Authors: Lee Bacon
By the time I brushed my teeth and climbed into the bottom bunk, the only sounds in the room were the patter of rain against the windows and the
of Milton on his laptop above me. Just as I was starting to drift off, the
bed creaked. A second later, Milton’s head appeared next to me, upside down.
“Dude!” he said. “You’ve gotta see what I just found!”
“Is it more photos of Scarlett Flame in a bikini?”
“Not that.” Milton lowered his laptop. “Take a look at this.”
I leaned forward. The screen showed the website for
. A headline was splashed across the top of the page in big, bold letters:
RARE COMPONENT GOES MISSING!
“Okay?” I squinted drowsily at the screen. “And?”
“Just read it.”
“Fine.” I took the computer and began reading.
Officials are scratching their heads in the wake of another bold burglary. Mere hours ago, a duo of dangerous desperadoes stole a Neutron Flow Reversal Chamber from the high-security research facility where it was being kept—
Suddenly, I was wide awake. I reached for the side table, where I’d emptied my pockets earlier. Loose change, cell phone—and a slip of paper. The same paper that had fallen out of nFinity’s shoulder pouch in the food court. I scanned the list until I saw what I was looking for.
Neutron Flow Reversal Chamber
It was the second object on the list to be stolen in a twenty-four-hour period. And I could already guess who
was behind it. Scrolling down, my eyes scanned words in the article—
only device of its kind in the world … scene of destruction … motive unknown
—until I got to a black-and-white security photo of the thieves.
Grifter and Lunk.
There were a total of four items on the list. And now they’d stolen two of them. Staring at the grainy photo of the telekinetic pixie and her enormous concrete buddy, I wondered what they planned to steal next.
BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!
I was startled awake by a pounding at the door. Bolting up in bed, I could hear Milton snoring.
“Extra cheese on those nachos,
,” he mumbled.
Gradually, the details of my new life came back to me. I was in a dorm, at Alabaster. Today was our first day of classes.
I’d been up half the night thinking about the article Milton showed me on his laptop. I still had no idea what Grifter and Lunk were up to. But if they were working for Phineas Vex, it had to be something wicked.
Whoever was at the door began banging again. Looking at the digital clock on the bedside table sent a flurry of panic through my chest.
I banged on the top bunk. “Milton, wake up!”
The bed creaked and Milton let out a sleepy groan. “Huh? Whu?”
“We’re late. First class is in twenty minutes.”
As another round of knocking shook the door, I jumped out of bed. But that was about as far as I got. The sheets were still tangled around my legs and I landed face-first on the floor. Kicking my legs free, I staggered across the room and swung open the door—
And there was the RHM. Bob. Balanced on his metal hands was a stack of clothes.
“Your uniforms,” droned the robot.
“Uniforms?” I repeated.
“Students are required to wear a school-mandated uniform to all classes.”
I grabbed the pile of clothes. “Thanks, Bob.”
The RHM swiveled and made his way back down the hall.
I slammed the door closed and began sorting through the clothes. “Here.” I tossed a white shirt and khakis in Milton’s direction. Then I held up a long strip of blue fabric. “We’re supposed to wear … a
I had no idea how to
a tie. And neither did Milton. But that was something we’d have to figure out later. Because by the time we’d put on the rest of our uniforms, we had less than ten minutes until our first class. Knotting the tie sloppily around my neck, I grabbed my backpack and burst into the hallway.
We rushed down the hall, through the empty rec room, and down the stairs. Luckily, Milton and I had the same
class for first period. Unluckily, neither of us had any idea how to get there.
Most other students must’ve already been in class, because the halls were nearly vacant. We ran down one corridor, then another, searching for the classroom, until a voice stopped us in our tracks.
“There you are! We’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
Sophie was standing in the center of the hall, her arms crossed. She was wearing a blue-checked skirt and a white polo.
to you guys?” she asked.
Milton was doubled over, trying to catch his breath. Between huge gulps of air, he managed to get out the basic info. “Overslept.”
. “Robot woke us.”
. “Looking for”—
—“room one twenty-one.”
“Miranda and I are in that class too. She’s saving us a seat.”
“Great!” I said. “Let’s go.”
“Uh … you’re not showing up to class like that, are you?”
I glanced down. My tie looked like it’d been twisted around my neck by a gorilla.
Sophie rolled her eyes. “Here, let me do it.” She reached out and loosened the tie, pulling the end between a fold. With her standing so close, I was suddenly unsure what to do with my hands.
“Um … so, where’d you learn to do this?” I asked, more to break the silence than anything.
“My dad’s completely clueless when it comes to tying a tie,” she said. “It’s not a skill a superhero needs very often. So whenever he has a fancy awards ceremony, I end up doing it for him.”
Sophie pulled at the tie and straightened the knot.
