Cogs in the Machine

Gus Halter's Intro

Day 1

Gus is sitting at the kitchen table, sorting through and grading tests when he hears the garage door open. A couple of minutes later, a tired but eternally upbeat Lindsey enters in from the garage.

“Hi babe,” she calls as she kicks off her shoes. Lindsey comes into the dining room just a moment later and plops down next to Gus, giving him a kiss on the cheek. She sighs heavily, “I can’t wait until I’m finished with this job over at Mercy. Everyone over there is so high-strung. I even heard that a couple of weeks ago some student or other had a complete mental breakdown and ran out of town. Or, you know, that the pressure just got to him and he dropped out. Depends on who you ask.” She smiles, “But that’s enough of that, I don’t want to talk about my work. How is Wellington’s treating you? I know it wasn’t your first choice, but it seems like a good place.”

His wife’s return interrupted the monotony of grading. A brief smile appeared after the kiss, but soon dissipated as his focus returned to the mountain of assignments. An eyebrow is raised as Lindsey mentions the rumors at work, but he dismisses the thought as she declares her lack of desire to talk about it.

“It goes well, but the brilliance of these kids makes it tough to stay awake during grading. Everything is right, everything. I can’t tell if these children are cheating off one another, or if they really are just damn good at math.” Gus motions to the mountain of work in front of him. “Case in point, I’m only 20% through grading these assignments.”
Gus sighs and gets back to grading.

Lindsay sighs, “You work too hard, you said yourself that they get everything right all the time… why not just skip the rest and give them an A? I mean, what did you expect at a school for the,” she makes air quotes with her fingers, “gifted?” She laughs lightly.

Gus shrugs his eyebrows and continues grading. “That’s the problem with children this bright. They know when you haven’t really graded their assignments. They’ll find what I’ve done wrong and blackmail me with it, or worse: tell Dr. Morimoto! As much as I wish I could just give them credit for effort, this isn’t 3rd grade anymore.” Gus scowls at the pile of papers and slogs through his work.

A growl from his stomach betrays his hunger level. “Ugh. Honey, what’s for dinner?” Gus asks as he reorganizes a stack of assignments from his “grading” pile to his “completed” pile. Progress was slow, but rewarding. Well, for his students at least.

Lindsay smiles, “You’re in luck! I didn’t feel like cooking tonight, so I picked up your favorite from King’s Chinese.” Gus perks up at the announcement of Chinese for dinner. He clears the current class’s stack of work from immediately in front of him and scoots the rest of his assignment fortress far enough away from him to eat without spilling on any of them. The two of them sit down to a quiet meal, Lindsay’s naturally bubbly personality serving to pick up Gus’s spirits a little. They don’t talk about much, but they don’t need to, each other’s company is good enough.

When the meal is nearly finished, and the conversation has invariably steered towards work, as both Gus and Lindsay are very involved in their respective careers, Lindsay suddenly exclaims, “Oh, I almost forgot! Apparently sometime last week, there was some reporter snooping around at the hospital, they asked him to leave, and then found him again, up on the third floor. They had to get security to throw him out!”

Gus shows interest in his wife’s work stories, but does not have much to add. He echoes her sentiments that the end of her stint at Mercy General cannot come soon enough.

Lindsay offers to clean up the few dishes so that Gus can get back to work.

After dinner is cleared, Gus returns to the never ending pile of papers. They are diminishing, but so is his focus. Page after page of correct answer after correct answer. The only infractions coming from minor mistakes: a forgotten sign here, a flubbed operator there. The kids knew their stuff, some just needed to learn to double check their work.

Gus continues to slog through the mid-terms, finding that most students have used the same methods flawlessly, perhaps an error here or there, probably due to getting cocky and going to fast, but otherwise it looks like the curve is going to be set at an A once again. Just when he thinks he is going to die of boredom, Gus finds one mid-term that catches his eye.

When he finally gets to his 7th grader’s mid-terms, one exam catches his interest. The methods used don’t match the ones he instructed, but the answers still matched up. It didn’t seem like cheating, but it was hard to comprehend what else it might be. Gus sets it aside to return to later and continues grading.

