Adams are composed mostly of empty space
From the moment Mr Doppler told them, You can forget about your books for now— we’re going to be doing something a little different before we move on to finals, Shades knew things were about to get more interesting. Then again, they always did whenever Flathead High’s answer to Mr Wizard decided to do something a little different. In the past year, between units, they had built and broken balsawood bridges, played around with electronics, made and launched tissue-paper balloons, and Doppler had even brought his own homemade hovercraft he constructed out of an inner-tube and a shopvac. Even his regular presentations sometimes scored a hit with the class. As Shades’ friend John sometimes said, Dude, when that guy blows shit up, he has way too much fun for a teacher!
They had spent most of the class grading each others’ last exams, and (just his luck) Shades ended up with Carlos’. For his part, Carlos had smirked at him and appeared to gloat over the exam he was checking, and Shades was left to wonder if the cocky bastard actually had his test, or was just messing with him. Though in this case, Shades quickly discovered that he would have the last laugh either way; for all the disapproving insinuations he made about Shades’ test, Carlos had barely passed his own. Not that this surprised him— Carlos fared better in math and shop classes, and anything involving computers or working with his hands, than he did with any other subjects. And always did better on Mr Doppler’s projects than on the regular exams.
Now the teacher was elaborating about this new direction.
“…We’re going to spend some time on the stranger side of science,” Mr Doppler told them as he wiped the board clean. “These older curriculum textbooks don’t have a single chapter about quantum physics, so you’re mainly going to be reading from these handouts and taking notes. This is probably going to take up most of the time we have left until Finals, and even then it’s really only going to be an overview, but I think it’s important to at least have a basic notion of it…”
Not that Shades was going to quit bringing his book with him; after all, outdated or not, it was too heavy to leave out of his training. Hoping that Doppler might get to the good stuff before Finals, Shades whipped out his pen and started taking notes. Every year, even as a senior, Mom still sent him with a couple pens when school started, but after two or three weeks of classes, it always inevitably degenerated into a free-for-all anyway, he was pretty sure half of his classmates were scribbling away with a different pen than they started with. And Shades never had to buy any more for the rest of the year, for he had mastered the game of Musical Pens before he was even in high school; while some people were good at losing pens, he was good at finding them.
“…Since everything in quantum theory begins at the subatomic level, we’ll spend the rest of the class on a review of the atom. There are some other particles we’ll discuss later, but for now we’ll start with the basics.” Mr Doppler wrote The Atom on the whiteboard. “This time I’ll pick on my Chem students from fourth period. Let’s see how much you remember from last semester. Josh, what are the component particles of the nucleus?”
“Neutrons and protons,” Josh answered from the second row.
“Right,” Doppler said, scribbling down his answers under the heading Nucleus. “And there is only one particle left, Carlos. What is it?”
“The electron,” Carlos Adams told him. Shades’ self-imposed arch-rival was perhaps an inch or so taller, with a deeply tanned complexion, shaggy black hair, and the most arrogant-looking natural expression Shades had ever seen, and sat in the very back row. It was his custom in most classes, as it was with most of the Back Row tribe, to only answer when called upon.
“Right again.” And Doppler added Carlos’ answer to his outline. He turned around to see Shades raising his hand. “Yes, Mr MacLean?”
“Aren’t atoms composed of empty space?” In the six years Shades had known him, he had never discovered the origin of Carlos’ animosity. Though Shades had originally done nothing to him, Carlos had insisted on antagonizing him over the years. Earlier, in math class, Carlos had been talking to one of his friends, and like everyone else in the room he had no idea what they were talking about, only that at some point Carlos blurted out “Raw power!” while waving one of his dirt-bike magazines. Of course, everyone in the class had been laughing their asses off, but naturally Carlos chose to single him out and had spent the remainder of the class flicking various writing utensils at him when he thought no one was looking. Six years of experience had taught him that things were going to get worse with or without his help, so he had decided that if Carlos was going to be an asshole in math class, their fragile ceasefire of the last year or so was likely at an end, and he knew better than to take his harassment sitting down.
Those who caught Shades’ pun tried to hide their grins as Carlos glared at him. And Shades simply answered his smoldering gaze with opaque lenses and an innocent smile.
“That’s a good point,” Doppler replied, and started drawing another diagram. “Just to refresh your memories, the neutron and proton are compacted into a tiny mass, and electrons orbit the nucleus at various energy levels, forming the electron shell. So what he said was true: atoms are composed mostly of empty space.”
