City of the Dead (City Spies Series #4)

City of the Dead (City Spies Series #4)

by James Ponti
City of the Dead (City Spies Series #4)

City of the Dead (City Spies Series #4)

by James Ponti

Paperback(Reprint)

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Overview

In this fourth installment in the New York Times bestselling series from Edgar Award winner James Ponti, the young group of spies go codebreaking in Cairo in another international adventure perfect for fans of Spy School and Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls.

Codename Kathmandu, better known as Kat, loves logic and order, has a favorite eight-digit number, and can spot a pattern from a mile away. So when a series of cyberattacks hits key locations in London while the spies are testing security for the British Museum, it’s clear that Kat’s skill for finding reason in what seems like randomness makes her the perfect candidate to lead the job.

And while the team follows the deciphered messages to Egypt and the ancient City of the Dead to discover who is behind the attacks and why, Kat soon realizes that there’s another layer to the mystery.

With more players, more clues, and involving higher levels of British Intelligence than ever before, this mission is one of the most complex that the group has faced to date. And it’s also going to bring about a change to the City Spies...

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781665911580
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 01/09/2024
Series: City Spies Series , #4
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 24,275
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.20(d)
Lexile: 760L (what's this?)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

About The Author
James Ponti is the New York Times bestselling author of four middle grade book series: The Sherlock Society following a group of young detectives; City Spies, about an unlikely squad of five kids from around the world who form an elite MI6 Spy Team; the Edgar Award–winning Framed! series, about a pair of tweens who solve mysteries in Washington, DC; and the Dead City trilogy, about a secret society that polices the undead living beneath Manhattan. His books have appeared on more than fifteen different state award lists, and he is the founder of a writers group known as the Renegades of Middle Grade. James is also an Emmy–nominated television writer and producer who has worked for many networks including Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, PBS, History, and Spike TV, as well as NBC Sports. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. Find out more at JamesPonti.com.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: British Museum 1. British Museum
LONDON, ENGLAND—PRESENT DAY

ON A SLATE GRAY NOVEMBER day, one hundred years after the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb, a group of five young people converged in a part of London known as Bloomsbury. Like Howard Carter, they were looking to recover treasures of Egyptian antiquity. Except they weren’t going to dig a tunnel in the desert. They were going to sneak through one in an abandoned section of the London Underground. And the artifacts they sought weren’t concealed in some long-forgotten tomb. They were on display at one of the busiest museums in the world.

This was no excavation. It was a heist.

“Testing comms, one, two, three,” Kat said into the microphone hidden in the red remembrance poppy pinned to her lapel. “Can everybody hear me?”

“Loud and clear,” said Paris.

“Perfectly,” answered Rio.

“All good on my end,” Brooklyn replied.

There was a pause as they waited for a final voice to check in.

“Sydney, are you not responding because you can’t hear me?” Kat asked. “Or is it because you’re still pouting?”

After a moment, Sydney replied, “I’m sorry. I was under the impression nobody cared what I had to say.”

“So, pouting,” Paris commented.

“I’m not pouting,” Sydney said defensively. “I’m just... disappointed. All I asked was that we slide the break-in a couple hours so we could see the fireworks at Battersea Park. You know how much I love Bonfire Night. It’s going to be huge and everyone’s going to be there.”

“Which is exactly why we’re going to be here,” Kat said. “The police will be spread thin, and there are no celebrations scheduled for Bloomsbury. That means they’ll be elsewhere, which dramatically improves the probability of us not getting caught.”

Kat was the alpha on this mission, which meant she had to come up with the plan to break into the British Museum. She’d studied dozens of famous robberies and noticed that many took place on holidays or during special events, when police and security altered their normal patterns and were understaffed. She picked this date because of its connection to one of the most infamous figures in British history.

On November 5, 1605, a soldier-turned-radical named Guy Fawkes was captured before he could execute his plan to use thirty-six barrels of gunpowder to blow up Parliament. Ever since, Britons had marked the occasion with raucous public displays that included bonfires, burning effigies, and fireworks.

For Sydney, a born rebel who loved “making things go boom,” it was as if Bonfire Night had been created specifically with her in mind. And here she was in London, so close to some of the biggest celebrations in the country, yet she was going to miss out.

“Just tell me this,” Kat said. “Are you good to go with the mission? Or is this going to be a problem?”

“Of course I’m good,” Sydney replied. “I never let anything affect our work.”

