Kip Kip and Wendi felt relieved and happy when they returned to school after their extraordinary adventures travelling around the world. They had to answer a million questions about their journey. It seemed that every five minutes one of the pupils at their school in Goroka would ask:
‘Are there cats and rats in other countries?’
‘What’s it like to be famous?’
‘Are there tribal wars in Japan too?’
‘Can you give me fifty kina?’
‘What did you see in Mexico City?’
‘Is it true that there are millions of people affected by AIDS in Africa?’
‘What was your favourite place?’
‘Was Wendi betrothed to a Bedouin in Arabia?’
‘Did Kip Kip have a girlfriend in Mexico?’
The twins were now in grade eight and they were both studying hard for their end of year exams and just wanted to settle down. That very day one girl had come running up to Wendi and said: ‘Wendi, here’s a book from Russia. Touch it and then we’ll both be able to fly off to Moscow, please touch the book Wendi, please.’
‘I don’t want to go to Russia,’ Wendi replied. ‘You rub it or jump on it or whisper secrets at it or do whatever it takes to make you disappear to Russia. But I’ve got exams on my mind. I am going to be a nutritionist when I leave school. So, I have to study hard. So, buzz off.’
‘Wow,’ the girl said. ‘Just because you’ve been to every corner of the globe, and you’re in the international jet set and have your photos in newspapers and people talk about you and your snobby brother, you don’t want anyone else to travel, eh?’ She walked away with a sour look, clutching her book about Russia to her chest.
Wendi wasn’t trying to be smart or upset her friends deliberately. Travelling around the world was all very well, but she really did want to study hard and be a nutritionist. That was her dream. She often imagined returning to the village when she had more knowledge about how the food we grow and eat affects our bodies. ‘I will be a nutritionist,’ was her promise to herself.
But things don’t always happen the way we want them to. On the day this story starts, things were about to change again – significantly. It was lunchtime. Kip Kip and Wendi were eating their lunch in the playground with their friends and laughing and joking when Mrs Salamo the headmistress hastened to them. ‘Kip Kip!’ she yelled. ‘Wendi! Come here immediately!’
‘We haven’t done anything wrong,’ Kip Kip thought. He knew he’d been well-behaved and had tried hard to live up to his new fame as a world traveller. He’d done his homework. He hadn’t been cheeky in class. He’d studied very hard. He glanced at his twin sister and then stared up at the headmistress who was standing in front of them with her hands on her hips.
‘Come on,’ she ordered. ‘Follow me to my office, please. Don’t dawdle! I have something very important to tell you! Immediately! This instant! Right away! Without delay!’
‘Well,’ Mrs Salamo, said as they followed her. ‘There’s a very important man here to talk to you. It’s the famous Professor Tubulukawa. Distinguished! Distinguished!’ She glared down at them, her glasses steamed up from the excitement and the run across the playground. ‘So, you must be very polite and answer all of his questions. He’s from the University of Papua New Guinea and he’s the most famous historian in this country. Distinguished! He has some questions, some very serious questions. Actually, actually…’ And here she relented, and a smile crossed her normally stern face as she peered down at her famous pupils. ‘Actually, he wants to ask you some questions about a history machine. Or something like that.’
The twins had indeed become very famous in Papua New Guinea and around the world since they had arrived back after their extraordinary adventures. On several occasions they had been asked to meet distinguished people who had come to the school to interview them. First there had been the television crew from Port Moresby who had brought their flash equipment. Right there in the school grounds they had interviewed the twins about what countries they had been whisked away to. And there were questions about who they had met on their travels. The trickiest question was what they thought were the secrets to magic travel, to disappearing. One of the television crew had suggested that the twins were liars.
‘I beg your pardon, but please don’t accuse my sister and me about not telling the truth. You can’t make such insinuations. How dare you suggest that we are liars! In fact we went to Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Japan, New Zealand and the Solomon Islands. We talked to people dying of AIDS in Africa. We saw and smelled pollution in Mexico City. We experienced hardships. Why would we lie about such events and situations?’ responded the furious Kip Kip.
The interviewer answered: ‘But Mip Nip. I mean Lip Nip. I mean Kip Kip, do you expect us to think you simply vanished through magic?’
