“It’s a thing of beauty, don’t you think?”

Lisa shrugged. “Maybe the first time I saw it.”

“Oh, I never tire of it. Maybe it’s knowing the unimaginable power that’s coiled up inside of it. I’m a scientist, and yet it still feels like magic to me.”

“A cell phone would be magic if you showed it to somebody a hundred years ago.”

Lorena felt a burst of pride at the statement. “Well said, Lisa, well said. Just like Arthur C. Clarke.”


The pride bubble burst a bit. “Never mind.”

“Let’s do this thing.”

“Yes. Let’s do. I’m going to crank up the Chi’karda Drive to its highest level. We’ve got nothing to lose.”

Lisa didn’t answer right away, and Lorena saw a flicker of deep concern in the girl’s eyes.

“Don’t worry, Lisa. I don’t think it can hurt us. I’m more worried about it doing damage to the Wand itself.” Lorena didn’t know if that was the total truth, but it was close enough without planting even more worry inside her daughter.

“Go for it, then.”

Lorena spent a minute or two moving the dials and switches of the Wand, adjusting and flipping and turning each one until she was satisfied that its power was at maximum and that it was locked onto Atticus’s last known nanolocator readings.

She eyed Lisa. “This is it. If it doesn’t pull in that boy now, it never will. If you hear a loud buzz in your head or feel like your fingers might fall off, don’t be alarmed.”

“Of course not.” The slightest roll of Lisa’s eyes made her look half bored and half amused, but Lorena knew that fear still lurked behind it all.

“Want a countdown?”


“Okay, okay. Here we go.” She reached for the button on the top of the Wand and pushed. The click was surprisingly loud, as if the entire forest and all its creatures had quieted at the same moment.

Nothing happened. At first. Then a low hum seemed to rise up out of the ground, along with a vibration that tickled Lorena’s legs, made her shift and scratch at the underside of her thighs. The noise rose in volume and depth, like giant tuning forks and gongs had been struck, the sound ringing all around them. Lorena’s eardrums rattled, and a pain cinched its way down her spine.

The world around them exploded into a swirl of gray mist and terrible, thunderous noise.

Chapter 4


Master George stood at the head of the table. He and the other Realitants were in the conference room of the Grand Canyon complex. George hadn’t sat down since the meeting began, and he didn’t know if he could. Sitting seemed like such a casual gesture, something done for rest and relaxation. How could he do that when the world—the worlds—were in such utter chaos?

“Been runnin’ our lips for thirty minutes, we ’ave,” Mothball was saying. Her stern expression made George incredibly sad. She hadn’t smiled since Master Atticus had winked from existence. “And still not a flamin’ thing done. Need to make some decisions, we do.”

“Darn tootin’ right,” Sally added, the burly lumberjack of a man also looking gruffer than usual. “Get dem plans a’yorn hoppin’ so we can quit gabbin’ at each other. I’m downright sick of these here chat-and-chews.”

Now it was Rutger’s turn to speak up. “Look, you bunch of grumpy fusses—”

“That’s enough,” George interrupted. He hadn’t needed to say it loudly or harshly. His little friend of so many years cut off and didn’t argue. “Thank you. Just let me think for a second.”

He looked around the room at Sato, Paul, and Sofia—the only other Realitants in attendance. Those three looked like youngsters who’d been thrown into the horrors of life far too early. And like people who’d lost a dear friend. Both of which were true. They sat slumped over, staring at the table, their faces turned toward the ground.

The other Realitants—people he’d worked with for countless years—couldn’t afford to come to the meeting. They had too many problems to deal with in their own areas of responsibility. For now, this small group was all George had.

“Listen to me,” George finally said. “I know that Master Atticus is on all of our minds. His . . . loss has put us on edge, and I don’t believe we’ve said one nice thing to each other since he disappeared. But the world is in crisis, and we must meet our responsibilities. There are things we can do to help.”

To say the world was in crisis was the understatement of the year. When Mistress Jane tried to sever the Fifth Reality with her new tool of dark matter, it had sent ripples of destruction throughout the universe, almost destroying it. Atticus seemed to have saved the day—or at least delayed the ultimate end—but the aftershocks were devastating.

Tornadoes, earthquakes, fires. Everywhere. Millions of people dead. The governments of the world were desperately trying to keep things under control and reach out to the hungry and wounded scattered all over.

Paul cleared his throat, and everyone looked at him. But before he spoke, his expression melted into something full of misery, and he sank back into his seat. Sofia reached out and squeezed his shoulder.

“Master Paul,” George began, but he found himself empty of words. He suddenly lost every ounce of leadership he’d ever had in his bones. Despair threatened to swallow him whole.

