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Things have changed for Atticus Higginbottom. After the near catastrophe in the Fourth Reality, Tick’s being homeschooled in the fields of science, trying to master the mysterious Chi’karda.
But just as he begins to make progress, Mistress Jane reappears, now hideously scarred and much more powerful. She has tapped into the universe’s darkest secret to create the Blade of Shattered Hope, and in her quest to attain a Utopian Reality for the future of mankind, she’s ready to risk billions of lives—including those of Tick’s parents and sisters—to set her plan in motion. Her vengeance knows no bounds.
When rumors begin to circulate about the secret scientific experiments taking place at the Factory, Tick and his friends Sato, Sofia, and Paul are faced with their most dangerous task yet. And they must not fail or the entire universe could cease to exist.
About the Author
James Dashner was born and raised in a small town in Georgia, surrounded by a creepy forest that provided many ideas for stories later on in life. His love of books and writing made him dream of being an author someday, and he still can’t believe how fortunate he is to have his wish come true.
James loves many things, but mostly his family, writing, reading, sports, movies, potato chips, autumn weather, and naps.
James can’t wait to hear from his readers. If you ever want to ask him how to make a sandwich or how to tie a nifty double knot, just look in the wind-carved, snow-swept mountains of the west, where he is purported to live with a very beautiful woman and four adorable children. Or, you can just go to his website, www.The13thReality.com
The Kyoopy Quiz
Okay,” Mr. Chu said, leaning both his elbows on his desk at school and staring down at the open physics book. “If you get this one right, you are The Man. That’s capital T, capital M.”
“Hit me,” Tick responded. Even he could hear the tiredness in his own voice. He’d been studying with Mr. Chu for more than an hour, question after question. Tick was schooled at home now since Master George had insisted that it was too dangerous for Tick to be out and about with classmates and the general public every day. But enough time had passed that Tick had finally convinced his parents and Master George to let him visit Mr. Chu three times a week in the afternoons. Any break from the house was welcome, even if it did involve his former teacher grilling him with questions about physics. Mr. Chu glanced up before continuing, a grin spreading across his face. Tick faltered a moment, hating how much the man looked like his Alterant from the Fourth Reality. Like Reginald Chu. The evil Reginald Chu, who was stuck—uncomfortably, Tick hoped—in a place called the Nonex. Too bad Master George didn’t have a clue as to where the Nonex was, or what it was, or anything else about it at all.
“Okay,” Mr. Chu said, speaking slowly. “How does the wave-particle property paradox contradict the theorems related to radiation damping and nonlinearity in the pilot wave interpretation of quantum mechanics?”
Tick slumped back in his chair. He barely understood the question, much less knew the answer. Figuring his brain had finally gone to sleep, he murmured, “I give up. My head’s not working right now.”
Mr. Chu laughed, and any remnant of his Alterant was wiped away in a flash. “I was just kidding. I’m not sure the question even made sense, actually.”
Tick couldn’t help but feel relieved. He needed to understand quantum physics and all the sciences in order to figure out what was wrong with him. He had an extremely dangerous influence over Chi’karda, the force that ruled the world of quantum physics—or QP, as Mr. Chu liked to call it—and Tick had very nearly killed himself and countless others when his Chi’karda had gotten out of control just a few months ago.
Since then, he’d been careful not to get too excited or too angry. So far nothing bad had happened—except for the time he’d sent his poor dad flying across the room and through an upstairs window. If it hadn’t been for that bush . . . Well, needless to say, the bush didn’t survive, but his dad—whose weight was classified somewhere between pudgy and ginormous—did. Though he had complained about a hurt back for weeks, sending Tick on countless runs to the kitchen to get him cookies and milk to enjoy during their videogame battles.
“Tick?” Mr. Chu asked, snapping his fingers.
Tick realized he’d been staring at the floor, completely lost in his thoughts. “Oh. Sorry. I was just thinking about something.”
Mr. Chu yawned, then closed the science book with a loud thump. “Well, you’ve got a lot to think about. Any problems lately?”
“No.” He looked into his teacher’s eyes, trying to see if he could read anything there. The man had been through just as much as Tick had, and Tick worried about him. “What about you? Have you . . . gotten over it?”
