“Oh, really?” Mr. Chu asked, his tone almost sarcastic. “Don’t you realize all this stuff leads to things that are much, much more fascinating? We need to build a solid foundation so you can have a lot of fun later.”

He only received blank stares in answer.

“I mean it! Here’s an example. How many of you have heard of quantum physics?”

Along with a few others, Tick raised his hand. He’d once watched a really cool show on the Discovery Channel with his dad about the subject. Both of them had agreed afterward that quantum physics must have been something Star Trek fans invented so they’d have another topic to discuss instead of debating the average number of times Mr. Spock visited the toilet every day.

“Who’d like to take a stab and tell us what it’s about?” Mr. Chu asked.

Trying to make up for his earlier daydreaming, Tick was the only one who offered. Mr. Chu nodded toward him.

“It’s about the really, really small stuff—stuff smaller than atoms even—and they have a lot of properties that don’t seem to follow the same rules as normal physics.”

“Wow, you’re smart, SpongeBob,” someone whispered from the back. He thought it was Billy the Goat, but couldn’t be sure. Tick ignored him.

“Such as?” Mr. Chu prodded, either not hearing the smart-aleck remark or disregarding it.

“Well, I don’t remember a whole lot of the show I saw on T.V., but the thing that really seemed cool was they’ve basically proven that something can literally be in two or more places at once.”

“Very good, Tick, that’s part of it.” Mr. Chu paced back and forth in front of the students, hands clasped behind his back, trying his best to fit the mold of Very Smart Professor. “We can’t get into it very much in this class, but I think many of you will be excited to learn about it as you study more advanced classes in high school. My favorite aspect of the Q.P., as we used to call it in my peer study groups, is the fact they’ve also proven you can affect the location of an object simply by observing it. In other words, how you study it changes the outcome, which means there must be more than one outcome occurring simultaneously. Does that make sense?”

Tick nodded, fascinated, wishing they could drop the easy stuff and dig deeper into this subject. He didn’t bother to look around the room, knowing that the rest of his classmates would once again return nothing but blank stares.

“Basically,” Mr. Chu continued, “it means alternate versions of the present could exist at any moment, and that your actions, your observations, your choices can determine which of those you see. In other words, we’re living in one of maybe a million different versions of the universe. Some people call it the multiverse.” He folded his arms and shook his head slightly while staring at the floor, a small smile on his face, as if recalling a fond memory. “Nothing in all my studies has ever fascinated me as much as quantum physics.”

He paused, looking around the room, and his face drooped into a scowl of disappointment like a kid who’d just told his parents he’d seen a dragonfly, only to get back a “Who cares? Go wash your hands for dinner” in return.

“Uh . . . anyway, I guess that’s enough on that subject. The bell’s about to ring. Don’t forget your monthly research report is due tomorrow.”

Tick gathered his things and put them in his backpack, not worried about the assignment; his had been done since before the Gnat Rat attack.

Mr. Chu came up to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Tick, you should think about studying quantum physics in more detail when you get a chance. It’s right up your alley. Pretty crazy world we live in, don’t you think?”

“Tell me about it,” Tick muttered. “Hey, Mr. Chu?”


“Does your family . . . I mean . . . have you ever heard of a company called Chu Industries?”

Mr. Chu’s face wrinkled into a look of confusion. “No, never heard of it before. But there are a lot of Chus in the world. Why?”

“Oh . . . nothing. Just an ad I saw somewhere. Made me wonder if you had anything to do with it.”

“I wish. Sounds like it could’ve made me rich.”

“Yeah, maybe. Well, see ya tomorrow.” Tick swung his backpack over his shoulder and walked to his next class.

That night, Tick decided he needed a better way to organize the letters and clues he’d received from M.G. and Mothball, especially knowing that because of his decision not to burn the first letter, more and more would be coming.

He went down to the basement and rummaged through a couple of boxes labeled with his name and last year’s date. Every year or two, Lorena Higginbottom insisted on a full top-to-bottom cleaning of the entire house, and her number one rule was that if you hadn’t used something in more than a year, it needed to be thrown away or put into storage. These boxes were the result of last spring’s mine sweep through Tick’s closet.

He remembered he’d been given a journal for Christmas two or three years ago from his Grandma Mary. He’d vowed to write in it every day, chronicling the many adventures of the genius from Jackson Middle School, but the night he’d sat down to complete his first official entry, he hadn’t been able to think of one thing that sounded interesting. He had managed to write his name on the front cover before he’d put it aside, hoping Grandma Mary would never find out. She’d have been devastated if she knew what had happened to her gift.

But he’d never forgotten how cool his name looked on the cover, and the journal would be the perfect thing for him now. Tick’s life was no longer boring or uninteresting.

He found the journal lying beneath a stack of Hardy Boys books. Tick had read each of them several times before they’d made way for bigger and better novels. He pulled the journal out and stared at the cover. It had a marble-brown hardcover, its edges purposely worn and slightly burnt to make it look like the old record-book of an international explorer on the high seas. The pages inside were slightly yellowed for an aged appearance, lined from top to bottom, just waiting for him to record his thoughts and notes and scribbles.

It was perfect.

In the center of the front cover was a three-inch wide rectangle of burnt orange where he’d written his name a couple of years ago. Using the permanent black marker he’d brought downstairs with him, he added a few more words to the title. Finished, he held the journal up and took a prideful look: