Master George seemed to sense Tick’s thoughts. “It’s grown very late indeed, my good associates. It’s almost morning here. I think we should all be off to bed. We can finish our discussion tomorrow. There is still much to learn—and much to prepare for.”

“Wait a minute—” Paul began.

“No, no, no,” Master George said, waving his Wand like a great magician. “We must have fresh minds to continue. To bed it is—no arguments. No need to worry about the dirty plates; I’ll be happy to clean up.”

A hand grabbed Tick’s shoulder and he turned to see Mothball.

“Come on,” she said. “Off we go. I’ll be showin’ ya to yer sleepin’ quarters. Methinks we could all use a good night’s rest, I do. Come on.”

She moved toward the side door. Tick, Sofia, and Paul fell in line behind her, grumbling like two year olds who didn’t want to go to bed.

Sato didn’t move a muscle.

“Looks like Mr. Happy will be sleeping on the couch,” Paul whispered to Tick as they stepped through the door.

Sato fumed on the inside as he sat alone in the big room, the fire spitting, slowly fading to ashes. Master George hadn’t so much as given him a glance, completely ignoring Sato’s obvious distrust and unhappiness. They all ignored him for the most part, thinking they were so smart and so funny. Better than Sato.

Little did they know he’d listened intently to every single word that came out of the old man’s mouth, storing them away inside his computer of a mind, learning every morsel. He had to know every piece of the puzzle if he hoped to accomplish what he’d planned to do from the very first day he’d received the letter from M.G.

He had to make things right. To quench the thirst for revenge that consumed him. To avenge the death of his family.

I need to stay sharp, he thought. Befriend no one. He couldn’t trust anyone, precisely for the very reason his family died.

No, Sato would never make the same fatal mistake his parents had. And he’d never trust another person ever again.

Especially Master George.


A Bump in the Night

These are our digs?” Paul asked.

“I miss my mansion,” Sofia moaned.

Tick agreed. Their “sleeping quarters” didn’t look very inviting. They stood in a small rectangular room in which six cots had been set up, three along each of the longer walls. Folded gray and black blankets and pillows lay stacked on top of each cot. The only other furniture in the room was a desk and a three-drawer wooden dresser. The floor of the room was a flat metallic gray.

“Would you rather sleep out in the raft?” Rutger asked. “We can arrange it.”

“Mister Tick,” Mothball said, nudging him. “There’s some dry clothes in the chest of drawers there. Better be changin’ out of yer soppies, ya should.”

“Oh, thanks.”

Tick walked over to the dresser as everyone else chose a cot and started spreading out their blankets. After a full minute of rummaging through the drawers, the only thing Tick found that was close to wearable was an enormous one-piece nightshirt. “This thing looks like a dress,” he said to Mothball.

“If ya’d rather soak in yer wet undies all night, fine by me,” she replied.

“Where’s the bathroom?”

She nodded toward a short metal door. Sighing, Tick went and changed into his ridiculous pajamas.

Frazier Gunn had listened to the muffled murmurs of people talking all night. His captor had guests, apparently. Almost insane from the months of isolation, Frazier felt like chewing through the metal and killing every last one of them.

I’d need stronger teeth, he thought.

He knew he was going crazy, and he didn’t care. He curled up on the floor like a dog and tried to go back to sleep.

Frazier longed to hear more clearly through the cold metal walls of his terrible prison. The only word he felt confident he’d understood in all these months was Annika. George had mentioned the name several times, and for some reason it resonated through the metal without being distorted beyond recognition.

Annika. An unusual name for sure. Frazier had only known one person in his life named Annika. She was one of Mistress Jane’s closest servants and one of several people, including Frazier, who intensely competed for Jane’s favor.

Was it a coincidence? Did George somehow know Annika? There’d always been rumors of spies in Jane’s camp. Had Frazier discovered a gold nugget of information?

If only he could escape. If only he could warn Mistress Jane . . .

“Hey, looky!” Paul laughed when Tick walked out in his long nightshirt, which hung all the way to the floor. “If it’s not Ebenezer Scrooge himself! Where’s your stocking cap, Grandpa?”

“Very funny,” Tick said as he walked to an empty cot and started setting up his bed.

“I think you look right handsome, I do,” Mothball said.

“Uh-oh, looks like someone’s got a crush,” Paul said.

Sofia huffed as she settled under her blanket. “Paul, you’re almost as annoying in person as you were on the e-mail. Keep smarting off and you’ll get a Pacini fist in the nose.”

“Oh, come on, you know you love me.” He leaned back against the wall with his hands clasped behind his head. “Man, this is the life—no chores, no one yelling at me to brush my teeth. I love living in the middle of the ocean.”

“Ha!” Rutger barked from the doorway. “You’ll be wishing for chores once we send you on your initiation mission.”

Tick froze, his pillow still in his hands. “Initiation mission?”

Rutger nodded with a wicked smile. “You didn’t think Master George was kidding about retrieving Mistress Jane’s Barrier Wand, did you?”

“You can’t possibly mean we have to do it,” Sofia said.

“You’ll find out tomorrow. Get some sleep.”

“Oh, that’ll be nice and easy after telling us something like that,” Tick said, straightening his blankets and getting into bed.

“Dude,” Paul yawned, “where in the world are we anyway?”

“That’s an easy one,” Mothball said. “Middle of the ocean, we are.”

“But where? Which ocean?”

Mothball and Rutger exchanged a wary look. “Go on, you tell ’em,” Mothball finally said.