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Igms issue 3, p.17

IGMS Issue 3, page 17


IGMS Issue 3

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  "He's fluent in Common?" the man said.

  "Yes," said Father -- Father was home! Tzu ran into the room and hugged his father. "This is a special day," Father told him as he hugged him back. "These people are going to play some games with you. A kind of test."

  Tzu turned and looked at them. He didn't know the test was from soldiers. But now it became clear to him. Father wanted him to become a great general like Yuan Shikai. The beginning of that would be to enter the military. Not the Chinese Army, but the fleet of the whole world.

  But he didn't want to go into space. He just wanted to go out on the street.

  He knew Father would not want him to ask about this, however. So he smiled at the man and the woman and bowed to each in turn. They bowed back, smiling also.

  Soon Tzu was alone in his playroom with the two of them. No tutors, no servants, no Father.

  The woman spread out some papers and brought out shapes, just like the ones he had practiced with.

  "Have you seen these before?" she asked.

  He nodded.


  Then he remembered he wasn't supposed to talk about Guo-Rong, so he just shrugged.

  "You don't remember?"

  He shrugged again.

  She explained the game to him -- it was just like the one Guo-Rong had played. And when she held up a shape, it was the very one they had practiced with, and he instantly recognized it from the choices on the paper. He pointed.

  "Good," she said.

  And so it went with the next two shapes. They were exactly the ones Guo-rong had shown him, and the answer was exactly the one that had been on the note from Father.

  Suddenly Tzu understood it all. Father had cheated. Father had found out the answers to the test and had given them to Guo-rong so that Tzu would know all the answers to all the questions.

  It took only a moment to make the next leap. In a way, it was a logic problem. The best child is the one who scores the best on this test. He wants me to be best child. So I must score the best on this test.

  But if I score the best because I was given the answers in advance and trained to memorize them, then this test won't prove I'm the best child, it will only prove that I can memorize answers.

  If Father believed I was best child, then he would not need to get these answers in advance. But he did get the answers. Therefore he must believe that I would not have won the test without having special help. Therefore Father does not believe I am best child, he just wants to fool other people into believing that I am.

  It was all he could do to keep from crying. But even though his eyes burned and he felt a sob gathering behind his nose and in his throat, he kept his face calm. He would not let the people know that his father had given him the answers. But he would also not pretend to be best child when he really wasn't.

  So the next question he got wrong.

  And the next.

  And all the others.

  Even though he knew the answer to every single one, before they even finished the question, he got every one of them wrong.

  The woman and man from the International Fleet showed no sign of whether they liked his answers or not. They smiled cheerfully all the time, and when they were done, they thanked him and left.

  Afterword, Father and Guo-rong came into the room where Tzu waited for them. "How did it go?" asked Father.

  "Did you know the answers?" asked Guo-rong.

  "Yes," said Tzu.

  "All of them?" asked Father.

  "Yes," said Tzu.

  "Did you answer all the questions?" asked Guo-rong.

  "Yes," said Tzu.

  "Then you did very well," said Father. "I'm proud of you."

  You're not proud of me, thought Tzu as his father hugged him. You didn't believe I'd pass the test on my own. You didn't think I was best child. Even now, you're not proud of me, you're proud of yourself for getting all the answers.

  There was a special dinner that night. All the tutors ate with Father and Tzu at the main table. Father was laughing and happy. Tzu could not help but smile at all the smiling people. But he knew that he had answered all but the first three questions wrong, and Father would not be happy when he found that out.

  When dinner was over, Tzu asked, "Can I go outside the gate now?"

  "Tomorrow," said Father. "In daylight."

  "The sun is still up," said Tzu. "Take me now, Father."

  "Why not?" said Father. He rose to his feet and took Tzu by the hand and theywalked, not to the gate where the car came in and out, but to the front door of the house. It let out onto another garden, and for a moment Tzu thought his father was going to try to fool him into thinking this was the outside when it was really more garden. But soon the path led to a metal gate which opened at Father's touch, and beyond the gate was a wide road with many cars on it -- more cars than people. It was a different world from what Tzu had seen over the back fence. It was so quiet. The cars glided silently by, their tires hissing on the pavement, though there were some that had no tires and merely hovered over the concrete of the road.

  "Where are all the people and bicicyles?" asked Tzu.

  "Behind the house is a back road," said Father. "Where poor people go about their business. This is the main road. It connects to the highway. These cars could be going anywhere. Xiangfan. Zhengzhou. Kaifeng. Even Wunan or Beijing or Shanghai. Great cities, where powerful people live. Millions of them. In the richest and greatest of all nations." Then Father picked Tzu up and held him on his hip so their faces were close. "But you are the best child in all those cities."

  "No I'm not," said Tzu.

  "Of course you are," said Father.

  "You know that I'm not," said Tzu.

  "What makes you say that?"

  "If you thought I was best child, you wouldn't have given Guo-rong all the answers."

  Father just looked at him for a moment. "I was just making sure. You didn't need them."

  "Then why did you have him teach them to me?" said Tzu.

  "To be sure."

  "So you weren't sure."

  "Of course I was," said Father.