The rest of his grading complete, Gus goes back to Ms. Kaylynn Spector’s exam. He examines the methods used, and finds nothing wrong with the results on this second pass. It was not the most bizarre thing Gus had ever seen, but it was significantly bizarre. Though they were not the methods he had instructed, they seemed logically sound and the answers were proof enough. Gus decides he will ask Ms. Spector to his office to explain what exactly is going on with her exam.

Gus organizes his assignment fortress one last time before he calls it a night and heads to sleep.

Day 2

Gus sleeps and dreams normal dreams. He wakes with a start, with no recollection of what startled him awake. After laying there for only a few seconds, his alarm goes off, followed by his wife’s weak, sleep-induced slap. Gus smiles a sleepy smile as his wife whaps him in her sleep. He gets ready for his day, gathers his assignment fortress, and heads to work.

The streets are exceedingly empty this early. Teaching may not pay exceedingly well, but at least he has a traffic-less commute.

Gus arrives at work, greets his boss in passing, and heads to his office to give the assignments one final organization check before he returns them to his students today. Gus wonders if Dr. Morimoto ever sleeps, or ever goes home if he is here before him at this early hour. Gus chuckles to himself and shakes his head in disbelief as he double checks his organization.

Checked and double checked, curiosity gets the better of Gus. He wonders what Dr. Morimoto may make of Ms. Spector’s methods. Gus picks up Kaylynn’s test and walks to his Boss’s Office.

“Dr. Morimoto. Do you have a moment? I found something peculiar on one of my student’s exams I’d like you to take a look at.” Gus introduces from the doorway.

Morimoto narrows his eyes as he takes the sheet from Gus, “Mr. Halter, if you suspect one of your students of cheating…” His voice trails off as he looks over the work. “Is this from your advanced differential equations class? I’ve been teaching mathematics for over 20 years, but there are some bright students here. They may have discovered some techniques in their independent study that we are unfamiliar with.”

Gus shakes his head and raises an eyebrow as his mentor mentions cheating. The standards this school held itself to did well to dissuade cheating. The kids are so damn bright they didn’t need to cheat either.

Gus’s eyes resist the urge to glaze over as Dr. Morimoto mentions Gus’s Diff Equations class.

At Dr. Morimoto’s prompting, Gus scans the page for something that looks familiar to his 11th grade curriculum. A hard stare and two blinks later, Gus shakes his head. “Actually, it came from my 7th grade algebra class, Sir. And, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think the methods employed here are in our curriculum at all. If we could prove these worked… It feels like it’d be worth a Millennium Prize.”

Gus feels his head begin to spin after another attempt at comprehending how exactly Kaylynn’s methods work. Gus sets the exam down and looks up at his mentor. “Well, ignoring the headache it induced trying to grade it. The answers still fit the answer key I wrote and my vaguest comprehension of her work tells me it checks out. What do you think, Sir, full points?” Gus smirks as he awaits Dr. Morimoto’s guidance.

Dr. Morimoto’s eyes widen slightly at the mention that she is only in the 7th grade, but that is the only betrayal of his reaction, “I think you should speak with her, and find out who is helping her with her homework. I would still be impressed of the top student of the senior class were to utilize it, but a 13 year old… that seems too unbelievable.” He straightens his tie, “I’m not saying she’s cheating, but I think it’s worth finding out where she was taught these methods, clearly they did not come from this school.”

Gus can’t be sure, but he thinks that last comment might be directed at him, personally. Dr. Morimoto is stingy with his praise at best, so this is hardly a surprise.

Gus takes his mentor’s conclusion as admission that he’s as stumped as Gus is. “Oh, I’ll certainly be talking to her. This is far too interesting to just let pass.” Gus departs his boss’s office and hurries back to his own.

With not much time before his first class, Gus sets aside Kaylynn’s exam until his Prep period and prepares for a day of exam review.

During his Prep, Gus looks over Kaylynn’s exam once more. He still can’t piece together how it really works, but the answers are correct and the methods feel right, even if Gus doesn’t understand them. Gus tags a post it note to the last page. The note requests Kaylynn’s presence after class or after school, whichever is more convenient for her.

