“What are we in, anyway?” Paul asked, looking above and around him. “Is this a boat or what?”

“No, it’s a building, firmly rooted in the ocean floor far below us,” Rutger said. “Master George used a little trick he learned from the Eighth Reality, where it’s mostly ocean. They developed some amazing cabling technology that allows them to build entire cities on the ocean. We’re perfectly safe and stable. You can barely feel the waves unless we have a real doozy of a storm.”

Mothball yawned, a booming roar that made Tick jump. “Master George will have our hides, he will, if he finds out we kept you up so late. Come on, now, we need—”

“Wait,” Tick interrupted her. “Just one more question, okay?”

“Be quick about it. Me bones hurt I’m so tired.”

“What’s the deal with cemeteries? Rutger said something once about the difference between life and death . . . I can’t remember.”

“It was another famous Master George quote,” Rutger replied. “‘Nothing in this world better reflects the difference between life and death than the power of choice.’ Chi’karda levels are very high in cemeteries. Master George says it has to do with the lingering effects of the life-changing choices those people made. One way or another, their choices led them to their fates, whether good or bad.”

“And so we needed to go there because . . .” Tick started but stopped, worried his answer would be wrong.

“So we could wink easier,” Sofia said. “The stronger the levels of Chi’karda, the easier it is to travel between Realities.”

“Exactly,” Rutger agreed. “Not only can you travel between the barriers, you can travel between different locations of heavy Chi’karda spots within the same Reality. That’s how Master George could wink you from your towns to this place. He simply honed in on your nanolocator signals and winked you away!”

“My head hurts,” Paul groaned, falling onto his back as he rubbed his forehead.

“That’s because you Americans aren’t smart enough to get it,” Sofia said. “I’ll be happy to tutor you on everything tomorrow.”

“Methinks I’ve had enough for one day,” Mothball said. “Good night, all.”

She and Rutger left the room, flicking off the light as they went.

A few more words were said after they’d left, but sheer exhaustion soon pulled the three of them into a deep sleep.

Something jolted Frazier out of his dreamless slumber.

He swatted at the dark air around him, scrambling into a sitting position. What had it been? Was he—

He heard a loud thump against the wall by his cot. Then another, a clang of metal against metal that echoed throughout the small cell. Then another, this time louder.

What was that?

He scurried over to the light switch and flipped it on, squinting in the brightness. To his shock, a small dent, about three inches wide, bent the wall inward just above his bed. The bolts connecting the wall to the surrounding metal had loosened slightly, rattling as another big thump sounded. The wall bent even farther.

One final boom sounded through the room, and the entire piece of metal fell onto his bed, its bolts cracking like whips as they broke in half. Frazier stared past the hole in the wall, seeing the endless ocean in front of him, the first traces of dawn casting a purple glow over the deep waters. Then, inexplicably, a face appeared from below—someone he’d never seen before. It was a man with scraggly black hair and an unshaven face.

“Come on, Mister Gunn, we don’t have much time!”

“What . . . who . . . what . . .” Frazier couldn’t find any words after such a long time in confinement.

“Mistress Jane sent us to rescue you,” the man yelled.

“Rescue me?” Frazier could hardly believe it.

“Yes!” the man replied. “And then we’re going to destroy this place once and for all.”


Escalation of Plans

Tick woke to the awful smell of fish breath and an annoying scratchy feeling on his right cheek. From somewhere in the distance, he thought he heard a loud boom like an underground explosion. He opened his eyes to see two yellow orbs staring at him. It was a cat, pawing at his face to . . . wake him?

Tick sat up, accidentally knocking the cat to the floor. “Oh, sorry.” The sleek feline hissed in annoyance, then padded over to Paul’s cot to wake him as well.

That’s one smart cat, Tick thought.

Sofia was already awake, rubbing her eyes and stretching. Tick looked at his watch to see only a few hours had passed since they went to bed. The thought made him twice as tired; all he wanted to do was go back to sleep.

But then the whole world seemed to go crazy at once.

Another boom, this time much louder, shook the building as it echoed off the walls. The door to the room flew open and banged against the wall, rebounding back and knocking Master George to the floor, who was wearing a bright red nightshirt even more ridiculous than the one Tick wore. He grunted and scrambled back to his feet.

“Good job, Muffintops, jolly good job!” Master George picked up his cat and petted its back. “You three, we must hurry! Our plans have been . . . escalated.”

The others had slept in their clothes, but Tick still wore his horrible pajamas. As Paul and Sofia moved to follow Master George, Tick quickly went into the bathroom where he’d hung his clothes to finish drying. They were still damp, but he changed into them as fast as he could. He’d just pulled on his second shoe when someone pounded on the door.

“Mister Higginbottom!” came the muffled voice of Master George. “What part of ‘we must hurry’ did you not understand?”

“Sorry!” Tick called as he wrapped his scarf around his neck. He opened the door and followed the old man, who was already across the room. Another boom sounded, and Tick felt like he was in a bunker, taking heavy artillery from the enemy. He tried to fight the panic that surged up his chest and into his throat.

They gathered back in the main room with the fireplace. Sato sat in the exact same spot where they’d left him only a few hours before, though his puffy eyes showed he’d just woken up as well. Rutger and Mothball were there too; the tall woman had an enormous backpack perched on her shoulders.

Master George stood in front of the now-cold fireplace, holding the shiny Barrier Wand in both hands, his cat curled on the ground at his feet. “My friends, we are officially under siege.”