  But Tzu had been studying logic. "If you were sure I would know the answers on my own, then you wouldn't have to make it sure by getting the answers. But you got the answers. So you weren't sure."

  Father looked a little bit upset.

  "I'm sorry, Father, but it's how we play the logic game. Maybe you need to play it more."

  "I am sure that you're the best child," said Father. "Don't you ever doubt it." He set Tzu down and took his hand again. They went through the gate and walked up the street.

  Tzu wasn't interested in this road. There were no people here, except in cars, and they went by too fast for Tzu to hear them. There were no children. So when they came to a side street, Tzu began to pull his father that direction. "This way," he said. "Here's all the people!"

  "That's why it isn't safe," said Father. But then he laughed and let Tzu lead him on into the crowds. After a while it was so jammed with people and bicycles that Father picked him up. That was much better. Tzu could see the people's faces. He could hear their conversations. Some of them looked at Tzu, being held up by his father, and smiled at them both. Tzu smiled and waved back.

  Father walked slowly alongside a high fence, which Tzu realized was the back fence around their garden. Eventually came to a gate, which Tzu knew was the gate to their garden. "Don't go in yet," said Tzu.


  "This is our gate, but don't go in."

  "How did you know it was our gate? You've never been on this side of it before."

  "Father," said Tzo impatiently, "I'm very smart. I know this is our gate. What else could it be? We've just made a circle. Let me see more before we go in."

  So they walked past the gate, and on into one of the streets that seemed to go on forever, more and more people, flowing into and out of the buildings. Starting and stopping, buying and selling, calling out and keeping still, laughing and serio
us-faced, talking on phones and gesturing, or listening to music and dancing as they walked.

  "Is this China, Father?" asked Tzu.

  "A very small part of it. There are hundreds of cities, and lots of open country, too. Farmland and mountains, forest and beaches. Seaports and manufacturing centers and highways and deserts and rice paddies and wheatfields and millions and millions and millions of people."

  "Thank you," said Tzu.

  "For what?"

  "For letting me see China before I go off into space."

  "What are you talking about?"

  "The man and woman with the test, they were from the International Fleet."

  "Who told you that?"

  "They wore the uniforms," said Tzu impatiently. But then he realized: He hadn't passed the test. He answered the questions wrong. He wouldn't be going to space after all. "Never mind," he said. "I'm staying."

  Father laughed and held him close. "Sometimes I have no idea what you're talking about, Little Master."

  Tzu wondered if he should tell him that he answered the questions wrong, but he decided against it. Father was so happy. Tzu didn't want to make him angry tonight.

  The next morning, Tzu was eating breakfast in the kitchen with Mu-ren when someone came to the door. The visitor did not wait for old Iron-head, as Mu-Ren and Tzu secretly called him, to fetch Father. Instead, many feet began walking briskly through the house.

  The kitchen door was flung open. A soldier with a weapon in his hand stepped in and looked around. "Is Han Pei-mu here?" he asked sternly.

  Mu-ren shook her head.

  "What about Shen Guo-rong?"

  Again, the head shake.

  "Guo-rong doesn't come till later," said Tzu.

  "You two stay right here in the kitchen, please," said the soldier. He continued to stand in the doorway. "Keep eating, please."

  Tzu continued eating, trying to think what the soldiers were there for. Mu-ren's hands were shaking. "Are you cold?" asked Tzu. "Or are you scared?"

  Mu-ren only shook her head and kept eating.

  After a while he could hear his father shouting. "Let me at least explain to the boy!" he was saying. "Let me see my son!"

  Tzu got up from his mat on the floor and jogged toward the kitchen door. The soldier put his hand on his shoulder to stop him.

  Tzu slapped his hand and said to him fiercely, "Don't touch me!" Then he jogged on down the hallway to Father's room, the soldier right behind him.

  The door opened just before Tzu got to it, and there was the man from the test yesterday. "Apparently someone already decided," said the man. He ushered Tzu into the room.

  Father's hands were bound together behind his back, but now one of the soldiers loosed them and he reached out to Tzu. Tzu ran to him and hugged him. "Are you under arrest?" asked Tzu. He had seen arrests on the vids.

  "Yes," said Father.

  "Is it because of the answers?" asked Tzu. It was the only thing he could think of that his father had ever done wrong.

  "Yes," said Father.

  Tzu pulled away from him and faced the man from the tests. "But it was all right," said Tzu. "I didn't use those answers."

  "I know you didn't," said the man.

  "What?" said Father.

  Tzu turned around to face him. "I didn't like it that you were only going to pretend I was best child. So I didn't use any of the answers. I didn't want to be called best child if I wasn't really." He turned back to the man from the fleet. "Why are you arresting him when I didn't use the answers?"

  The man smiled confidently. "It doesn't matter whether you used them or not. What matters is that he obtained them."

  "I'm sorry," said Father. "But if my son did not answer the questions correctly, how can you prove that any cheating took place?"

  "For one thing, we've been recording this entire interview," said the man from the fleet. "The fact that he knew he had been given the right answers and chose to answer incorrectly does not change the fact that you trained him to take the test."

  "Maybe what you need is a little better security with the answers," said Father angrily.

