Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

16. Back to Kindergarten

We climbed the four granite steps before the Research Laboratory. The building itself was of unadorned brick and rose six stories. We passed between two heavily-armed guards at the entrance.

Miss Pefko showed the guard on the left the pink confidential badge at the tip of her left breast.

Dr. Breed showed the guard on the right the black top-secret badge on his soft lapel. Ceremoniously, Dr. Breed put his arm around me without actually touching me, indicating to the guards that I was under his august protection and control.

I smiled at one of the guards. He did not smile back. There was nothing funny about national security, nothing at all.

Dr. Breed, Miss Pefko, and I moved thoughtfully through the Laboratory’s grand foyer to the elevators.

“Ask Dr. Horvath to explain something sometime,” said Dr. Breed to Miss Pefko. “See if you don’t get a nice, clear answer.”

“He’d have to start back in the first grade—or maybe even kindergarten,” she said. “I missed a lot.”

“We all missed a lot,” Dr. Breed agreed. “We’d all do well to start over again, preferably with kindergarten.”

We watched the Laboratory’s receptionist turn on the many educational exhibits that lined the foyer’s walls. The receptionist was a tall, thin girl—icy, pale. At her crisp touch, lights twinkled, wheels turned, flasks bubbled, bells rang.

“Magic,” declared Miss Pefko.

“I’m sorry to hear a member of the Laboratory family using that brackish, medieval word,” said Dr. Breed. “Every one of those exhibits explains itself. They’re designed so as not to be mystifying. They’re the very antithesis of magic.”

“The very what of magic?”

“The exact opposite of magic.”

“You couldn’t prove it by me.”

Dr. Breed looked just a little peeved. “Well,” he said, “we don’t want to mystify. At least give us credit for that.”

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