It took all of Jaxon’s self control to walk out of the hall slowly, in time with the recessional music. He was pumped full of adrenaline and he needed to run or to punch something or anything to let out all the energy crammed into him. Eventually the recessional had left the hall and the tail end, made up of the new students, was milling around the corridor. He drove the base of his palm into the wall, hard.
“Hey, what’s that about?”
Jaxon shrugged. “Got to get it out somehow.” He drove his other hand into the wall.
“I can get that.” Ken seemed unperturbed. “But it might be less destructive to try, I dunno, pushups or something.”
Jaxon turned around. “You think I should drop in the middle of the corridor and start counting pushups?”
This time Ken shrugged. “Got to get it somehow.” Jaxon narrowed his eyes. Ken smiled. “Relax, man. People might get awkward if you punch the wall down is all.”
“That’s why I don’t punch.” Despite that, Jaxon suspected Ken was right. Pushups had never got anyone into detention. He dropped to the floor, strained against his suit and struggled through a couple of pushups. He felt better for it.
“Good idea, man.” Ivor dropped down to join Jaxon. He had forgotten his top hat, which fell off and began to roll down the corridor. Ivor ran after it, swearing.
“Fascinating language for a new inductee.” Ricardo had returned from the senior students’ section of the recessional.
Jaxon scrambled to his feet. “I didn’t mean to cause trouble.”
“Did you set him off like that?” Ricardo raised an eyebrow.
“He was trying to do pushups in a top hat,” Melinda said.
Ricardo looked like he was trying not to laugh. “Jaxon or Ivor?”
“Ivor. Jaxon was just doing regular pushups.”
“Have to get it out somehow,” Jaxon repeated.
“I have no objection to pushups, but do try to keep the language printable,” Ricardo said as Ivor returned.
Melinda raised an eyebrow. “I’ve seen worse than that in published literature.”
“It’s an old Earth expression, from more civilised times,” Ricardo said drily. “The Academy won’t prohibit you from using whatever language you like, but by the same token they won’t prohibit me from complaining about it.”
Jaxon could see his point, but– “So how do we know if you’re complaining in your personal or professional capacity? No offense meant,” he added quickly.
Ricardo tilted his head and considered. “Practice,” he said at last. “You’re supposed to be bright kids. Now we’re going back to Mrs McKinsey for your room allocations and then you’ll be free until supper.”
Jaxon tried to keep track of the turns in the corridors on the way back. He could more or less find his way around if he needed to now, he thought, although he understood the Chancellor’s comment about being perpetually lost for a month. He didn’t think it would take him a month. Not that he thought he was better than the Academy Chancellor! Probably, he told himself, she’d been exaggerating.
Mrs McKinsey was dealing with a group of older students when they arrived, but she finished up quickly when she saw them. “I’ll make sure they get to supper, Ricardo,” she said. “No need to hang around. Now, you lot.” She waved a hand at them. “Your rooms are in this corridor and the junior common room is through the door on the other side of my workroom. You’ll be two to a room, which I’ll leave you to sort out while I get your keys.”
Jaxon looked around a little helplessly. The silence was awkward and he figured he couldn’t make it worse. He looked over at Ken. “Well, how about it? Short kids don’t take up much space.”
Ken grinned. “Sure.” The silence having been broken, the others began pairing up. “I thought you didn’t know how this stuff worked, huh?”
“Cut yourself some slack, man.” Ken might have been annoyed; Jaxon wasn’t sure. “So what classes are you looking forward to most?”
“Huh. I dunno, really. I wasn’t exactly the school’s biggest achiever. I just like making stuff.”
“Just fiddling. Changing the chimer units in clocks and messing around with the insides of mechs and viewing screens. That sort of thing. I rigged a viewing screen up where the chimer unit’s meant to go in a grandfather clock, once. Made some really pretty pictures once I got the transformations right and stopped burning out cables.”
“Wow, that’s incredible. So you had a visualisation of the sound? I wouldn’t even know where to start. I mean, I could do the theory I guess, but to actually make one – what did you do with it?”
“Nothing really.” Jaxon shrugged. “I watched it for a bit and then put the chimer back before my parents got home. Kept me busy for a good few weeks worth of evenings, though.”
“But didn’t they want to see it?”
Jaxon laughed. “Not a chance. They’re not that kind of parents. It was fun while it lasted, though. I had it rigged so the screen got brighter when the chime was supposed to get louder. Couldn’t figure out a proper frequency mapping, but I got it so the three main pitches in the chime turned the screen red, blue and green. The way the sounds mix is more complicated than you’d expect.”
Jaxon wondered if he’d talked too much, but Ken looked thoughtful rather than bored. “Yeah, that makes sense. My sister does music lessons and she says what we think of as one sound is usually a whole bunch of them wrapped together. Maybe it’s easier to see that than it is to hear it.”
Mrs McKinsey clapped her hands for attention. “I imagine you’ve all met Mr Nel by now.”
Jaxon followed her gaze to the doorkeeper who’d taken the damaged mech from him. “I’ve met them all, Biddy, but let them call me Cairus. Not much of a one to stand on ceremony, me,” he explained to the class. “Now, if you lose your keys you’ll be explaining that to me, so my recommendation is that you don’t.” He started out into the corridor. “The first room’ll be Adams. Who’re you sharing with, then?”
“Me, sir.” Melinda emerged at the front of the class.
“Alright, lassie, here’s your key.” He handed over a big brass key. “And yours, Bryony. Now don’t lose ’em. Next room is Jenkins.”
Kelly Jean stepped forward and Quintessa edged past the rest of them. Bryony said, “Sorry, sir, what order are we assigned in?”
Cairus just looked at her for a moment before answering. “Order of how much of Biddy’s eye you need kept on you.”
“Is that allowed?”
Cairus snorted. “You want to complain to Chancellor Briggs about it?”
“Oh, I didn’t mean that. Honoured to know I’m worth keeping an eye on, sir!” Bryony grinned. Jaxon wondered if anything bothered her.
The next room went to Buhle and Verashni. Ivor sighed dramatically. “Beaten by every one of ’em. And after swearing at the class tutor too.” Jaxon shuffled back into the wall as he waited for the reaction.
“And what did young Arcos do to you, eh?”
“Um, uh,” Ivor spluttered. “I wasn’t exactly swearing at him.”
“Well then.” Cairus handed a key to Ivor. Mark took the other one and they disappeared into their room. That left Ken and Jaxon. Cairus doled out their keys. “The doors on this room are a little wider, which I thought would be easier with the chair,” Cairus said, nodding to Ken.
“Oh. Yes, it’s usually okay, but that helps, thanks.”
“So we’re not really in order of troublemaking, then?”
Cairus smiled. “So you’re planning to cause more trouble than that lot, huh?”
“Oh no, sir. Not planning to cause trouble at all, sir.”
“Well then. Settle yourselves in, lads. Biddy’ll be along to take you to supper when the bell rings. Try not to lose your keys.” Cairus headed off down the corridor.
Author’s note: Next week in National Science Week here in South Africa. I’ll be releasing a card game called Universe Builder. It’s a bit like Rummy or Go Fish, with special cards that teach you some of the basics of particle physics as you play. You’ll be able to download (for free!) and print your own cards along with the rules. Universe Builder will also feature in next week’s episode.