You'll have to try to find it yourself."
Kip looked to where Dr. Ralph gestured. Nothing! But then, squinting, Kip detected something far ahead looming through the mist. He walked forward, then stopped, looked back and saw Alex standing like a statue beside Dr. Ralph. "Alex," Kip called out. "Come on!"
Alex jogged forward and then slowed to a disconsolate shuffle. "When you grow up and get to be a big-time scientist," said Alex, looking down at the ground, "you'll forget all about me."
"We'll always be friends, Alex." Kip put an arm around Alex's shoulder, urging him onward. "Anyway, you'll grow up too. And you'll be a big-time animal artist."
"I don't want to grow up."
"Well, come on," said Kip, nodding toward the indistinct, vaporous, something. "Let's see what that is."
"You think it's the big secret you're looking for?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
As they drew near, Kip saw that the object was actually an ornate cabinet of dark polished wood about two meters high.
"It looks like a tiny version of the Amdexter chapel," said Alex.
Kip saw a figure--Wolfgang, on his knees in front of the cabinet. Paul, standing, looked over his shoulder. Above the cabinet door, Kip saw the engraved motto 'Knowledge is Power'.
"That's it!" said Kip under his breath. With absolute certainty, Kip knew that the secret of quantum mechanics lay within the cabinet.
With a deep sigh, Wolfgang clambered to his feet. He looked at Kip. "I'm sorry," he said. "I can't open it." He held up his lock pick, then dropped it to the ground. "Useless."
Kip reached into his pocket and pulled out an impossibly long lock pick which he then flourished like a sword. "Then let me try mine." He stalked to the cabinet, dropped to his knees, and inserted his pick into the lock. Before long, there came a click. "Got it!" Kip pulled the handle and the door, massive and ponderous, creaked slowly open. Out of the corner of his eye, Kip saw Wolfgang and Paul looking on in clear admiration.
Then, after a few silent seconds, from the blacker than black interior of the cabinet, Paradox sauntered out--slowly and with a stately air. He sat and stared at Kip.
"He looks like an Egyptian god," came Alex's whispered voice from behind.
Kip dropped to the ground to be at eye level with the cat. For many long seconds, Kip, trying to ignore the growing pain at the back of his head, stared into Paradox's mysterious, deep blue eyes. Finally, at a whisper, Kip said "Tell me the secret of quantum mechanics."
In a voice half way between speech and meow, Paradox said "Not yet."
"Then when?" Kip lowered his head to the cool ground and closed his eyes.
"How should I know?" said Paradox, the voice fading. "I'm only a cat."
His head hurt.
Kip snapped open his eyes. The world was bright and white. A shaft of sunlight lanced the gap in the curtains, bounced off the white sheets to the white ceiling and lit up the room. By habit, Kip moved his head sideways, hoping to contact a cat's fur. Then, some memory returning, he bit his lip.
Looking to the window, at the slit bounded by cheerful yellow curtains decorated with cartoon animals, he could see only the cloudless blue sky and the tips of trees, their leaves a fading October green. He was clearly at the school, in Founders and above the first floor. In the infirmary!
He moved a hand to his head. On top he felt hair, but there were also bandages. He started to sit up but, feeling dizzy, he settled back into his pillow. Then he noticed the slow tolling of a bell, tuned to A, one of the chapel bells. A is for Amdexter. A is for.... Where is Alex?
He remembered the fire and replayed the night's events. But suddenly, the memory stopped. He had to find out what had happened. He started to sit up again, but stopped as he saw the cord with a button attached lying next to him on the bed. He pushed it and again fell back onto his pillow.
A minute or so later, he heard the clattering of footsteps and a woman came through the door. She was dressed in a uniform as white as the bed sheets and she smelled antiseptic.
"How are we feeling, today?" she said. "I don't think we've met before. I'm Miss Wheeler, the school nurse. She spoke with an English accent. Kip wondered if she was related to Mr. Thomas.