‘I don’t really care what you think, thanks very much,’ Kip Kip had replied. Since that time, his reputation as a very smart and opinionated fellow had increased. When Wendi was asked the same impertinent question by the TV personality, she replied: ‘Oh, very smart questions from Port Moresby, accusing us of being fake news people. But when you’ve travelled the world as extensively and had such extraordinary adventurers, well, it’s all very understandable. Now, good afternoon.’
Professor Tubulukawa was sitting in front of the headmistress’s desk when the twins came in. He stood and bowed three times, as if they were royalty or people of extreme importance. Kip Kip peeked at his sister, and she looked at him from under her long eyelashes. The expression on the professor’s face was unusual, funny, somehow like a rooster’s. Even his eyes had that wild look. Thinking the same thing at the same moment, the twins tried not to giggle. His hair was odd, too. It was very high up on his head as if he had tried to make it look like a bird’s nest. Wendi imagined birds flying in and out of it carrying insects for the fledglings nesting in there. ‘He’s so tall he could be a tree,’ she thought. ‘With a nest in it.’
‘Oh, twins, twins, twins,’ the professor uttered from his great height, his voice going down, down, down and then up again. ‘Twins, twins, how good of you to come to see me. Oh, twins, twins, I’m honoured.’ He rubbed his hands together like crooks do when they see big piles of money. Or when people are extremely cold. The professor poked his hair with a long finger and said: ‘Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. I have a very important offer for you. I’ve been reading about you in the papers. And of course, I saw you on TV telling that ludicrous interviewer to get lost.’ He coughed and laughed. ‘I was very proud of you, as young people, for not taking any nonsense when you were accused of being liars. Bullying. I won’t stand for bullies. Never. Never. No. But. Yes. I’m utterly fascinated by your extraordinary tales of Transparemedicalisticindentured travel.’
‘Transparamed…?’ Wendi gasped.
‘Why, yes,’ said the professor. ‘Transparemedicalisticindentured travel. Haven’t you heard of it? I invented the term. It’s my word for the ability to travel in ways as yet unknown to normal people. It’s all about how we might travel in the future. Or the past. You know, forget using vehicles. Just whiz off without wings or wheels or anything like that. Clean energy, if you like. Just off and away you go. No windmills required. No fossil fuels. It’s my specialty. Off and away you go.’ The professor touched his hair as if he thought it might fall off. First, he touched the very top. Then he patted the sides and itched his ears and pulled the fringe. When he was satisfied that his hair was all there and had not fallen off, he said, loudly: ‘Repeat after me. Off and away you go!’
Kip Kip felt a sinking feeling. He rubbed his hands as the professor had done even though he wasn’t cold, and he wasn’t a crook.
‘Repeat after me. Off and away you go!’ said Professor Tubulukawa.
‘Why?’ said Wendi.
Mrs Salamo was astonished at Wendi’s rudeness. ‘Naughty Wendi. Say it.’
Timidly, squeakily, Wendi said: ‘Off you go.’
‘Absolutely not that, off and away we are going to go off,’ said Mrs Salamo. ‘Say it.’
‘But that’s wrong. It’s off and away you go,’ said Kip Kip.
‘Exactly,’ chimed the professor. ‘Off and away you go. Repeat it.’
‘But why?’ said Kip Kip. He thought of all the silly things he’d heard in the playground, and when drunks came running through the settlement waving their arms and shouting nonsense. He looked at his sister and they thought the same thing at the same moment: ‘He is like a rooster. Crowing for nothing,’ and they both giggled.
‘Transparemedicalisticindentured,’ the professor said, having noted the twin’s reluctance to repeat his words. ‘Transparemedicalisticindentured travel is perhaps more scientific,’ he said. ‘But I won’t ask you to repeat that in case you choke to death.’
‘His hair might be a wig,’ thought Wendi, wishing she could escape and go and finish her lunch.