“There. That should do the trick.”
Sophie remained where she was standing, and so did I. Her face inches from mine, her hands resting on my collar. It felt like we stood like that for a half hour, but it was probably closer to a half second before Milton’s voice broke in.
“Uh … I could use a little help too.”
I stumbled backward, jamming my hands into my pockets. Sophie turned away from me, clearing her throat. Beside us, Milton watched with a quizzical expression on his face and a tie wrapped around his forehead.
Hurrying to first period, I filled Sophie in on Milton’s discovery from the night before. The break-in at the high-security research facility and the stolen Neutron Flow Reversal Chamber.
“That’s the second item on nFinity’s list,” Sophie said breathlessly. “But why?”
I jumped sideways just in time to dodge an older kid on a hover skateboard. A teacher’s voice called from a doorway. “No hover vehicles in the hallway, Mr. Cooper.”
“All we know so far is that Grifter and Lunk committed both robberies,” I said. “And that they’re working for nFinity—”
“In other words, Phineas Vex,” Milton added.
“There are two more items on the list,” Sophie pointed out.
“An Oscillating Particle Immobilizer. And the Dominion Key.” I still had no idea what either object was. But I’d spent enough time staring at the list that the strange words practically rolled off my tongue.
“I bet it’s only a matter of time before they try to steal those too.” Sophie speed-walked around the corner. Milton and I followed. Our room was up ahead. A few other kids were also hustling to class. One was running on the ceiling.
“I just wish I knew what Vex was up to,” Milton said.
The bell rang just as we entered the room. Our conversation would have to wait.
Milton and I paused in the doorway, looking around the room. Rows of lab stations, two students seated at each. The gray stone walls were decorated with diagrams of bombs and illustrations of missiles. A poster near the back was headlined
WHAT TOO DO IF YOUR HAIR CATCHES ON FIRE
What kind of class was this?
I got an answer to my question a second later when the teacher stood and called out in an English accent, “Welcome to Introduction to High-Grade Weaponry.”
In the back corner was an empty lab station. I trailed Milton across the room and took a seat.
“My name is Dr. Nigel Fleming,” said the teacher. “The previous High-Grade Weaponry teacher was horribly
injured in a heat-seeking-missile incident. I couldn’t be more thrilled to take over the position!”
Dr. Fleming was tall, with graying brown hair. He looked like the kind of guy who would play the cool dad on a TV show. Stacks of notes were scattered across his desk. Behind him on the blackboard was a blizzard of calculations.
“Your presence at Alabaster Academy implies that you are among the nation’s most gifted Gyfted children,” Dr. Fleming announced. “Many of you will grow up to become superheroes, supervillains, secret agents, spies, scientists.… Therefore, it’s imperative that you learn how to deploy and defuse the world’s deadliest weapons. In this class, you will each be working with a partner to gain practical experience dealing with highly explosive materials. So make sure you wear lab goggles.”
I glanced sideways at Milton. He was grinning like a maniac.
Dr. Fleming grabbed a cardboard box from his messy desk and moved around the room, carefully handing each set of partners a small gadget. The thing looked like one of my dad’s unfinished inventions: a jumble of circuit boards and batteries entangled in a nest of multicolored wires. On top of it was a blank digital display.
“You have each been given a simple time bomb,” Dr. Fleming said.
I scooted back on my stool.
The teacher continued. “Your first assignment is to disable the bomb before detonation. On page fourteen of your
textbook, you’ll find a list of instructions on how to do this. You have five minutes.”
Dr. Fleming pushed aside a pile of paperwork, revealing a laptop. Flipping it open, he jabbed the keyboard a few times. The digital display on our bomb thingy suddenly flashed a string of red numbers:
“Please open your textbooks and begin.” Dr. Fleming pressed another key on the laptop and the numbers began counting down.
“This has to be a joke,” I whispered to Milton. “I thought the first day was supposed to be a breeze.”
“It’s gonna be more like an explosion if we don’t figure this out,” Milton replied.
I flipped open our book. On page fourteen was a labeled illustration of the bomb, followed by a list of detailed steps. I scanned the page.
Remove the blue wire and replace with the teal wire.… Give the half-inch battery a quarter-turn in a counterclockwise direction.… Make sure you don’t touch the purple wire—doing so will detonate the bomb.…
Glancing from the page to the bomb, I felt my brain starting to melt. There must’ve been twenty different wires, and at least five of them looked purple to me.
At the lab station beside us were Sophie and Miranda. They seemed to be making a lot more progress. Miranda’s fingers plucked at the bomb, pulling at wires like she’d done this a thousand times before, while Sophie watched. Must have been nice to have a Senser as a lab partner.
I tried to reread the page, but my eyes kept skipping to the digital clock. Time was ticking away.