This time, most of the class laughed for a second in spite of themselves.
Mr Doppler cocked his head at the class for a moment, trying to figure out what was so funny, finally deciding that he probably didn’t want to know as he resumed his discourse on atomic structure.
All the while, Carlos paid more attention to Shades than to the lecture. Wished he could remember exactly when Dexter had become the consummate smartass; it seemed even a couple years ago he was the one dishing out the witty remarks. But somewhere along the way, the tables had turned, and these days Dexter seemed to command an arsenal of snappy comebacks, burning him at every opportunity.
After all these years, now adding insult to injury, adding verbal jujitsu to his martial arts repertoire.
After being knocked on his ass a couple times in front of the entire class in the sixth grade, he decided it was time to get serious. At first he had tried a few books on martial arts, but he was unable to learn anything useful from them, and his attempt at a rematch was a total disaster. On the plus side, there had been no audience that time for his embarrassment.
Back in those days, Dexter even kicked his ass in his dreams.
When he started going to school in Kalispell, he looked up a Karate teacher, one Albert Fairbanks, as he recalled, who was said to be an awesome instructor. Only to find out, while watching one session, that he had been Dexter’s teacher since middle school, apparently that “Master Al” he had overheard him talking about. He had looked around, but most of the other schools he checked out mostly taught children or adults.
Carlos had first tried his hand at martial arts over two years ago. But the instructor often told him he seemed too angry, and when another student (who was also a classmate at school) told him of his grudge against Shades, the bastard expelled him. It took him months to find a new sensei (for by then he was at least learning to talk the talk) at a dojo where he didn’t share any school relations. Had had to lie and say he had no prior experience, that a friend had taught him a few moves and turned him on to martial arts. Never mind that his friend had been Dexter, who had shown him one too many moves in front of everyone else.
The most humiliating defeats of his life, and he had not forgotten; soon it would be payback time, and it would be his turn to thoroughly humiliate Dexter… in front of everybody.
While Carlos fumed, Shades mostly paid attention despite the fact that it was all déjà vu to him anymore; one thing he had noticed over the years was the increasing tendency of higher grade teachers to just keep telling him over and over things that he already knew. Still he could feel his nemesis shooting deathrays at the back of his head, nagging at his attention. Though he sat in the second-to-last row, he and Carlos were almost on opposite sides of the room.
Which suited Shades just fine for the simple reason that when Carlos decided to pull something, he always found it necessary to get inside his personal space to do it. Despite being more than happy to be out of there, he took a moment to let Carlos leave first when the bell rang.
His old friend Tom’s locker was just a couple doors down the hall. Though a junior to Shades’ senior, Tom Robinson had been friends with him almost as long as Shades had been friends with Arthur, longer even than Carlos had been enemies with Shades.
“Hey Shades! What’s up?”
Shades watched Tom roll his eyes at his friend Vince’s favorite answer to that question. Just like John, Tom lived within a few miles of Shades’ house in Lakeside, but his two friends didn’t get along very well. Arthur, on the other hand, lived just south of Kalispell, and it wasn’t until they were in high school that they got to hang out much outside of school, whereas John and Tom were just a walk away.
Ignoring his friend’s look of total exasperation, Shades added, “We’re going exploring in John’s back yard tomorrow.”
Shades had always found it amusing how Tom couldn’t stand good news about John. As much as it seemed to annoy either of them, he was as much Tom’s friend as he was John’s. What he found most amusing, though, was how well the two of them actually got along when they forgot they were supposed to hate each other.
“I just got a couple new games,” Tom continued, “and I thought we could try ’em out. Maybe bring over some of your cheat codes or something.”
“I’d love to, but I work late tonight.” In spirit, though, he was already in Tom’s living room, controller in hand. He thought for a moment, then said, “Could I come over Sunday?”
“Cool. We’ll have pizza. How does that sound?”
“Like a plan.” Fortunately, he was about to put the finishing touches on Mrs Eastman’s paper, so he otherwise had no homework this weekend. “And don’t worry— if John and I find anything, we’ll cut ya in on it.”
John’s family’s “back yard” was a good many acres near Blacktail Mountain, and somewhere in the midst of all that forest was said to be a sealed, abandoned gold mine. They still hadn’t found it after several years of wandering, but that didn’t stop them from trying. Even Shades himself would have to admit that the gold mine was really just an excuse to explore, but he still had a running pact among his friends, just in case they ever did find anything interesting.
He and Tom talked for another minute, then it was off to their last class for the day.