Tick hit the REPLY button, then added Sofia’s e-mail address right after Paul’s. From now on, hopefully they could stay connected as a trio and make their way toward the special day together. After pausing to think about what he wanted to say, Tick started typing.

Paul (and Sofia),

Okay, this e-mail has both of your addresses on it, so be sure and do that from now on so we can keep in touch. Paul, this is Sofia. Sofia, this is Paul. I’ll forward the different

e-mails to everyone later. Sofia needs to know that Paul seems to think he’s something special. :)

Paul, did you really figure out the magic words? Are you serious? You really can’t tell us? I’ve looked at that first letter over and over and over and I can’t find the answer! Sofia, Rutger told Paul we’re allowed to share and help each other, BUT NOT ABOUT THE MAGIC WORDS.

(If I ever get my hands on that guy . . . )

Sofia and I will just have to start figuring out a way to get you to tell us anyway.

Tick went on to write a very long e-mail, telling the story of Alaska and a little about himself and Sofia. When he finally finished and turned off the computer, Tick’s eyes hurt. He was just standing when his mom called everyone in for dinner.

Frazier Gunn sat in his little prison cell and brooded.

How had it come to this? He’d been having a dandy of a time in Alaska, pulling off his plan to take care of two of the bratty kids George was scheming with—and poof. Everything fell to pieces.

After being knocked out in the freezing cold cemetery, Frazier had awakened in this teeny little room, which was barred and chained with enough locks to hold the Great Houdini. The walls of his cell were made of metal, lines of rivets and bolts all over the place. He felt like a grenade locked in an old World War II ammunition box.

And he’d been here for over three months. His captor had obviously injected him with a shockpulse because his nanolocator was dead, not responding whenever he tried to send a signal to Mistress Jane. Plus, if it had been working, she would’ve winked him away a long time ago. Of course, that fate might be worse than his current one. The woman had a nasty temper and low tolerance for failure.

At least he had a comfortable bed in which to sleep. And delicious food slipped through a small slot on the bottom of the door three times a day without fail. He’d been given books to read and a small TV with a DVD player and lots of movies. Mostly about cats, oddly enough, but still, it was enough to keep him occupied for a while.

But three months. He felt his mind slipping into an abyss of insanity.

To make matters worse, the room swayed. Not very much and not very often, but he could feel it. It was like a gigantic robot trying to put her cute little metal box to bed. He kept telling himself it was all in his imagination, but it sure seemed real enough when he leaned over the toilet and threw up.

Frazier was a miserable, miserable man, and it only poured salt in his wounds that he didn’t know why he was here, or who had captured him.

It had to have something to do with that nuisance of all nuisances, George. Master George. Please. What kind of man has the audacity to refer to himself as Master anything?

The sound of scraping metal jolted him from his moping. He looked up to see a small slot had slid open in the center of the main door, only a couple of inches tall and wide and about waist-high from the floor.

This is new. He stood and walked over to the opening, peeking through. He yelped and fell backward onto his bed when a cat’s face suddenly appeared, baring its fangs and hissing.

“Who’s there!” he yelled, his voice echoing off the walls with a hollow, creepy boom. He recovered his wits and righted himself, staring at the small open space. The cat had already disappeared, replaced by a mouth with an old ruddy pair of chapped lips.

“Hello in there?” the mouth spoke, the voice heavy with an English accent.

“Yeah, who is it?” Frazier grunted back at his captor, though he already knew who was behind the door.

“Quite sorry about the inconvenience,” Master George said. “Won’t be long now before we send you on your way.”

“Inconvenience?” Frazier snarled. “That’s what you call locking up a man for three months?”

“Come on, old chap. Can you blame us after what you did to those poor children?”

“Just following orders, old man.” Frazier sniffed and folded his arms, pouting like a little kid. “I never meant any true harm. I was, uh, just playing around with the car to scare them. No big deal.”

“I must say,” George countered, “I disagree quite strongly with your assessment of the situation. Mistress Jane has gotten too dangerous. She’s gone too far. I mustn’t allow you to return to her until . . . we’ve taken care of something.”

“Taken care of what?”

“Just one more month or so, my good man,” George replied, ignoring the question. “Then we’ll send you off to the Thirteenth where we won’t have to worry about you coming back.”

Intense alarms jangled in Frazier’s head. What the old man had just said made no sense. Unless . . .

“What do you—”

His words died in the metallic echo of the small door sliding shut.


Shattered Glass

A week went by with Tick, Sofia, and Paul e-mailing each other almost every day. They talked about their lives, their families, their schools. Though Tick had never met Paul and had met Sofia only once, he felt like they’d all become great friends.

Tick and Sofia used every ounce of persuasive skills they possessed to convince Paul to tell them the magic words. On more than one occasion, Sofia even threatened bodily harm, never mind that she lived on another continent. But Paul stubbornly refused, not budging an inch. Finally, the other two gave up and reluctantly admitted he was right, anyway. Better to follow the rules in this whole mess than risk jeopardizing their chances of achieving the goal all together.

The goal. What was the goal? Yeah, they pretty much knew that on the special day they had to perform a silly ritual in a certain place—probably to show their ability to follow instructions and obey orders as much as to show they could solve the riddles of the clues. But then what would happen?

Tick felt strongly that if they did everything correctly, they would travel to another place. Somehow Mothball and Rutger were doing it. Somehow Master George was traipsing about the world to all kinds of strange places, mailing letters. Tick always felt a surge of excitement when he considered the possibilities of what may happen on the special day, only to have it come crashing down when he remembered he hadn’t figured out the magic words.