“Excellent,” Kat said. “And if it makes you feel better, I’ll try to find something for you to blow up.”

“I really appreciate it,” Sydney replied with a smile. “That means a lot.”

Rio cleared his throat and said, “Now that we’ve got everybody’s feelings sorted, can we please get started?”

“Yeah,” Brooklyn added, “you know we can’t do anything until you give us the word.”

As the alpha, it was Kat’s responsibility to say the good luck phrase that kicked off every operation.

“Okay, then,” she said, surveying the museum entrance from her vantage point in the Great Court. “This operation is hot. We are a go.”

And just like that, the City Spies were in action. The five of them were an experimental team of agents, aged twelve to fifteen, who worked for MI6, British Secret Intelligence. They were called in for assignments in which adults would stand out but kids could blend in.

In this instance, the job was to steal two items on display in a special exhibition called Wonderful Things: One Hundred Years of Tutmania. They didn’t know why they were stealing them; after all, spies weren’t supposed to ask too many questions. All they’d been told was that it was in the best interests of the British government for them to do so.

Kat had never been the alpha for a mission this big, and she’d prepared for it like she did most things, as though it were a series of complex math equations. She split the heist into two parts so they could, in her words, “isolate the variables.” The theft wouldn’t happen until after the museum closed. But now, while it was still open, they had to set things up for later.

“Everyone good with what they’re supposed to do?” she asked.

“Yes,” Rio groaned. “We’ve gone over it and over it and over it.”

“Good,” Kat replied. “Repetition leads to fluency, and fluency leads to confidence. It’s a cornerstone of executing complicated mathematical processes.”

“Except this isn’t math,” Rio said. “It’s a break-in.”

“You’re so funny,” Kat told him. “Everything’s math. Now blend in and disappear. Do your best to stay invisible.”

“Don’t worry,” Sydney replied. “We’ll be ghosts.”

“Yeah,” Rio added. “Math ghosts.”

With so many kids at the museum, they had no trouble blending in as they went to work on their specific assignments. Kat had even managed to get uniforms that matched those of schools visiting on field trips. This let them enter with large student groups that bypassed the normal security line.

“We’re at the west stairs, and there are no surprises,” Sydney informed the others.

She and Rio were double-checking the route they needed to take later that night. The team had plotted it using a virtual tour of the museum they found online. This let them carefully study every room and look for vulnerabilities. Now, they had to make sure that nothing had changed or been added in the time since the tour was filmed.

“There’s a CCTV camera on the ceiling,” Rio said. “And the entrance to the Egyptian gallery is protected by a roll-down gate that’s operated by a keypad next to the doorway.”

“We’ll be able to control those once Brooklyn hacks their computer system,” said Kat.

“Grab a photo of the keypad,” Brooklyn said. “Make sure it shows the name of the manufacturer so I can download an operator’s manual.”

“Got it,” Sydney answered.

She motioned for Rio to stand near the pad so it would look like she was taking a picture of him and not the device.

“Smile,” she said, and he flashed a goofy grin.

Next, they walked through the Egyptian sculpture gallery, where they noted and took pictures of three different security features. There were motion detectors along the wall, closed-circuit television cameras on the ceiling, and sensors eighteen inches above the floor that were part of a laser trip-wire system.

They made special note of these locations because, unlike in the movies, there wouldn’t be brightly colored beams of light they could dance around. The lasers would be nearly invisible, and tripping any one of them would mean disaster for the mission.

As they mapped the location of two sensors near a giant statue of Rameses II, Rio noticed a security guard standing nearby. His nametag read OFFICER HAWK, although his droopy mustache and lumpy physique seemed more walrus than bird of prey.

“Target acquired,” Rio said in a low voice to Sydney.

“Why him?” she asked.

“Two things,” Rio answered. “He’s friendly and he’s awkward.”

Sydney gave him a curious look.

“Security guards are supposed to be standoffish to intimidate you,” Rio said. “But notice how he smiles and makes eye contact with people. He wants to connect and be liked.”

“And awkward?”

“His tie’s crooked, and his shirt’s tucked in unevenly,” Rio explained. “Not only that, but his ID badge is clipped to his belt instead of his shirt pocket, which makes it easier to lift.”

“It’s scary how well you read people,” Sydney said.

“I’ve got skills,” Rio said. “Nice of someone to notice for a change.”