"We're feeling fine. Just fine." Kip was about to ask his questions, but hesitated, afraid of what he might learn. He let himself be distracted as the nurse fussed over him: taking his temperature, smoothing down the bedclothes, helping him to the bathroom and back into bed.
"Are you hungry?" she said as she tucked in the sheets, imprisoning him under the taut whiteness, making visible the shape of his body underneath.
Kip felt a little guilty for saying he was.
"Good!" She straightened up and started for the door. "I'll have your lunch sent up."
"Wait!" Kip's curiosity overcame his anxiety. "Could you tell me what happened, please?"
"You are a very lucky boy," she said.
"I don't feel very lucky."
"Well, you are," she said in a voice suggesting amusement and annoyance at the same time. "Another boy was not so fortunate. He was severely injured and was airlifted to St. Christopher's Hospital."
She looked startled, as if she'd been caught shoplifting. "No. Todd Liddell."
"Todd....That skunk!" Kip looked away.
"You should be ashamed." Her voice showed no amusement now. "He is something of a hero, you know."
Kip sniggered. "Todd, a hero. Yeah, right." He looked back at her, challenging her with his gaze.
The nurse regarded him with reproachful eyes. "The boys said he jumped on the moving carousel and, even though his sweater and pants caught fire, he tried to make his way forward to the Griffin boy." She looked away, to the window. "But he collapsed. The doctor said it was probably because of poisonous fumes coming from the lacquered horses." Again, she tucked in the sheets. It seemed an automatic action--like a cat grooming itself. "Fortunately," she went on, "he fell off the carousel and his momentum sent him rolling. And that put out the fire. Otherwise, he'd probably...." She stopped her bustling and returned her gaze to Kip. "Young Todd Liddell is gravely ill in hospital with very serious burns."
"How is Alex?" said Kip in a small voice.
"Alex is...." She avoided his eyes. "I rather think I should have Brother Kenji come in and talk to you. He wanted me to tell him when you woke up." She headed for the door. "But I'm afraid that.... I'll have your lunch sent up."
"Could you open the curtains all the way, please?"
"Yes. Certainly." She bustled to the window, vigorously threw back the curtains, and again went to the door. "Oh," she said, her hand on the knob, "I almost forgot. Your father is here at the school."
"Dad, here? That's great!"
"He was waiting for you to wake up. At the moment, I think the Kohl and Robinson boys are showing him around the school." She smiled, then opened the door. "We'll send out a search party."
When she'd left, Kip pushed himself to a sitting position, wrinkling the nurse's well-tucked sheet. Gazing out the window, he saw the familiar Dalambertian at an unfamiliar angle and height. Through the glass, it looked more like the map than the territory. Further off, in the brilliant sunlight, he saw the carousel, dark as if in the dead of night, blackened by fire. Kip recalled to mind the carousel's bold bright colors and rich complex structure. Now it was grey and black--and blurred, its intricate carvings and moldings softened and indistinct. Can horses get leprosy? He stared long at that circle of darkness.
There came a knock at the door and before Kip could say anything, the school chaplain came in.
As he pulled up a chair, Brother Kenji Wakabyashi smiled, sympathetically. But the smile looked ritual and pasted on over a serious face.
"How is Alex?" Kip asked before Brother Wakabyashi could say anything.
"Alex is.... I'm very sad to have to tell you this." Wakabyashi's smile vanished without a trace. "Alex is dead."
Kip couldn't stop the tears beginning to blur his vision. Although it was the news he was expecting, it still came as a shock. He couldn't accept it. He wouldn't accept it. Alex is dead. No! The problem is with is, the meaning of is.
"I am Alex and Alex is me," said Kip. "A single quantum system."
Kip rubbed a hand across his eyes, and struggled for control--to assert the power of his mind. "If I don't acknowledge Alex's death, he's not really dead."
"Kip. I know how hard this is for you. I know how much a friend--"
"Like Schrödinger's cat," Kip went on, listening to as well as speaking the words. "Until someone looks the cat is not really dead and not really alive."