‘You see, it’s like this,’ the professor announced. ‘My offer to you…’ His voice trailed away to silence. Then he stared crossly at the headmistress as if he wanted her to leave so that he could talk to the twins privately. But she didn’t notice. She stood there moving her lips trying to enunciate the enormously complicated word: ‘Trans…par…lissss… Trans…trans…medicalistic…’
‘I have invented a history machine,’ he continued, at last, while trying to ignore the noisy headmistress. ‘It’s an astonishing machine. A real history machine. In fact, the world’s first history machine. The very, very, first of its kind, so it’s unique. There is no other in the entire universe. Unique, I say. Unique. But my problem is that it doesn’t work. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, I know that sounds silly to admit that my machine doesn’t work, but it doesn’t. That’s why I need your help.’ He rubbed his hands again, but this time more slowly as if he was a very disappointed professor. Then he looked expectantly at the twins wanting them to instantly respond with the answer to his problems.
‘So that’s why I’ve flown up to Goroka from Port Moresby to see you. I had to fly in a plane,’ he grumbled. ‘I hate flying. I detest flying. So afraid…bumpy…but… I don’t have the power to travel like you two remarkable twins by just touching something from those places and whiiiiiizzzzzz… Mexico and Uganda and Japan. But… I wish I could so…yes, yes, yes, yes, I need to ask you some questions if you would be so kind as to answer them.’
‘But we have to go to class,’ Wendi said. ‘There’s the bell now.’ She felt this professor was really a bit of a fool. Didn’t he understand that puri puri sorcery was involved, not a machine? And his hair! She stared at it. It’s huge grey and white fuzzy mass mystified her. But this time she imagined he was an ancient Egyptian. Indeed, an ancient Egyptian. The sort of hair that she had seen in a picture in the encyclopaedia in the school library when she had looked up ‘Ancient Civilizations’. There was a picture of a tall man with a long-pointed goatee beard and a high pile of hair like this professor’s from Port Moresby.
‘Professor,’ Wendi commented, ‘you look just like someone from Ancient Egypt.’
‘Oh, Wendi, what a silly thing to say to the distinguished Professor,’ said Mrs Salamo, but thinking that Wendi was correct. ‘Ancient Egypt existed thousands of years ago. How could he be from ancient Egypt if he is here in my office now?’
‘Oh, what a clever, clever girl she is indeed,’ said the professor. ‘Imagine a grade eight student being interested in ancient civilizations. Egypt. Ancient Egypt. Would you like to go to ancient Egypt? I can arrange that. Well, well, well indeed. She would be just the person I need to work in my history machine. She seems to know a lot about history. History is so important, and it’s nice to see a young person interested in history.’
Wendi glared at him: ‘He thinks I’m just a little girl,’ she thought. ‘I’ll show him.’
‘Well, you see, Professor, when we were in those different countries, we learned so much about other cultures and ways of life. Now I’m interested to know about the history of the world. I want a better understanding of what’s going on in Papua New Guinea and, globally. When my wantoks ask me, I tell them about other societies and current affairs such as the spread of AIDS.’
‘Some kids reckon she’s just a bighead,’ muttered Kip Kip, getting very bored, and a little jealous. ‘I learn from quizzes. I love quizzes. I’ve read every quiz in the library.’
‘They don’t say I’m a bighead when I warn them about AIDS,’ snapped Wendi. ‘They listen about how people contract the virus from unprotected sexual contact.’ She looked at her brother – her cross expression telling him: ‘Can’t you stand it when I speak like an intelligent person?’
‘Wendi’s right, Kip Kip. Knowledge is power,’ announced the professor, with one arm raised, as if he was a soldier in the PNG Defence Force saluting an officer. ‘Knowledge is everything. Imagine if we had the knowledge to cure AIDS or malaria. Imagine if we had the knowledge to make our lives better from new inventions. One day Wendi could discover what cures all diseases. She’s very smart indeed.’
To her surprise, he smiled and said: ‘You continue to educate our people about the dangers of AIDS, my dear. And your brother might like to try harder if all he does is read quizzes. I don’t know much about quizzes. You might say I’m not quizzical about quizzes.’ And he put his head back and laughed loudly and said: ‘Hilarious. Quizzical about quizzes!’
Suddenly, Wendi liked him. She saw that she had judged him too quickly, that his appearance and strange machine had clouded her view of him. Her imagination had run away with her. Of course, he was not some ancient Egyptian but someone who thought about history and social problems and yet had a sense of humour. He seemed to think that they could help. Maybe they could work together.