For years, Rio’s ability to read people had been essential to his survival. He’d lived on the streets of Rio de Janeiro and made money by performing magic for tourists on a sidewalk near Copacabana Beach. To do that, he had to know how to read an audience and be able to perform amazing sleight of hand maneuvers. He was doing both to steal a security card they’d need later.

The lift was a two-person job that they’d done many times. Sydney’s role was to be the diversion.

“Excuse me,” she said, approaching the guard. “Do you think you could take a picture of me with this statue in the background?”

According to regulations, the guard wasn’t supposed to do anything except keep an eye on the gallery. However, like Rio said, he was friendly and had trouble saying no. “Of course,” he replied with a smile. “Let’s make it quick.”

She handed him her phone and struck a pose. He snapped the shot and gave it back to her, but when she looked at the picture, she frowned.

“Ugh,” she said. “I’m sorry. Could you do it again? My eyes are closed, and it’s backlit, so you can’t see my face.”

She directed him to move over a few feet, and as she became more difficult, the guard became more distracted. This was when Rio brushed past him and deftly slipped the badge off his belt. Next came the tricky part. Rio had to copy the badge and put it back before the guard noticed it was missing. If it was reported lost, the protocol was for that card to be deactivated, which would render it useless.

Rio slid it into his pocket and pressed it against his phone, which had a built-in scanner and cloning app. After a few seconds, he heard a single beep that told him it was done. Then he moved back to them, where Sydney was unsatisfied with another picture and the guard’s patience was running thin.

Rio nosed into their conversation. “The problem is the light from that window,” he said, pointing at the photo on Sydney’s phone. “You need to be on the opposite side of the room.”

The guard wanted no part of this. “I’m not moving to...”

“Why don’t I take it?” Rio offered.

“Good idea,” said the guard.

As he handed Sydney’s phone back to her, Rio clipped the ID badge back to the guard’s belt.

“Here you go,” replied the guard.

“Thank you for your help,” said Sydney.

They walked away, and once they were out of earshot, Rio whispered, “Friendly and awkward, my two favorite traits.” They crossed the room to take the picture with better lighting so as not to draw suspicion from the guard, and then they went directly to another gallery and found a door marked STAFF ONLY. They waited until no one was around before Rio held up his phone next to the ID sensor. A light on the sensor turned from red to green, and they heard the lock click open.

“We’re all set with the security doors,” Rio said proudly.

“Nice job,” answered Kat.

Kat was still in the Great Court, which sat in the middle of the museum’s four vast wings. Originally, this two-acre area had been outdoors, but since 2000 it had been enclosed with a giant glass roof above, making it the largest covered public square in Europe. She’d picked this as the ideal location to study the security staff. Kat had an innate ability to see patterns where others saw only chaos, and she was analyzing the guards’ movements, trying to figure out the exact route they took while making their rounds.

She noticed they tended to move floor by floor from bottom to top and in a counterclockwise direction on each level. She couldn’t be certain that they’d do the same at night, but she thought it was likely that they would.

“Brooklyn, Paris, how are things for you?” she asked.

“Tricky,” answered Paris.

“Yeah,” Brooklyn added. “It’s crowded over here.”

The pair was in a hallway between two galleries featuring artifacts of Ancient Greece and Rome. There, beneath a stairwell, a computer storage room held servers for the west wing of the museum. Brooklyn wanted to use them so that she could “patch into the subnet and take over the entire system.” This would give her remote control of the CCTV cameras, motion detectors, and other security features when they came back that evening. But to get into the room, Paris needed to pick the lock on the door, and he was having trouble because there were too many people nearby. Brooklyn was acting as lookout and signaled him with a nod that the coast was finally clear.

“If you need some help with a diversion or picking the lock, Sydney and I can always come to the rescue,” Rio teased.

“We’ve got skills,” Sydney added, giving Rio a wink.

“Just hold your horses,” Brooklyn said. “We don’t need the cavalry quite yet.” She muted her mic for a second and turned to whisper to Paris. “We don’t, do we?”

“No,” Paris answered confidently as he jiggled the lockpick and opened the door. “We’re all set.”

They swapped positions, and now Paris became the lookout. Once he was sure it was safe, he gave Brooklyn a nod, and she slipped into the room.

Moments later she said, “Um, we may need some help after all.”

“Why’s that?” asked Kat.

“Because the servers are gone,” Brooklyn answered.

