Chapter Twenty-Four: The Climb

At length, when Nyssa had stopped trying to escape, and had stopped asking for the calculator back, and had gone from tired of orange slices and pretzel sticks to expecting them, and could complete entire math sheets without mistakes in record time, the teacher sent her back into the Proctor's room. There she was given another test, and when she passed it, she was ushered into a new classroom with a new teacher. The spelling words were more difficult, the arithmetic a little more complicated, the stories more interesting. More importantly, it was on the second floor of the tower. Nyssa was so delighted to have made more progress that she threw herself all the more intently into her classwork. She added numbers and subtracted them. She spelled words and read them aloud. She did not complain to the teacher that the class was empty apart from her, or that she was tired of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and steamed carrots (those being the customary fare in the first grade). She worked on her penmanship. She answered reading comprehension questions. When she completed a quiz, she put her pencil down and waited quietly until the teacher was willing to pretend that the other students had all finished their quizzes too.

After some time - Nyssa didn't know how long; she hadn't counted the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and in first grade they dispensed with naps, so she'd been awake for the whole stretch and didn't feel the least bit tired - she was promoted to grade two. She looked forward to grade three. She was going to learn to tell time, but little did they know, she already knew how to do that. She'd blow them all away.

The second grade was a floor higher than the first grade. She was getting closer and closer to the top of the tower, where the Princess must be.

One snacktime, when she was eating her tunafish salad and tater tots, Nyssa wondered how tall the tower actually was.

It's about six miles high probably, replied the crown she'd forgotten was still perched on her head.

Nyssa sat up a little straighter. The teacher told her to chew with her mouth closed and she swallowed a tater tot nearly whole.

Nyssa asked the crown about how high off the ground she was now.

About three inches, speculated the crown, give or take a half-inch.

"Excuse me," said Nyssa to her teacher over her tuna sandwich.

"Yes, Nyssa?"

"How many inches are there in a mile?"

"Why don't you figure that out for yourself, Nyssa?" suggested the teacher. So Nyssa went to the reference book on the shelf in the corner of the classroom, and she looked up miles and then she looked up feet and then she looked up inches.

"Can I have my calculator back?" she asked.

"At the end of the day," the second-grade teacher smiled.

"It was taken back in kindergarten, though," said Nyssa. "And now it's second grade."

"Be that as it may, you can have your calculator back at the end of the day," said the teacher implacably.

So instead Nyssa worked out all the multiplication by hand:

6 x 5,280 x 12 = 380,160

Nyssa could tell just by looking that this number of inches was much, much greater than three.

She no longer felt hungry. She looked mutinously at her sandwich, even when the teacher told her that it was almost time for their next lesson, and threw it away when time for snack was up.

"Teacher," she said, "I am dropping out of school."

"You need parental permission to withdraw," said the teacher.

"I have it," said Nyssa. "They don't send me to school. I came here all by myself, my parents weren't there."

"You'll need to fill out some forms," the teacher said, almost as if Nyssa hadn't spoken. "You'll need to pass an equivalency test. You'll need to wait six to eight weeks for all the withdrawal paperwork to be complete. You'll need to establish how you're planning to get an education without the benefit of schooling. You'll need to have a sit-down with the Provost. You'll need to talk to the guidance counselor. You'll need to establish that you've been doing well in your classes and this isn't just lashing out in response to a bad mark. You'll need to sit for a mental health screen. You'll -"

"Who are you really?" said Nyssa.

"Why, I'm the Teacher," said the Teacher.

"Haven't you got any other names?" Nyssa said, remembering the demon Akrasia having several.

"I am also the Professor," said the Teacher, "if you were going to proceed that far along in your academic career, which I can tell you right now will not be aided much by outbursts like this one, Nyssa, as a certain level of maturity is required -"

"What else?" said Nyssa.

"I am a facet of Academia," hissed the Teacher, leaning over his desk. "As is the Provost, and the Proctor, and every other Teacher."

"That sounds like a demon name to me," said Nyssa, and she spun on her heel.

