Mr. Chu had talked nonstop without breathing and finally took a big gulp of air.
“Sounds like it’d make a sweet movie,” Tick said, trying to act like a normal kid with simple interests. But the truth was his thoughts were spinning out of control. Different versions of the world! Though he couldn’t quite piece it all together, he knew this might explain where Mothball and Rutger came from.
“Oh, trust me, it’s been done,” Mr. Chu replied. “Especially the time travel part of it—but nothing I’ve seen that I like yet.” He yawned. “I’ve talked your poor ear off for long enough, big guy. If you’re really serious about studying Q.P., you should get a book or two from the library. It’s fun stuff, especially for nerds like you, I mean, me.” He smiled as he stood up and held out his hand. “Nice talking to you, Tick. It’s always great to have students who actually care about what they’re learning.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Tick said as he stood to leave. “See you tomorrow.” He slung his backpack onto his shoulder and headed for the door. At the last second before leaving, another teacher—Ms. Myers—poked her head in from the hallway.
“Reginald, do you have a moment?” she asked. “I need to talk about parent-teacher conferences.”
“Sure,” Mr. Chu replied. “Come on in. Tick, we’ll see you later. Thanks for coming by.”
Tick almost dropped his books at the word Reginald, the coolness of their entire conversation fading into a disturbing, eerie feeling in his stomach. He forced out a good-bye then quickly exited into the hallway.
He couldn’t believe it, but he knew he’d never heard his favorite teacher’s first name before. It was Reginald? His name was Reginald Chu?
Tick suddenly felt very, very ill.
Paul’s Little Secret
Tick lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling of his room as the last rays of the sun faded from the day, casting a darkly golden glow to the air. His stomach felt like someone had jacked up an industrial hose and pumped in five tons of raw sewage.
He had thought it was all just a coincidence, but that was before he’d learned Mr. Chu’s first name. Rutger said the founder and owner of Chu Industries, the ones who manufactured the Gnat Rat and had done “awful, awful things,” was a man named Reginald Chu. Could there really be two people with that name in the world, much less two who both loved science? And who had both crossed paths with a kid named Atticus Higginbottom?
But then . . . how could his favorite teacher be someone who owned a major company the world had never heard of? Tick had looked up Chu Industries several times on the Internet, only to find nothing. Of course, he hadn’t looked up the name Reginald Chu yet.
He got up from bed and headed downstairs, hoping a search might reveal something. As he passed Kayla on the stairs, clutching no fewer than five dolls in her small arms, Tick thought about the things he and Mr. Chu had discussed after school. One thing popped in his mind that seemed the most obvious answer to this dilemma.
Time travel. Mr. Chu created this horribly powerful company in the future and sent things back in time to haunt his old students.
Tick almost laughed out loud—talk about hokey and ridiculous. Despite the crazy stuff he’d seen the last few months, it didn’t make him think any more than before that time travel was possible. Even Mr. Chu said it was a dumb theory. Of course, if he was a bad guy . . .
But what about the idea of alternate versions of the universe? Maybe his teacher had an alter ego in another reality. Just as nuts, but for some reason not quite as nuts. Tick shook his head, unable to believe he was actually having this conversation with himself.
He logged onto the Internet, then did a search for the name “Reginald Chu.”
One obscure reference to a presentation Mr. Chu did at Gonzaga University with some other teachers, and a couple of unrelated hits about a guy in China. That was it. Just for fun, Tick typed in Chu Industries again, with the same result.
Trying his best to move his mind on to brighter things, he logged into his e-mail. He almost jumped out of his chair with joy when he saw replies from both Sofia and the new guy in Florida.
He froze for a second, not knowing which one to open first.
He clicked on Sofia’s.
Wow, another kid! Why did it have to be another American? That’s all I need, running around with two boys who do nothing but eat hot dogs and belch and talk about stupid American football.
Yeah, I figured out the riddle about hands, too. BEFORE I got your e-mail, just in case you’re wondering.
Next time you write this Paul boy, make sure to put my name in the address, too. That way we can all talk together.
Time is running out! We need to figure out the Magic Words!
Oh, please, Tick thought. She just has to make sure I know she figured it out on her own.
He was about to hit REPLY on instinct, but remembered the e-mail from Paul. Tick quickly closed the one from Sofia and clicked on the other.
Dude, are you serious about the whole Alaska thing? Man, I need to hear that story from the beginning. Try to do a better job of it next time—I couldn’t understand a single thing you said about it. :)
I must be the dumbest person this side of the Mississippi because I didn’t get the hands thing at first. Now it seems really obvious.
But that’s okay. I’m one up on you, big time.
I figured out the magic words.
See ya later, Northern Dude.
P.S. No way I’m telling so don’t ask. Rutger said I’m not allowed to. We can talk about anything else, but each person has to figure out the magic words for themselves. Good luck.
P.P.S. I’m fourteen years old, six feet tall (yes, six feet), African-American, and drop-dead handsome. I love to surf, I play the piano like freaking Mozart, and I currently have three girls who call me every day, but my mom always tells them I’m in the bathroom. Let me know a little about you, too. Later.
Tick sat back, unable to believe his eyes. He couldn’t care less about Paul’s little introduction at the moment—the guy knew what the magic words were! It was finally right there for the taking, but he wouldn’t—couldn’t—share.
That stupid little Rutger . . .