‘Yes, Professor, we would be willing to answer any questions,’ she said, ignoring Kip Kip’s elbow in her ribs and his agitated expression.
‘Good news,’ the professor replied. ‘Of course, I’m willing to pay a fee. Not a large fee, but certainly some money to make up for the time to tell me about what you learnt when you travelled all over the world.’
‘Yes, yes,’ said Kip Kip, suddenly excited by the thought of money. ‘We’ll answer your questions. But our fees are high, because as you know, we are the experts in this kind of travel.’
Wendi was disappointed with her brother’s greed. She thought they should offer their advice for free. But Kip Kip wasn’t thinking only of himself but of their father’s struggle with his chicken farm and their mother growing vegetables on the little piece of land. Some extra money would help pay school fees and repair the house.
‘How much will each answer get?’ asked Kip Kip. ‘If you ask ten questions, can we receive ten kina for each answer?’ He smiled at his brilliance. ‘Please.’
Mrs Salamo looked shocked. ‘This is Professor Tubulukawa, the most important historian in the country. You should be honoured to give him information for free. Honoured! For free.’
Kip Kip looked at Wendi. He knew his dad didn’t give chickens away for nothing. Nor did their mother give her vegetables for free in the market.
‘Everything has a price,’ Kip Kip said. ‘I have a consultancy fee.’
‘Fair enough,’ said the professor. ‘I admire your sense of business. I see that you think your intellectual powers, your knowledge, is worth a cash price and that’s okay by me. I charge a consultancy fee too. I know you’re going to play an important role in the development of my theory of Transparemedicalisticindentured travel. So, a consultancy fee is all right. Now, we will have to negotiate how much as I’m not a rich man and nor is the university made of money. So, I suggest it not be an extraordinary amount of money. A decent fee and not a rip off.’ He patted his big hair and itched his ears. ‘A fair price for your knowledge, and I’ll agree.’
Mrs Salamo’s eyes lit up like lamps. ‘Perhaps I can also help you, Professor,’ she said sweetly. ‘I’d be very willing, for a fee, just a little fee of course. Anything you want to know about transpara…med…sub…dentures…ummm. Only one hundred kina an hour.’
The professor stared at the headmistress as if she was completely crazy: ‘One hundred kina per hour? I said no rip offs. A hundred kina an hour is extortion!’
‘An hour?’ she asked. ‘Oh, silly me. Silly Mrs Salamo. I was so confused. I meant to say one hundred kina a day. Yes, a day.’ She had forgotten the twins, who were looking at her in amazement.
‘A day! One hundred kina a day?’ cried the professor in astonishment. ‘Do you think you are the Queen of England? Do you think you are some beautiful princess?’
‘No,’ said Mrs Salamo meekly. ‘No, no. I was just trying to…to… Oh… I was being greedy. I… I…’ She looked embarrassed. ‘Me a princess? Oh… Professor… Me beautiful? Am I beautiful? I mean… Oh, Professor Tubulukawa, you say such things.’
‘No,’ said the professor crossly. ‘No, my dear headmistress. You are not, I repeat, not a princess. A little bit pretty, perhaps, but not a princess.’
The twins could not understand what had happened to Mrs Salamo. She was the one who always barked orders and said things such as: ‘Do it now children! No! Certainly not! Wait!’ And here she was pleading for a fee to explain something she had no idea about. And smiling and bowing.
Kip Kip suddenly understood. It was money. Money could do strange things to people.
‘Actually,’ said Kip Kip. ‘If this machine will help PNG, then forget a fee. I’d like to do something for my country. If we work together to produce something, then we can be proud and then reap the benefits. Let’s put some hard work in first and see what happens, eh?’
Wendi looked at her brother sceptically, at his sudden change of view, from being greedy to being benevolent. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Why be greedy? But if there’s some profit, we can share that. What do you think, Professor? Does that sound like good business?’
‘Yes, yes. What a good idea. You children are very bright. This history machine may make you even more famous than you are already. Now, let’s talk seriously about it.’ He laughed with excitement and tried to smooth down his hair, but it sprung up again.
‘My history machine is on the back of the truck in the school yard. If you would accompany me there, please. You can give me some of your expert advice on transparblobum…oh, transdardentru… Oh, I can’t say the word myself sometimes. I’m just so excited to meet you two fabulous twins because everyone is talking about you in the universities. Famous. That’s what you are, famous after your extraordinary adventures. I just know you’ll be able to look at my machine and say what you think the problem is. I’m convinced that with your special powers you’ll understand how it should operate to take people into history far, far, far, far back into other times long, long, long, long before now.’ His kind eyes smiled. He looked dreamy as if he was travelling back and back and back into time.
Suddenly Kip Kip shuddered at the memory of the time he and his sister had been lost and thirsty in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. And he shuddered as he looked at the professor, thinking that perhaps Wendi could be wrong this time. What did this professor want? Really want? Who was he? So many crazy things had happened on that extraordinary trip in those exotic places with all of those amazing people. But now here in the headmistress’s office Kip Kip could feel strange sensations crawling up and down his spine as if he knew something weird was about to happen. He shouted: ‘No, no, Professor, we can’t help you. Impossible! Too weird! Too strange! Keep your consultancy fees and profits. We want to study hard and pass our exams and be nutritionists. We don’t want to get involved in any sort of Transparemedicalisticindentured travel. No more extraordinary adventures. No more Saudi Arabia or Uganda, or Mexico or…or… Where did we go Wendi? I can’t remember anymore. I want to stay home with Mum and Dad. I want to start a fish farm. Or a transport business… Not… Not…’
‘Oh, don’t worry,’ said the professor. ‘You said the word so perfectly. Transparemedicalisticindentured travel. You’re the first person ever to say it so effectively, so clearly. Excellent. Quizzes must be useful. Quizzes indeed. That must mean you can help me. Oh, clever, intelligent boy. Maybe you too will be a professor. Professor Kip Kip. Oh, I can just see you in a long black robe giving lectures to university students. Now, don’t be afraid Professor Kip Kip. Come with me and see my history machine.’
‘But we got lost in the desert,’ Kip Kip whimpered. ‘I was thirsty in Saudi Arabia and had to ride on camels and was chased by Bedouin tribesmen… All because I did something silly with a computer and this all sounds silly to me, this history machine.’ He saw Mrs Salamo getting cross for shouting at the distinguished professor. And the look in Wendi’s eyes that showed he was being a baby.
‘I mean… I mean…’ cried Kip Kip. ‘I mean… Wendi help me!’
‘This is very important,’ said the professor. ‘You stay here, headmistress. I’m taking the twins to my astonishing and fabulous history machine.’
‘But…but…’ Mrs Salamo said, disturbed by Kip Kip’s pleading. She now also feared that something might go wrong. It was a sudden presentiment, that horrible feeling when you see in the back of your mind and feel crawling up your spine that something bad might happen. Her responsibilities as a headmistress jumped at her. ‘I have a presentiment. These children are under my care… I mean when they last vanished, I was almost put into prison. I thought they would never come back, and everyone blamed me.’
‘Vanish?’ Professor Tubulukawa said as if he were so astonished at the very word, the impossibility of such an occurrence. ‘Vanish? Disappear? No. No. No. No such thing can happen. I just need them to give me some details of how they felt at the very moment they departed from each location on their previous adventures. I mean, what did you feel when you were disappearing? Was there complete darkness? Were there flashes of bright lights? Was there a loud noise? Did you think of strange and curious things? Did you have visions? Was there a darkness, a lack of human consciousness? I must know. The best place to answer such questions is in my machine so that I can record what they are saying.’
‘Well alright,’ said Mrs Salamo not fully convinced. ‘You twins may go if it will aid the Professor’s work on his history machine. Let’s say it’s all for science.’
The machine was about the size of four refrigerators joined together. It was a dull colour, greenish and brown, and looked poorly constructed. Kip Kip was disappointed, thinking it looked more like a mistake from their technical skills class. He had expected to see a flash, modern, up-to-date machine, not this peculiar, weird contraption.
‘Isn’t it amazing?’ the professor gloated.
‘It looks like a big old coffin,’ said Wendi. ‘Did you make it yourself?’