“Gotten over what? Being imprisoned by a bunch of thugs, forced to torment you and your friends, almost killed? What’s there to get over?”
Tick shook his head, trying not to look sad, but knowing he did. Thinking back to what had happened in the Fourth Reality, and everything that led up to it, always made him sad. He didn’t even really understand why—or at least he told himself that. After all, they’d escaped. They were safe. All seemed fine in the world.
But deep down, he knew why he felt sad. He knew all too well.
It was her. It was Mistress Jane. What he’d done to her.
“Tick,” Mr. Chu repeated, snapping his fingers again. “What’s buzzing in that brain of yours?”
“I didn’t mean to hurt her,” Tick said, almost whispering. His heart felt like a squishy pile of mud. “I don’t even know exactly what I did to her. For all we know, I killed her.”
Mr. Chu stood up, shaking his head. “Enough of that.” He picked up the book and slid it inside Tick’s backpack, then held the pack out toward him. “Seriously. You shouldn’t feel one ounce of guilt for something that happened completely out of your control.”
Tick didn’t respond, just reached out and took his backpack, slipping the straps over his shoulders.
“I’m not even going to talk about it with you anymore,” Mr. Chu continued. “Maybe that’s making your subconscious mind think it’s something you should feel guilty about, something you should come to terms with, seek forgiveness for. Well, it’s not. As soon as blame the wood for killing with fire.”
“Huh?” Tick asked.
Mr. Chu shrugged. “Sorry. It was the best I could come up with.”
For some reason, that made Tick feel better. “I’m fine, I guess. It’s just that . . . she seemed like maybe she was starting to feel bad about being so evil. I thought maybe she was going to change, maybe even help us.”
Mr. Chu put two fingers together and swiped them across his lips like pulling a zipper.
Tick rolled his eyes. “Fine. Well, thanks for helping me study. I’ll see ya next week.”
“Sounds like a plan. Study the chapter on natural electricity’s role in physics carefully. A lot of things build off that information.”
“I will. See ya.”
“Take care.” Mr. Chu smiled then, and he looked nothing like his diabolical twin who had almost driven billions of people permanently insane.
Tick turned and headed out the door, deciding at the last second to swing by the city library to check his e-mail before going home. He was looking forward to the best weekend ever—his sisters Lisa and Kayla had gone to stay with their cousins in Seattle until Monday night. Uncle Ben and Aunt Holly had two daughters the same ages as Tick’s sisters, and the two families swapped weekends between Deer Park and Seattle about every five months.
No girls for three whole days. Well, unless you counted his mom, which he really didn’t.
Peace and quiet. Books, junk food, and video games. It was gonna be great.
Mrs. Sears, the librarian, was in her usual good mood, greeting Tick with that lilting laugh of hers as the gray cleaning pad she called her hair wiggled back and forth on her head. She asked him about the pros and cons of homeschooling, the latest books he’d been reading, and how he’d been faring against his dad in the latest installment of his favorite video game, Football 4000. But every time he answered a question, he eyed the long line of computers, trying to give her a hint.
Finally she nodded toward an empty chair and said, “Well, I know why you’re here. Go on, and I’ll find you a good book before you head out. Deal?”
“Deal,” Tick responded, already moving away.
He was logged into his e-mail in no time. Just as he’d hoped, there was a letter from Sofia and one from Paul. Jackpot. Paul’s had been sent first, addressed to both Tick and Sofia, as usual. Tick opened Paul’s e-mail and began reading.
Okay, I’m bored. When the highlight of your day is getting an e-mail from some chick in Italy about how she hurt her pinky toe in a vicious spaghetti sauce can incident, you know it’s time to change things. Where in the world is Master George? Yeah, I know we almost died and all that in the Fourth, but better that than getting up at the crack of dawn for school and then sitting around all afternoon eating cheese puffs. I can’t watch TV anymore. Too boring.
Tick, how’s that whole power thing of yours working out? Melted any bad guys recently? Dude, I was thinking we could present you to the world as the first human microwave oven. We’d be rich, and the ladies would swarm. Think about it. We’ll split it 50–50. You do the cooking, I’ll do the promoting.