"Alex died on the carousel," said Wakabyashi, softly, almost clinically.
Wakabyashi shook his head, sadly. "One of the boys told me that flames were all over the base of the carousel. And after you fell off trying to save him, Todd Liddell jumped onto the carousel--right into the flames, and tried to pull Alex off the horse he was on."
Kip turned away and gazed out the window, and watched Wakabyashi in the reflection of the glass.
"They fought until Todd was overcome by the smoke and fell to the deck." Wakayashi paused, started to reach out a hand, then returned it to his lap. "As Alex's horse descended, its hoof came down against Todd's shoulder pinning him to the ground, right into the fire." Wakabyashi shook his head. "It's a miracle he survived."
Kip jerked his head around. "Alex isn't dead either! As long as I don't observe him as dead, he isn't."
"What are you talking about?" said Wakabyashi, abruptly dropping his demeanor of sympathy and compassion.
"Probability is relative," said Kip, intently, trying to make Wakabyashi believe--trying to make himself believe. "And since everything real is probabilistic, then reality is also relative. In my reality, Alex is not dead."
"You can believe me," said Wakabyashi, softly but firmly. "Alex is with God."
"I don't believe in your god," Kip said at almost a shout.
Again, Wakabyashi pasted on his smile. "What god do you believe in?" he said in a voice suggesting he was humoring an idiot.
"I believe...." Kip averted his gaze from the chaplain. He looked again out the window--at a horse, Bucephalus probably. Now it was black from fire, not paint. Kip thought he could see the hint of a white blaze on the charred black head. Kip turned his gaze defiantly back to Wakabyashi. "I believe in Zeus."
"Zeus? What are you.... Kip, listen--"
"Please sir. Leave me alone." Trying to end the encounter without actually telling the man to get out, Kip once more gazed out the window, at the sky this time. "I just want to go home."
Brother Wakabyashi appeared ghost-like in the reflection. Kip observed as the man stood, paused watching for a few seconds, and then said "I will always be here when you need me." Kip did not respond and the chaplain walked stiffly from the room.
Kip tried to hate Wakabyashi, but couldn't. The man seemed sincere and basically good. Kip tried to direct his anger at Todd, but couldn't anymore--not after finding that the kid had tried to save Alex. Kip could find no one whom he could blame.
And as for trying to understand quantum mechanics, his half-formed vision had to be wrong. His interpretation, whatever it finally turned out to be, didn't have a Schrödinger's Paradox. And without the Paradox, he couldn't hold to the idea that Alex wasn't really dead--that he was still a single quantum system with Paul, Wolfgang, and Alex. Kip pressed his eyes closed and discarded his quantum ideas. He thought briefly of the Cat Paradox and then the cat, Paradox--and then of his own cat. He really missed Sniffles.
Kip opened his eyes. "Dad!"
Professor Campbell sat on the chair recently vacated by Wakabyashi. "How are you doing?"
Kip sat up, leaned over and hugged his father. And at the same time, he buried Alex deep in his mind--to be attended to later.
"I'm terribly sorry," Professor Campbell went on, "about your friend--"
"I don't want to talk about it, now."
Professor Campbell stroked Kip's hair. "It's been rough, hasn't it?"
Suddenly, Kip pulled upright. "How's Sniffles?"
"Sniffles?" Professor Campbell seemed taken aback. He shook his head and smiled. "Your cat's fine. And your mother and sister are also fine, thank you for asking."
Kip gave a wan smile. "How are Mom and Kimberly?"
With a laugh, Professor Campbell tousled his son's hair.
"Dad. I'm really glad you're here."
"It's reassuring hearing you say dad. Dr. Hopcroft, Dr. Ralph Hopcroft that is; he talks about you more as if you're his son rather than mine."
Kip, his mood altered as if by the flick of a switch, giggled. "No, I'm yours."
"Glad to hear it." Professor Campbell's expression turned serious.
"Dr. Hopcroft wants you to stay here, you know. He says you may hold the secret to understanding quantum mechanics--if you keep on trying."
"Dad, I want to go home."
"Good. Because I think Ithaca is the very best place for you to be right now."
Kip started to get out of bed, but his father held him back. "Well, not exactly right now," he said, lightly. "The doctor said you'd be fine to travel tomorrow morning. I'm staying at the guest apartment in the faculty housing complex. And your Dr. Ralph said he wants to talk to you in the morning."
Kip cast his eyes down. "I...I'd rather talk to him from home by webcam."
"Understood," said Professor Campbell, gently. "I'll have a chat with him. Then we can get an early start"--he smiled--"and stop at a lot of unhealthy fast food places on the way."
"So Dr. Ralph told you about the healthy vending machines."
"Indeed, he did. Free but disgustingly healthy." Professor Campbell paused. "You're absolutely sure you don't want to stay here at ESAP?"
"Fine. The school year is still young. You'll be able to transfer right into DeWitt. It doesn't have nearly as good a science program though."
"It has a better orchestra."
Professor Campbell chuckled. "And no more Latin. You can take something useful--Mandarin or something."
"Oh, I don't know," said Kip. "I sort of like Latin."
"There are some good things about Amdexter."
"It sort of sounds as if you do want to stay here."
"No," Kip said, quickly. "Good things. But not that good." He turned his thoughts toward home. "DeWitt Middle School. A lot of my friends are there.... But it'll be funny talking to kids again who don't know anything about quantum mechanics. It'll feel like I'm speaking a foreign language."
"I imagine," said Kip's father. "But speaking of friends, you've got two really great friends here in Wolfgang and Paul."
"I know," said Kip. "I plan to keep in touch by web-conference" He gave a soft smile. "All three of us speak the same language."
"Ah," said Kip's father. "So, by web-conference, you're still going to try to understand the true nature of quantum mechanics."
"No, I'm not." Kip lay his head back on the pillow and closed his eyes. "Not yet."
Kip stormed into the house and threw his book-bag down on the living room couch. He'd just come from an after school session with his Spanish tutor and it was already almost dark. Startled, sniffles ran for safety under the couch.
In his easy chair, Dr. Campbell, Kip's father, set aside his book. "Anything wrong?"
Kip blew out a breath. "Just...just school."
"Well, Mom and Kimberly are are at a mother, daughter Brownie dinner." Dr. Campbell stood and walked to the phone. "I'll order a pizza. Maybe that'll cheer you up. Sausage and mushrooms?"
Kip forced a smile. "Yeah. Fine."
They'd left ESAP on a Thursday and by the following Monday, Kip had been enrolled in DeWitt Junior High. He considered this grossly unfair as ESAP and Amdexter had declared a two week vacation for general healing and for the remains of the carousel to be carted away and a 'remembrance garden' planted in its stead.
At Dewitt, Kip was okay in math: he knew everything but couldn't calculate as fast as the other kids. He was bored in science, okay in social studies, liked orchestra, and hated Spanish. He'd wanted German but the school thought he wouldn't be able to catch up. They'd said Spanish was easier. But even so, he still had to have a tutor.
And now, a week later, the novelty having worn off, he found he really missed Paul and Wolfy. Not that he wanted to go back to ESAP--but the idea didn't seem as horrible as it had a earlier.
"Delivery in fifteen minutes," said Dr. Campbell as he put down the phone.
Kip thought his father looked too serious for someone who had just ordered a pizza. "Anything wrong?"
"No..... Not really." As he returned to his easy chair, Dr. Campbell waved Kip to a seat. "You never had your talk with Dr. Ralph, did you?"
"I was afraid he'd be mad at me." Kip plopped down on the couch, next to his book bag. "Because I let him down."
"Because you left ESAP?"
Kip nodded. "But it was Amdexter I wanted to leave, not ESAP"--As he talked, the cat jumped on his lap--"Why?"
"I got a call from the main office manager at Amdexter."
Kip scrunched his nose in puzzlement and expectation. "From Mrs. Worthington?" He scratched sniffles behind the ears.
Dr. Carpenter nodded. "Nice lady. She said there's going to be a big meeting at the school--ESAP, that is. And they'd like you to be at it."
"No way!" Kip pounded a fist on his book bag. At the noise, Sniffles jumped down and darted toward the dining room.
"I had her transfer the call to Dr. Ralph's line. We had a good chat."
Kip felt his eyes widen.
"First of all," said Dr. Campbell, "Ralph understands why you left. You didn't really disappoint him." He paused. "He'd like to see you."
Kip lowered his eyes. "I don't want to go to any meeting."
"Fair enough. But I told him I'd talk to you about it. He needs your help?"
Kip looked up and met his father's eyes. "My help?"
"A lot has happened since we left. First of all, the Amdexter headmaster has resigned."
"Yes!" said Kip under his breath.
Dr. Campbell face showed disapproval but Kip recognized it as just ritual, and he wasn't about to be bawled out.
"He felt responsible for...for what happened," Kip's father went on. "But the main news is that the man who gave the money for the ESAP-Amdexter partnership might pull out. And without ESAP, Amdexter would go bankrupt. They'd keep it open for the rest of the school year. But after that...." Dr. Carpenter shrugged.
"I don't care," said Kip with some vehemence. "I want it to go bankrupt and go away."
Dr. Carpenter leaned forward in his chair. "If it does, ESAP would go away as well."
"I...I don't want that to happen." Kip cocked his head. "Anyway, what's this all got to do with me?"
"Ralph says that the school's backer and a...a noted physicist want to talk to you about your ideas of quantum mechanics."
"Ralph has pointed to you as an example of the school's success. The meeting, more like an interview, is to see if, in any sense, the ESAP idea works."
Kip processed that for a few seconds. "And if they think it has?"
"Then, the backer will buy Amdexter outright. At the end of the current school year, Amdexter will be made into a larger, co-ed ESAP--with Dr. Ralph as headmaster of the whole thing."
"That sounds great," said Kip in spite of himself. But the interview would be like a big test. He hated tests. No. He still didn't want to go. "Otherwise?"
"Otherwise, Amdexter will simply be sold."
"What?" Dr. Campbell laughed. "No. Well, not exactly."
His father's laughter lightened Kip's mood. Maybe an interview wouldn't that bad. And it's not as if I have anything to lose. And he did want to talk to someone about his quantum mechanics ideas. A noted physicist. Kip bit his lip. But if my ideas are right, then there doesn't need to be a parallel universe for Alex to be alive in. I could explain the Schrödinger's Cat Paradox without it.
"Well?" said Dr. Campbell.
Kip snapped his attention back to the present. He had no idea what he should do. "Do you think I should go?"
"It's your choice."
Kip took a moment to think. But I don't make the laws of the universe. Then, he asked, "Will Wolfy and Paul be there?"
"I don't know. They've been invited. Ralph has invited several of the sub-dorms."
"When is it?"
"The meeting?" said Dr. Campbell. "Saturday."
"Well, if Wolfy and Paul are going, I'll go too." Kip stood. "I'll text them now."
As Dr. Cunningham turned onto Einstein Alley, Kip scanned the grounds for signs of life. They'd stayed over at a motel in the area and, at Kip's urging, left early for ESAP. Kip checked the dashboard clock: 8:47--well before the announced ten a.m. reception at Snack Bar. Kip hoped Paul and Wolfy were able to convince their parents to arrive early as well.
"Sort of quiet," said Dr. Campbell as he pulled into the parking lot behind the planetarium.
Dr. Campbell set the hand brake and killed the engine. The silence was complete.
"You know," he said when they gotten out of the car. "I've never really explored this campus. Perhaps we could stroll around and you could point out the sights."
"Yeah. Fine. Sure," said Kip, trying to sound enthusiastic about the idea.
They began walking and the crunch of their footfalls on the parking lot gravel made the silence seem even deeper. Kip darted his head around like a nervous ferret, hoping someone would save him. He felt constrained by his father's stately pace and he felt embarrassed for some reason, leading his father around the campus.