"Really, Nyssa," said the first grade teacher, catching her by the elbow on her way down the stairs. "Don't be so impulsive. You'll ruin your entire academic career, all because you got sick of school one day? Because somebody's name sounded funny to you? That's not very open-minded. Imagine how that will sound when you're trying to get a job later, or if you ever decide you want to learn anything."

"I don't have to be in school to learn anything," said Nyssa.

"Oh, you might not think so, but really you do," said the first grade teacher. "Every time you say you know something, before anyone even thinks of listening to you, you'll have to prove it. You'll have to show them where you learned it and how you showed that you'd got it down. You'll have to tell them where you studied and with whom. You'll need a certificate, Nyssa. A degree. A credential. No one listens to no-account girls who can't even pass the second grade."

Nyssa fled down the next flight of stairs rather than make a reply.

"Nyssa, dear, if you're not finding your schoolwork interesting," said the kindergarten teacher, "we could put you in our gifted program! There are a few more tests to qualify, first, and there will be some extra work, but you've been doing very well, and I'm sure with a little more enrichment you'd find that the best place to be really is in Academia - both for your future prospects and for your personal growth -"

"I'm half an inch tall, don't talk to me about growth!" shouted Nyssa. "Give me my calculator back!"

"Nyssa," said the Provost, from behind her, and Nyssa whirled. "We're only trying to help you. It's impossible to really learn things outside of school. And ours is the best. It eliminates the need for any distractions, it has the best teacher to student ratio in the entire Realm -"

"You're not helping! You're all demons! Give back my calculator!" Nyssa yelled.

"But Nyssa, that wouldn't be good for you," burbled the kindergarten teacher. "That wouldn't teach you to do the figures on your own, and you may need to one day."

"I can learn things even with a calculator! I can learn things without being stuck here!" Nyssa said at the top of her lungs. "And I can prove it!"

The kindergarten teacher and the Provost took a step back each. The first and second grade teachers, who'd been coming down the stairs, paused.

"Can you?" asked the Proctor with some interest, peering at Nyssa from behind the Provost.

"Yes," said Nyssa. "Give me the calculator and I'll show you."

The demons of Academia looked at each other, conferring silently, and then the kindergarten teacher retrieved it from where it was locked in her desk.

Nyssa took it and marched out of the testing hall, out of the door. The curiosipede looked huge. Pomodoro was a sad lump on its bench, trembling violently. It looked so far away that Nyssa wasn't sure it would hear her if she spoke to it.

"Here I am outside of school," Nyssa said, "and I'm going to learn things without any of you helping - just you watch -"

She took out her logic book. She set her calculator on her knee. She opened the book to the first page, where it explained what a truth table was. She read that, and the second page, where it had truth tables for all the connective symbols. She read the third page, with the first of the rules of inference. She read on and reached the part with the spaghetti-long strings of S followed by 0, and realized that those were just the same thing as numbers, a way to say which number you meant without having to do anything but count from zero, and she followed along with the simple proofs and counted letters S and typed the numbers into her calculator to double-check the book, which was right every time, and the calculator worked perfectly because she was asking just the questions she meant to ask. She pulled out her map and wrote on the back, granting herself premises and assigning them letters and seeing where they went via this rule and that, until she'd written all the way down the long scroll and had to start another column, ultimately having proved something that wouldn't even fit on one line and was too long to say in a single breath and knowing without doubt that every bit of it was absolutely true.

When Nyssa looked up, she had returned to her accustomed size, Pomodoro was quivering against her cheek, and the demons of Academia were small and trembling. Nyssa was tempted to step on them, but she had better things to do.

She sat on her curiosipede.

"I was so worried about you," Pomodoro said.

"It was a pretty close one," Nyssa admitted.

"What now?" it wanted to know.

"We're going up," she told it.

"Do you think you can be curious enough? To go that high?" said Pomodoro. "I can't even see the top."

"It's about six miles," said Nyssa. "Look, we've come much farther than that before." She turned her proof over, and there was her map. They'd gone so much farther than six miles that if she'd added something six miles square to the map it would have been smaller than the tip of Nyssa's thumb. "I can do it. I want to know everything."

"Everything?" said Pomodoro.

"Absolutely everything," said Nyssa firmly, and the curiosipede sprang up the side of the Ivory Tower.