After class, Kaylynn approaches Gus, per the note’s request. She agrees to stop by his office after class, as her free period has already been booked for another project that she is working on. She seems nervous, like she’s done something wrong, but heads to her next class, whisked away in the press of students.

Gus goes through the motions of the rest of the day, but understandably is preoccupied. After all, if he can’t even understand the work she was doing, then how can he question her about it.

The rest of the day flies by, and Gus finds himself in his office, waiting. He doesn’t have to wait long, as a timid knock followed by a, “Mr. Halter?” interrupts his thoughts.

The school day goes well. Exam review goes quietly and uneventfully. Kaylynn approaches him after her class and agrees to Gus’s request. Gus smiles and responds, “I’ll see you there after school.”

Kaylynn’s knock interrupts Gus’s wonderings about what he might discover during this meeting. “Yes, come in.” Gus responds. “Come in Ms. Spector. Thank you for your time this afternoon. Have a seat.” Gus states as he motions to one of the chairs for students in his office.

As Kaylynn enters and sits, Gus continues. "Ms. Spector, I have asked you here this afternoon to ask you about your exam. Your answers are correct, but your methods are puzzling. This is nothing like what I have lectured about, but there is still a logic to it.

I’m sure you know our Academy’s policies regarding cheating, so I won’t bore you with them. What I want to know, is how you came upon these amazing methods. And, if you have the time, to explain them to me, if you can. Work of this caliber deserves to be published." Gus folds his hands and rests his chin on them, his attention focused on his student. Overbearing, perhaps, but it helps Gus emphasize how interesting this situation is.

Kaylynn sits nervously as Gus asks about her results, the color draining from her face when he mentions the word cheating. To her credit, she waits until Gus is is finished talking before she blurts out all at once, “I didn’t cheat, honest Mr. Halter! I was just doing the homework and this seemed like a better method for solving the problems. I didn’t think I was doing anything I shouldn’t!”

Her words are all coming out in a rush, but to Gus, it at least sounds sincere, if a bit puzzling. “I’ll prove it Mr. Halter, ask me to solve an equation that I haven’t seen before.”

Gus acquiesces to her request, presenting her with several more problems that would have been exam worthy. She solves them all easily. Not only does she solve them, but she solves them in the most precise manner possible. On some of them, that means using techniques seen in Gus’s class, and on others she uses techniques and forumlae that Gus hasn’t seen before. Stunned, Gus begins introducing more advanced problems, until he’s finally at the level of the 12th grade students. Kaylynn solves all of those as well.

Despite her obvious knack, or genius, or whatever label seems appropriate, she doesn’t seem to think that what she is doing is that incredible. She just works through each problem like any other. By the time she is done, Gus is starting to develop a slight headache, simply from trying to keep up.

Slightly dumbstruck at Kaylynn’s almost supernatural ability to handle any equations that Gus can throw at her, finally he puts up his hands, “Alright miss Spector, you’ve proven your point. It’s obvious that you have no need to cheat, as you have a true gift. Those last several problems were from the advanced differential equations class that Dr. Morimoto teaches.”

“Really?” Kaylynn blurts out. She puts her hands over her mouth, embarrassed by her outburst. She looks a little nervous, “Is something wrong with me? I can just sort of… see the connections and equations. Its easy.”

Gus’s voice takes on a softer tone, “No, there’s nothing wrong with you, although your ability is quite exceptional. If you would be willing, would you be mind meeting with Dr. Morimoto and a couple of other members of the school board? I think we could schedule a meeting by Friday of this week?”

She appears nervous as Gus looks at her expectantly, but she squares her shoulders and says, “I think I should talk to my dad about it first, but that sounds like it would be okay Mr. Halter. Is there anything else you need tonight? I’m running a little late, and my dad will be wondering where I am.”

Gus looks up at the clock and realizes that he’s been grilling Kaylynn for nearly two hours. “Oh, of course, of course, thank you for your time. If your dad has any questions, please, have him call me. Goodnight miss Spector.”

Kaylynn gets up to leave, “You’re welcome Mr. Halter, good night.” She closes the door behind herself on the way out, leaving Gus to consider what he may have just discovered.



I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.