"Hey, relax," said Dr. Campbell. "It's just an interview. It's not going to be an exam or anything."
"Yeah. I know." Kip stopped and faced his dad. "I'm just nervous. I need to.... I need to run."
Dr. Campbell chuckled. "Now?"
"I don't need to change or anything. And I'm wearing sneakers."
"Okay. Fine." Dr. Campbell patted his son on the shoulder. "Take your run. I'll hang out at Snack Bar--once it opens."
Kip smiled, sheepishly. "Thanks, Dad." He turned and, feeling somewhat self-conscious, jogged away. As he turned around the corner of Feynman Hall, his running became more confident. When he'd freed himself of buildings, running out past the athletic complex, his stride increased and, despite the constraint of running in long pants, he experienced the familiar freedom and exhilaration as the ground moved swiftly under his feet. With conscious pleasure, he breathed in the crisp October air and felt it chill his throat. In an arc then, he jogged back to the campus, on to the Dalembertian and then North. He slowed his pace as he realized he was heading toward the carousel. Not that he wanted to go there, but he felt drawn to it.
Kip narrowed his eyes. The North end of the Dalembertain was no more--or rather it had been pushed forward to encompass the site of the carousel. He looked for traces of the carousel. He didn't see any. But he did see a man, seemingly entranced by the trees, unfamiliar trees, obviously newly planted.
As Kip closed the distance, he saw it was Mr. Thomas.
Kip started to veer away, but it was too late. Mr. Thomas waved and Kip thought it would be rude not to stop and say hello. "Hi, Mr. Thomas," said Kip as he glided to a stop.
Mr. Thomas returned the greeting and then gestured at the trees. "Little transplanted trees," he said. "They look artificial--like model railroad scenery."
Kip felt his eyes widen in surprise. That's Alex talking.
"Remembrance garden," said Mr. Thomas, softly, his eyes still on the trees. Then he turned his gaze on Kip, but didn't say anything.
It's like he's reading my mind.
Mr. Thomas gave a soft, almost wistful, smile. "My Viking ancestors considered a person still alive in a way, if he was remembered."--my gosh, he IS reading my mind--"They wanted to be remembered forever." He kept his gaze locked on Kip. "Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you?"
Kip squirmed. He understood all right, but it was something he didn't want to talk about at the moment. Just then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw deliverance. He waved. "Hi, Dr. Ralph," he called out, loudly. The man was still some twenty yards away. Now he observed Mr. Thomas out of the corner of his eye. Mr. Thomas had the amused look of someone who knew a secret. Yeah. He can read my mind.
"Hi, Kip," said Dr. Ralph as he came close. "Your father said you'd gone for a run. I thought you might have come here." He exchanged hellos with Mr. Thomas, then said, "I see you've found our new chairman of the humanities department--that is providing we still have a school."
Kip remembered why he'd been avoiding Dr. Ralph. "I'm really sorry," said Kip. "You must really think I'm a coward for not--"
"No. Of course not You're no coward--not where it counts. I know that. But.... But, you know it takes real courage to change an accepted paradigm."
Kip cocked his head and wrinkled his nose.
"Ah." Dr. Ralph chuckled. "I'm confusing you again. Well, what I'm getting at is.... Well, historically, many people wanted to keep their physics theories modeled after their life experiences, and hadn't the courage or creativity to go into uncharted territory--to find new paradigms, new ways of thinking. It's why so many physicists fought against the quantum mechanics. Even Einstein fought against it." Dr. Ralph patted Kip's shoulder. "I know you have the courage and creativity. At some point, I'm sure you'll use it."
Kip, embarrassed at being given big complements, felt himself flush.
Dr. Ralph checked his watch. "I think the committee will probably be ready for you now." He chuckled again. This time it sounded forced. "We'll have to see if there'll be a new paradigm for the school as well."
Together, the walked toward Feynman hall. Neither of them spoke. But Kip could tell that Dr. Ralph was worried--very worried.