“What?” everyone else asked in unison.

Inside the room, all Brooklyn found was some stray cable and a row of metal brackets and supports.

“They’ve been moved,” she said. “All that’s left are the racks to hold them.”

“What does that mean?” asked Rio.

“For one thing, it means that I can’t hack their network from here,” Brooklyn said.

In the Great Court, Kat’s mind was racing. Up until this point, everything had gone exactly as planned, but in order to pull off the heist, they needed to access the security system. One weakness with giant equations was that if a single number was wrong, all the other calculations were ruined.

“Is there another server room in the east wing?” asked Sydney.

“Yes,” said Brooklyn. “But it’s probably empty too. The only reason they’d take them out of here is because they’ve consolidated everything into a central location. Unfortunately, we have no idea where that is.”

“Is there anywhere else you can hack into the system?” Sydney asked.

“There’s always the main security office,” Brooklyn joked. “Although, I doubt we can get in there without getting caught.”

“What if you use a computer outside the building?” asked Rio.

“If I could do that, I already would’ve,” said Brooklyn. “Their network is air gapped. That means it’s completely disconnected from the internet. It’s local access only.”

“So, what do we do?” asked Paris. “Postpone the mission? Cancel it?”

“No way,” Sydney interjected. “This mission came straight from Tru,” she said, referencing the high-ranking MI6 official who had ultimate authority over the team. “We can’t let her down. We’ve got to do it.”

“Kat, you’re the alpha,” Paris said. “What do you think?”

Kat had planned things down to the smallest detail, but now they were slipping off track. It was her biggest mission as an alpha, and she felt like she was failing. Almost imperceptibly, she began to bounce on the balls of her feet and twitch her fingers at the second knuckle, telltale signs of growing anxiety.

“I don’t know what to think,” she admitted.

“I say we go straight to plan B,” Sydney said confidently.

“Do we have a plan B?” asked Brooklyn.

“Maybe... kind of,” Sydney answered, formulating one on the spot.

“Maybe, kind of?” said Rio. “Why do I not feel confident about this?”

“W-w-what are you thinking?” Kat asked with a slight, nervous stammer.

“I’m still piecing it together,” said Sydney. “You’ll just have to trust me on this one.”

There was a pause on the comms channel.

“Kat?” Paris asked. “It’s your call.”

“O-okay,” she said reluctantly. “Tell us what to do.”

“I need Brooklyn to meet me at the Rosetta Stone, and I need everybody else to keep a safe distance. Looks like I’m going to get to celebrate Guy Fawkes after all.”

“Tell me you’re not going to set off an explosive in the middle of the British Museum,” Kat exclaimed.

“Of course not,” Sydney said. “I’m not asking you to keep your distance because I’m worried about you getting injured. I just want to make sure you’re clear of things in case this goes wrong and someone needs to get us out of jail.”

“Now I’m the one who’s not feeling confident,” Brooklyn protested. “I thought we were being ghosts?”

“We are,” Sydney said. “Except we’re going to be like the ones in the attic who howl and rattle loud chains.”

The Rosetta Stone was the most famous artifact in the museum. Nearly four feet tall and weighing just under seventeen hundred pounds, the granite slab was inscribed with three different languages and was the key to how Egyptologists deciphered the code to understanding hieroglyphics. It stood in the center of room four, the Egyptian sculpture gallery. When Brooklyn reached it, Sydney was already waiting for her.

“You ready?” Sydney asked.

“For what?” Brooklyn answered. “You’ve been kind of vague.”

“Yeah. I’m pretty sure if I’d said my plan out loud, it would’ve been rejected on the spot.”

Brooklyn gave her a concerned look.

“Don’t worry,” Sydney said. “Just trust me and follow my lead.”

They looked out across the gallery and could see the others watching from a distance.

“Here goes nothing,” Sydney whispered to herself. Then she started chanting, “Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason, and plot!”

It was a well-known rhyme taught to schoolchildren across the United Kingdom to commemorate the capture of Guy Fawkes.

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason, and plot!”

Sydney turned to Brooklyn and prodded her to chant along with her.

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason, and plot!”

They kept chanting and getting louder. It didn’t take long for a small group of visitors to begin looking on curiously. Moments later, a security guard rushed onto the scene.

From her vantage point, Kat looked on, worried and once again bouncing and twitching ever so slightly. There was no mathematical equation for what was happening. All she saw was chaos.

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