Nikola Kross has battled aliens and won. But her father, who was kidnapped by evil extraterrestrials, is still missing, and now it's up to Nikola and her friends to find and rescue him before it's too late. He could be anywhere in the known universe, and they have little to go on except a desperate secret communication"Kindly rescue me at your earliest convenience"and an unhelpful clue that he's in a secure facility somewhere deep underground. But the extraterrestrials are still determined to capture Nikola. And if she gets abducted, she won't have to wonder where her father is . . . because she'll already be there. In this funny and exciting sequel, Nikola and her friends discover new and unexpected allies and come face-to-face with a strange and mysterious enemy, one so powerful and so dangerous, they dare not speak his name.
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Chapter One: A Killer Pop Quiz
A single flake of snow came to rest on the tip of my nose and balanced there weightlessly—one of those tiny reminders of just how subtle and lovely the world can be if you look closely enough. I tried to blow it back into the air so it might continue on its way, but I’d just taken a sip of hot chocolate. Instead of gently nudging the pure white snowflake into flight, I brutally murdered it with a tiny jet of still-warm fluid.
As if that weren’t bad enough, it also meant I spit a little hot chocolate at the person who had just sold it to me. From her point of view, the situation must have been completely bizarre. She’d sold someone a cup of hot chocolate from her little homemade trolley. They’d paid cheerfully, mentioned how lovely the snow was, took a sip, and spit it right into her curly black hair. The look she gave me was a mixture of bewilderment, irritation, and revulsion.
I’m more used to that look than you might expect.
Fortunately for me and any other complete morons wandering the streets of School Town that day, the snow had put everyone in a pretty jovial mood, and after a second, she went on to the next person in line.
Technically, snow was strictly prohibited on school grounds during the week. At most schools, that kind of rule would be a bit difficult to enforce, but when you run a school located under an impenetrable force field, you get to exercise a little more control.
Unless someone hacks the climate control system. Then they get to make the rules for a while.
Just an hour or so before, everyone had gotten an email from Principal Patricia Plaskington reminding us of the School’s weather policies:
"Snow is allowed on weekends, winter holidays, and occasions when the pursuit of science calls for adverse weather conditions. The snow currently falling in town is UNAUTHORIZED, and because of this, students are NOT allowed to enjoy it in any way. If you are caught frolicking, gallivanting, or behaving in flagrant youthfulness in or around the snow, you may be subject to disciplinary action. If you have information that can lead us to the person or persons responsible for the contraband weather, you may be eligible for a reward. Just click the SNITCH NOW link on the administration home page, and you’ll be taken to an anonymous form where you can betray the trust of your peers in complete anonymity!"
I stepped along a path that led through the central park square, took a second first sip of my hot chocolate, and discovered once again why I was absolutely in love with the School.
The School Town could have been lifted straight out of an unrealistically idealized 1950s movie, with pristine streets, a multitude of fascinating shops, and little parks here and there just begging to be wandered through. The only thing that spoiled the illusion is that the population consists of about 5 percent adults and 95 percent kids, which is not how the fifties were at all, unless I’ve been reading the wrong history books.
The School is actually called the Plaskington International Laboratory School of Scientific Research and Technological Advancement. It’s a long name, so we just call it the School. We’re an independent learning community for humanoid aliens called parahumans and other folk who are unusually intelligent and don’t get along in normal schools. It’s a . . . unique place.
I came to the School following a pretty bizarre string of events that involved my home being destroyed and my dad being kidnapped and taken to some unknown location. It’s a long story, and if you’re reading this, you probably know all about it. If not, just try to keep up. You’ll figure it out soon enough.
All around me, students were having snowball fights, constructing forts and igloos, and creating other snowy monuments. Across a clearing I spotted my friend Dirac Fermion putting the finishing touches on a nine-foot-tall snow tyrannosaur he had made. Its eyes were glowing and smoke was cascading out of its mouth like it might breathe fire at any moment—which wasn’t completely outside the realm of possibility.
I stopped to watch a few students who were trying to come up with ways to beat Bob Flobogashtimann down the park’s steepest slope. Bob had mounted a tiny jet turbine on his sled, and because of this, he had become the undefeated star of the Tuesday Morning Crystalline Precipitation Racing League. I gave Bob a wave, which he returned as he finished repacking his drag chute for the next run.
Speaking of students who seemed unusually prepared for snow, just then Fluorine Plaskington glided down the street in my direction, carried upon a bright red full-sized sleigh, which was pulled by about two hundred miniature animatronic plastic ponies harnessed to a shimmering web of multicolored ribbons. Sitting at the reigns, Fluorine, who was about my age at the time, looked bored and slightly irritated.
Fluorine was by far the smartest kid at the School, and she had been one of very few students on my list of people who might think it a good idea to hack the School’s climate and the list of students who actually had the ability to hack the School’s climate. The fact that she had an elaborate sleigh ready to go seemed a bit too coincidental to be dismissed. I flagged her down.
She pulled to a stop next to me and gave me a What now? kind of look.
“Is this your doing?” I asked, gesturing at . . . everything.
She looked around, as if taking it all in for the first time.
She worked her mouth around in consideration. “Probably. Rubidia said I was like four years old all last night. When I woke up this morning, there was all this snow, and someone had put this whole crazy sleigh contraption together. I don’t remember doing it, but I wouldn’t put it past me.”
All that might make a little more sense if you knew Fluorine should have been about six years old, but she suffered from a condition called Pilgrim Syndrome, which was probably triggered by some unauthorized time-travel activity. This meant she was unstuck in time and tended to change age at random intervals. One minute she was thirty-six, the next she was a toddler. It was fun for everyone except her sister, Rubidia, who never knew if she’d be following orders or changing diapers when Fluorine came home after class.
I wasn’t sure I bought Fluorine’s paradox memory defense 100 percent of the time. Sometimes it seemed perfectly reasonable—you wouldn’t remember things that happen to your adult self when you were just a kid, because those things hadn’t happened yet. But there were other times when it seemed she could remember things a little better than she let on.
“Feel like giving me a ride in that?” I asked.
“I would, but something tells me they’ll have this all fixed in a few minutes. I should take the sleigh back to the house while there’s still snow for it to slide on.”
“The principal is going to kill you if she finds out,” I said.
“Nah,” Fluorine said with a dismissive wave. “Granny knows I’d never do anything like most of the things I do.”
Did I mention that Fluorine and her sister were the principal’s granddaughters? I often wondered whether Fluorine would try half the tricks she pulled if there were an actual possibility that she might face real consequences for them.
A sudden warm, dry breeze told me she was probably right about the weather going back to normal. I was about to say something else, but Fluorine had already given her team of plastic ponies a whistle and taken off back toward the student residential neighborhood.