During the silent walk, Kip accepted, for the time being, Dr. Ralph's assertion that he did have courage. And that means I've got to face what I've been hiding away. Kip gave a noiseless sigh. I think I had courage at the carousel--but if I have Dr. Ralph's idea of courage, then I have to have the courage to follow my own ideas--to find this new quantum mechanics paradigm. If I can. Even if it means Alex isn't alive somewhere. Kip pursed his lips. And as for Alex, Mr. Thomas has the right idea. Alex will live because people will remember him. I don't know about parallel universes, so I'll have keep Alex alive in this one.... How?
As they climbed the front steps to Feynman, Kip got his idea. He smiled. I'll name my theory after Alex: the...the Kip and Alex Theory of Quantum Reality.
Opening the door, Dr. Ralph said, softly, "The committee just want your ideas about quantum mechanics. Don't be afraid."
Kip looked nervously through the glass door. "I'm.... I'm not."
An hour or so later, Kip ambled back down the front steps of Feynman. Not an exam? He wriggled his shoulder blades. More like the Spanish inquisition!
There were more people on the campus now. Kip saw Nick and Chucky from subdorm-5. Then an airborne Frisbee caught his attention. Extrapolating down both ends of the disk's trajectory, Kip saw two kids. Wolfy and Paul! He shouted, waved and ran. Wolfy waved back while Paul caught the Frisbee and shot it to Kip. After making a flying catch, Kip flew the Frisbee to Wolfgang and jogged to his friends.
After greetings and a little horseplay, they exchanged gossip about the school.
"I heard from my dad," said Wolfgang, "that Todd won't be returning this year. He has months of medical procedures to go through before he can even think of returning to school."
"And there might not even like be a school next year," said Paul.
"But if there is," said Wolfgang, "it'll all be ESAP." He glanced at Kip. "You've had your interview?"
"Yeah, I had it all right."
"How did it go?" said Paul.
Kip shook his head and blew out a breath. "Have you ever seen a ring tail lemur?"
"What?" said Wolfgang. "You always say really weird things."
"Sure." Paul, laughed. "They always look like they just got caught steeling ice cream from the fridge at midnight."
"Well," said Kip, "the physicist they brought in looked like a lemur. Every time I said anything, he looked at me with these wide eyes and raised bushy eyebrows." Kip made a face to demonstrate. "As for how it went." He shrugged. "Who knows."
"I think you should come back this year," said Paul.
"Me, too," said Wolfgang.
Kip bit his lip. He'd sort of like to come back. But what's the use if it's only for this year?
Just then, Nick, Chucky, and Brandon, all from subdorm-5 came over. Paul, flourishing the Frisbee, suggested a game of Ultimate. It was agreed and the six boys discussed the rules and the extent of the playing field. Then Nick, Chucky and Brandon ran ahead toward their half of the field.
"Hey, look," said Paul, gesturing toward Feynman where Dr. Ralph and another man were walking down the front steps.
"Is he your lemur?" said Paul.
"No," said Kip. "He's the one who gave ESAP all the money."
"Well, Dr. Ralph looks happy," said Wolfgang.
"It looks like maybe there will be a next year." Paul gave a hint of a wave at Dr. Ralph.
Dr. Ralph looked their way and, with his arms at his side, gave a furtive 'thumbs up'.
"Yes!" said Paul at a whisper.
"Okay," Kip cut in, having come to a sudden yet firm decision. "I'm coming back this year."
"Hey, great," said Wolfgang.
Paul laughed. "Are we all ready to attack quantum mechanics again?"
"Of course," said Wolfgang. "I am, anyway."
Kip recalled what he told his dad a week ago--and he also remembered his cat dream. "What is the opposite of not yet?"
Wolfgang jerked his head around. "What?"
"Logically," said Paul, "the negation of not yet is yet."
"I don't think English works like that," said Wolfgang.
Kip smiled. Yes. This is where I belong. "Yet," he said with a laugh. "Definitely, yet!"
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