Sofia, when you gonna bring us out to Italy? Don’t give me any junk about money. Just ask ol’ Pops to slip you a few bones to buy us airplane tickets. I’ll even bring you some hot dogs. No, make that corn dogs. Yeah. Corn dogs and Italy. Now that’s living.
I’m out. Any time you start mentioning corn dogs, you know it’s time to end the e-mail. Later. Call us in, Master George!
Still snickering, Tick closed the e-mail and opened Sofia’s, which had been sent soon after Paul’s, despite the time difference.
Did you really start that last e-mail with “Dudes”?!?!? Promise me you’ll call me a dude next time I see you. Oh, and “chick from Italy”? You’re getting awfully brave, Rogers, what with an entire ocean between us. Next time we meet, you might want to wear something made of metal.
I’m kind of bored too. Things with my parents seem worse than ever. All my old friends just seem stupid now. I hate how clueless they are. They have no idea what kind of stuff is going on out there.
I wish I had a funny joke. But once Paul says something that’s actually funny, I’ll try harder.
Seriously, though, I do think you guys should come to Italy. I’ll ask Frupey about it. Maybe this summer. Of course, I hope we’re doing something as Realitants by then.
Tick looked at his watch and realized he should probably get home. His mom worried her head off every time he left the house these days. Deciding he’d just write his friends from home later, he logged off, checked out the book Mrs. Sears recommended, then headed out the door.
Just a few minutes later, he was walking down the long road toward his neighborhood, surprised that he was already sweating.
It was almost spring, but it was still too early to be hot in Deer Park, Washington. Since his escape from the Fourth Reality, Tick had seen his birthday come and go—he was a manly fourteen years old now. Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year, and most of the winter had passed as well; April was just a few days away. Tick had heard less and less from Master George in the last month or so. It gave him an uneasy feeling. He wondered if it was the calm before the storm.
He wondered about Mistress Jane, too. He’d give anything to know what had happened to her. Whether or not she was still alive. And if so, whether or not she was okay. He dreamed about her at night, reliving those terrible moments in Chu’s palace when he’d sent a world of chaos at her body and attacked her with thousands of flying shards of metal.
For some reason, he’d lately had dreams where one of his sisters—sometimes Lisa, sometimes Kayla—replaced Jane and suffered the terrible onslaught instead, screaming in agony. He woke up in a sweat every time, and seeing it play out that way humanized the ordeal, made it more real. No matter what she’d done in the past, Jane was still a person, just like Lisa and Kayla.
His actions haunted him, consumed him with guilt. He wished—
Tick stumbled to the ground, crying out as one of his elbows banged against the rock-hard dirt of the road’s shoulder. He twisted onto his back, fear ripping through his body. He searched around with his eyes, tried to figure out what had happened. It’d been like a wave of hardened air had slammed against him, knocking him down with a sound like the thump of a million bass drums . . .
He braced himself as a massive surge of energy swept across the road and past him. He expected his hair and clothes to whip in the wind, but nothing stirred. He almost felt the energy . . . inside his body. As if someone had injected charges of lightning into his bloodstream.
Tick squeezed his eyes shut. He felt a surge of heat in his chest, an intense pressure that enveloped his body, then it disappeared. Terrified, he scrambled to his feet, stumbling in a circle as he searched around him. There was nothing unusual in sight, nothing out of the ordinary.
Tick took a step backward, wrapping his arms tightly around him, tensing as the wave of force hit again. With each surge of energy, he felt heat within his heart and veins, like a raging fever. Heat. Pressure. Squeezing. But only for an instant. Then it was gone again.
Gasping for breath, he stood as still as possible, peeking through squinted eyes, waiting for it to happen again. His mind churned, trying to imagine what it could be. In some ways it felt like the attack of Chi’karda he’d had when everything had gone crazy in Reginald Chu’s research chamber.
Similar, but different.
This wasn’t coming from him. He was feeling it coming from somewhere else.
A blast of panic shot through his nerves. From somewhere else . . .
The wave hit again. Tick sprinted for home.