Sato—who was usually rather quiet—suddenly shot to his feet and slammed a fist down on the table. “Snap out of it!” he yelled. “We all need to snap out of it! Quit moping around like babies and start acting like Realitants. If Tick were here, he’d be ashamed of us.” He sat down, but his eyes burned as he gazed at each Realitant around him in turn. “I’ve got an army. The Fifth will do whatever they’re asked. Just say the word, and we can get started.”

George realized he was staring at the boy, transfixed. A spring of encouragement welled up inside him. “Thank you, Master Sato. I think we’d all agree that we needed that.”

“Just make a decision. Do something. Or we’ll go crazy.”

George nodded then straightened his posture, his strength returning. “You’re quite right, Sato. Quite right. Enough of our talk. Let’s go around the room and make assignments. It is indeed time to get to work. If something comes up that seems more important, then we’ll change those plans, but getting to work is our number one priority. Mothball, you first.”

The giant of a lady looked as if a little bit of life had been breathed back into her as well. “Alright, then. I’ll start winkin’ me way from one end to the other—not just in Reality Prime but all of ’em. Start makin’ reports and such. We don’t know much, now do we? Not with the communications so bloomin’ shot.”

“Excellent idea,” George said. “We need to determine exactly what’s happening or we’ll never know what direction to take in the long run.”

“Your middle name Danger all a sudden?” Sally cut in with his booming voice. “You plan to hightail it this way and that all by your lonesome, do ya? Not on my tickety-tock watch, you ain’t. I’ll go with Mothball.”

George loved the idea. “Perfect. Plans settled for two of us. Rutger, I think we both know what you need to do.”

The fat little ball of a man shifted in his seat. “Um, well, I’d be happy to go on an adventure with my fine two friends, but . . . I seemed to have sprained my . . . elbow. Yes, yes, it’s giving me quite the fits lately . . .”

“Master Rutger, please.” George struggled to keep from laughing. “We all know very well that we need you here. Our instruments that survived the disasters have been reporting strange anomalies across the Realities. We need your keen researching mind devoted to solving that puzzle.”

Visible relief washed over Rutger’s features, but he tried to hide it with his words. “Oh, well, I guess you’re right, then. Pity. I would’ve gladly risked further injury to my elbow to help Mothball and Sally.”

“I have no doubt of it.”

“Didn’t know you could even see your elbow,” Mothball muttered. “What with all that natural padding.”

“Well, at least mine don’t jut out like pelican beaks!” Rutger countered. “Try gaining a pound or two so we quit thinking a skeleton rose up from the dead to scare the willies out of us.”

“Well, I would, now wouldn’t I, if you bloody let us have a bite or two at supper before you gobbled it all down that fat neck of yours.”

“Ah,” George said through a sigh. “This is more like it. If you two are going at it with each other, then at least something is right in the world.”

“What about us?” Sofia asked. It was the first time she’d spoken since the meeting began, and her soft voice was sad but strong. These new Realitants had life in them yet. “Our families are fine—we’ve checked on them, visited them—so we can do whatever you need us to do now.”

“Yeah,” Paul added, a little more spirit in his face too. “I can’t sit around this place one more second, listening to Rutger brag about his cooking and telling stupid jokes.”

George looked at Sato. “And you?”

The boy folded his arms across his chest. “I said I’m ready. And my army is too.”

“Okay, then.” George thought a moment. There were countless things that needed to be done throughout the Realities. Where to start? “Sato, I want you to go back to the Thirteenth Reality and destroy the remaining creatures that Jane manufactured at the Factory. We need to make sure that world is safe and back to the way it was meant to be.”

“Done,” Sato said immediately, without the slightest hint of fear.

“And . . . us?” Paul asked.

George put his hands on the table and leaned forward. “You two are going to pay a visit to a very old friend of mine. She lives in the Third Reality, and we can only hope that she doesn’t eat you for supper when you arrive.”

Chapter 5

Squishy Grass

Lisa screamed when it happened, but she couldn’t hear her voice over the terrible sounds of thunder that pounded the air like detonating bombs. One second she’d been sitting in the forest, looking at her mom and the Barrier Wand, hearing a hum and feeling vibrations in her legs. The next, she’d been whipped into a tornado of swirling gray air, spinning, the world tilting all around her. The noises pounding her skull. She tried to find her mom—at least see her—but there was nothing. Only a gray whirlpool of smoke.

And then it ended. Abruptly.

Lisa’s body slammed onto soft, squishy ground. She immediately felt moisture seeping through her clothes and jumped to her feet—which was a bad idea. Her mind was still recovering from whatever she’d just been through and dizziness twirled inside of her until she fell right back down. She was lying on a huge field of grass, saturated with rain. Heavy clouds hung in the sky above her, making the day seem dark.