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XVI. Watching

 

There was only one attempt to steal the segment during the month of March.

There was no doubt people were watching the kids of Ash House. Lunch in the cafeteria was full of glances among the tables. Lots of second and third year students seemed to know who they were, and Jen Chang and Pinhead both got asked questions they didn’t understand by older kids.

“You,” said Jen Chang to Cloudius as he came up the stairs to the second floor. She and Pinhead were sitting on the first step of the stair up to the third floor. She lowered her voice. “What is the Great Bond?”

“What?” asked Cloudius.

“What the heck is a dim wall?” asked Pinhead. “Or a dim door? Anything on those two little vocabulary items?”

“Okay,” said Cloudius, “I can tell you that one, but that other thing, we’ll have to ask someone who knows stuff.”

“You mean Ash?” asked Jen.

“Hey, a party!” said Tom coming up the stairs, Arnulf and Ahir behind him, returning from MacMorris’s Pentonics class.

 

“A dim door,” Cloud said once the six of them all sitting around Tom’s room, with Eva sitting on the window sill watching them implacably. “A dim door is a door in a dim wall. A dim wall is a wall that you can’t see even though it blocks you out. You literally don’t feel it. You don’t know you’re blocked from entering an area.”

“Okay, so it’s a seal,” said Pinhead. “And you can’t see it.”

“No, no,” said Cloud. “It’s much more than a seal. Think about it, it’s like you draw a line on the ground and you create a new universe behind the line. You can’t just walk from one universe to another, you know. You can’t even see into another universe.”

“So a dim wall would just cut you off into another cosmos,” said Jen.

“Except,” said Tom, “if you have a door, you can pass through. You have this hiding place, right? But you can peek out the door and jump on people you don’t like.”

“Okay,” said Pinhead. “It’s a really interesting seal, and you can build a door in it.”

“No, listen,” said Tom. He looked at Arnulf. “We were just talking about this in Pentonics, actually.”

“Strange,” said Arnulf. “I never heard of this thing, and now it’s like this topic of conversation in the caf. And MacMorris gets asked a question by one of his favorite third years, who happens to be Elizabeth McNing. I’d say it’s a really interesting seal. I want to know why it’s come up.”

“Listen,” said Ahir, “it’s actually cool, all right? There is a perfect example of a dim wall. It’s the boundary of the basic, what you would call the Newtonian universe. You can’t even approach it, really. Anywhere you go, it’s equally far away. But the thing is, there are doors through it.”

“Where do they go?” asked Jen.

“Let’s go through some time,” said Ahir. “Is that all right, Arnulf? I get to go on that one. Please, please tell me I get to go on that one.”

“You get to go on the rest of them, actually,” said Arnulf. “I’ll feel a lot safer if you get to go on a lot more of our little adventures.”

“So what was the other one?” asked Ahir. “The other vocabulary item?”

“The Great Bond,” said Jen.

“Ah,” said Ahir. She leveled her brown eyes on Jen’s and left them there for some seconds. “And you actually want to ask what this thing is,” said Ahir.

“I don’t know,” said Jen, “do I?”

“What’s the question?” asked Daphne, barging in. “Hey, Pin, hi, Jen.”

“Daphne,” said Jen, “do you know what the Great Bond is, and do I want to know?”

Daphne came in and shut the door. “I’ve heard it mentioned,” said the blond Amazon. “I can’t remember where. It wasn’t in a loud voice.”

“So is this some sort of evil organization or something? Like the C Group? Or the Cosa Nostra?” asked Arnulf.

“No, no,” said Daphne. She shook her head, looking dangerously dubious. “I don’t have any idea, but I’m pretty sure it’s not that. Look. I don’t know. I told you all I know.”

“Ah, it’s like that,” said Pinhead.

“Yeah. It’s like that. How did it come up?”

“Well,” said Jen Chang. “Let me explain.” They all looked at her: medium height, skinny, pure Chinese look and pure Chicago suburban talk. She wore a Kenosha Wisconsin sweatshirt and Chicago Bears sweat pants. She also wore an embarrassed look.

“Chad Whately,” said Arnulf.

“Yeah,” said Jen. “He was sort of trying to hit on me, I think.”

“He’s a third year,” said Tom.

“He’s a Maroon,” said Arnulf. “He’s also like fifteen.”

“Look,” said Jen, “for the record, I didn’t give him the time of day. But he sits down in the caf and turns to me and kind of leans over and says, ‘Hey, you know something about the Great Bond.’ Like it was a pickup line.”

“Much experience with that?” asked Daphne.

“None, thanks for asking. So what is it?”

There were feet on the stairs, and then Angelica and Natalie and Rachel came filing in. Angelica got to the far end of Tom’s room and turned around, standing between Pindar and Arnulf. “Okay,” she said. “Here’s the thing. Remember one of the early times we went down into the school cellar?”

“Ah, the good old days,” said Tom.

“Well,” said Angelica, “remember the Deep Voice that MacMorris was arguing with?”

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