‘A coffin?’ said the professor, hurt. He looked at her sorrowfully and rubbed his funny beard, but then smiled and laughed: ‘Oh, my dear girl, you’re joking. Such a funny girl. A coffin? I think it’s a wonderful invention. When it’s completely ready it will answer questions that no one has ever been able to answer before in all of history. I want to find out what happened in times past. We can make theories about what life was like and study what archaeologists dig up. And scientists can surmise about the Ice Age, and when dinosaurs existed. But I want to know for sure about pre-historic times.’
‘What does pre-historic mean?’ asked Wendi.
‘I never saw that in a quiz,’ chimed Kip Kip.
‘Pre-historic is that time before writing. No one wrote down what happened. Dinosaurs didn’t keep a written record, did they?’
‘Pre-history before writing sounds exciting,’ said Wendi. ‘Dinosaurs and the Ice Age and maybe about how the world was made and all of that scientific stuff.’
‘Stuff? Stuff?’ said Professor Tubulukawa. ‘Science is not stuff. Science has made us understand how the world was made from genuine forces, genuine…real occurrences. Data. Evidence. Facts. Not stuff, young lady. How the world and the planets were made billions of years ago. I mean, we learn through scientific methods, not stuff.’
‘Stuff,’ Wendi thought. ‘He uses big words and big theories and I wonder if he really knows himself.’
‘Can science explain how humans got here?’ asked Kip Kip. ‘Is that science?’
‘Yes,’ said the professor seriously. ‘Science helps us understand the origin of the human species and all other animals and plants and…everything.’
‘So, if your history machine can travel back in time, could we see all of that stuff…whoops…data and evidence?’
‘Oh, I hope so. Imagine if we could see, actually see, what went on millions of years ago, thousands of years ago, hundreds of years ago.’ The professor pushed on the door. It creaked as it opened. A strange smell emerged. ‘Don’t you want to find out? Do go in,’ he whispered.
‘No way,’ said Kip Kip. ‘I’m not going in there. It does look like an old coffin, or some strange refrigerator or some horrible box or…’
‘Oh, you two have such vivid imaginations, such creative minds, such funny thoughts. You’re completely safe. It’s a harmless machine. Harmless. Harmless. Harmless.’
‘But you don’t even like flying Air Niugini,’ said Wendi, feeling scared. ‘This thing might…’
The professor was rubbing his pointed beard and leaning down at them. His eyes were staring out like a bird of prey’s, an eagle’s or hawk’s, no longer an innocent rooster’s. Wendi remembered that night when they had landed in New Zealand in the dark bush and those horrible bird smugglers had caught them. She shuddered at the memory. A presentiment, fear, ran up her spine and she wanted to cry out that she wouldn’t go into the machine when he said: ‘Of course, if you help me, I can buy you and your family tickets to Disneyland in the United States of America. You know, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, quack, quack, quack. Yes, Fantasyland U.S.A indeed. Can you imagine visiting California and Los Angeles? Fun. Fun. Fun. Now my little experts on time travel and getting to faraway places by strange and interesting ways, just pop inside my fabulous history machine and see how it feels to be there.’
Disneyland. The twins looked at each other. Fantasyland?
‘For all of our family?’ Wendi asked. ‘California? Disneyland?’
‘Well, only your immediate family. Not all your wantoks. Not your whole clan. I can’t hire an entire aeroplane filled with everyone in your extended family. A village. I can’t pay to transport the whole settlement to America. You and your brother and your mother and father.’
‘And grandparents,’ said Kip Kip. ‘Please, I’m not going anywhere again without my bubus.’
‘Oh, all right. You twins drive a hard bargain. Bubus. It’s always bubus that cause the problems with funding research. I’m sure you’ll be very good at business when you leave school. You’ll probably be millionaires before you’re thirty. But you do have special powers when it comes to weird travel, perhaps in quizzes too, but I don’t know about that, so I guess it’s all right to pay a very high price.’
The twins smiled at the thought of their bubus’ excitement, and their mother’s happiness at travelling on a plane for the first time, and of their dad shaking hands with Mickey Mouse. They stepped gingerly into the history machine. There was a wrrrrrr wrrrrrr wrrrrrr ooogggllleee ooogggllleee eeeeeeetttttt eeeeeeetttttt sound and then a BOOM! They stretched out their hands and turned around. They could not feel the walls or see anything. They heard only their own screams as the machine tumbled into eternity and they were lost, lost, lost in complete darkness.Read on