  "Sir," said the man from the fleet, "we always allow people to buy the test if they try to get it. Then we watch and see what they do with it. A child as bright as this one could not possibly have answered every question wrong unless he absolutely had the entire test down cold."

  "I got the first three right," said Tzu.

  "Yes, all but three were wrong," said the man from the fleet. "Even children of very limited intellect get some of them right by random chance."

  Father's demeanor changed again. "The blame is entirely mine," he said. "The boy's mother had no idea I was doing this."

  "We're quite aware of that. She will not be bothered, except of course to inform her. The penalty is not severe, sir, but you will certainly be convicted and serve the days in prison. The fleet makes no exceptions for anyone. We need to make a public example of those who try to cheat."

  "Why, if you let them cheat whenever they want?" said Father bitterly.

  "If we didn't let people buy the answers, they might figure out much cleverer ways to cheat the test. Ways we wouldn't necessarily catch."

  "Aren't you smart."

  Father was being sarcastic, but Tzu thought they were smart. He wished he had thought of that.

  "Father," said Tzu. "I'm sorry about Yuan Shikai."

  Father glanced furtively toward the soldiers. "Don't worry about that," he said.

  "But I was thinking. It's been so many hundred years since Yuan Shikai lived that he must have hundreds of descendants now. Maybe thousands. It doesn't have to be me, does it? It could be one of them."

  "Only you," said Father softly. He kissed him good-bye. They bound his wrists behind his back and led him out of the house.

  The woman from the test stayed with Tzu and kept him from following to watch them take Father away. "Where will they take him?" asked Tzu.

  "Not far," said the woman. "He won't be imprisoned for very long, and he'll be quite comfortable there."

  "But he'll be ashamed," said Tzu.

  "For a man with so much pride in his family," said the woman, "that is the harshest penalty."

  "I should have answered most of the questions right," said Tzu. "It's my fault."

  "It's not your fault," said the woman. "You're only a child."

  "I'm almost six," said Tzu.

  "Besides," said the woman, "we watched Guo-rong coaching you. Teaching you the test."

  "How?" asked Tzu.

  She tapped the little monitor on the back of his neck.

  "Father said that was just to keep me safe. To make sure my heart was beating and I didn't get lost."

  "Everything your eyes see," said the woman, "we see. Everything you hear, we hear."

  "You lied, then," said Tzu. "You cheated too."

  "Yes," said the woman. "But we're fighting a war. We're allowed to."

  "It must have been boring, watching everything I see. I never get to see anything."

  "Until last night," she said.

  He nodded.

  "So many people on the streets," she said. "More than you can count."

  "I didn't try to count them," said Tzu. "They were going all different directions and in and out of buildings and up and down the side streets. I stopped after three thousand."

  "You counted three thousand?"

  "I'm always counting," said Tzu. "I mean my counter is."

  "Your counter?"

  "In my head. It counts everything and tells me the number when I need it."

  "Ah," she said. She took his hand. "Let's go back to your room and take another test."


  "This test you don't know the answers to."

  "I bet I do," said Tzu. "I bet I figure them out."

  "Ah," said the woman. "A different kind of pride."

  Tzu sat down and waited for her to set up the test.


  by David Lubar

>   Artwork by Lance Card

  * * *

  Freddy and I were busting our butts cleaning out his parents' tool shed. Freddy's father had offered us each a couple of bucks to do the work, which was fine with me. Of course, it turned out to be a lot more work than either of us counted on.

  "Man, it's amazing how much junk you can put in one of these sheds," I said as I collapsed on the ground next to a huge stack of tools and boxes.

  "Tell me about it," Freddy said. He opened a small box. I remembered it since it had weighed about eight million pounds and I'd nearly busted my gut carrying it out of the shed.

  "What's in it?" I asked.

  "Fishing magazines," Freddy said. "Dad hasn't fished in years. Guess it goes in the recycling pile."

  I helped him drag it over. We'd decided to sort everything into three piles: recycle, keep, and throw out. Toward the end of the cleanup, I opened a box that was filled with hats.

  "HEY DAD!" Freddy yelled toward the house. "You want any hats?"

  "No," his father called back through the open window. "Toss 'em."

  "We should keep these," I said, lifting one of the hats from the box. It looked like a baseball cap, but it didn't have a team name. All it said over the brim was ENERGY. I put it on my head.

  And I felt great.

  "Hey," Let's load those recyclables into your Dad's van," I said.

  "Hold on," Freddy said. "I'm beat."

  "Not me," I said, lifting the box of magazines. "I've got tons of --"

  "Tons of what?" Freddy asked.

  "Weird," I muttered. I'd been about to say energy.

  "What?" Freddy asked again.

  I reached into the hat box and grabbed another one. It promised HAPPINESS. Before Freddy could say anything, I plunked the hat on his head.

  "All right!" Freddy shouted, grinning at me. "Come on. Let's get moving. Man, I'm glad we're doing this." He laughed and grabbed a box.

  That was fine with me. We loaded the van. I'd just put in the last box when I heard Freddy say, "Hey, what a great surprise. There's Millard Thwaxton. Hey, Millard, how ya doing?"

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