Authors: Ridley Pearson
Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult
Kingdom KeepersâDisney After Dark
Kingdom Keepers IIâDisney at Dawn
Kingdom Keepers IIIâDisney in Shadow
Kingdom Keepers IVâPower Play
Kingdom Keepers VâShell Game
Steel TrappâThe Challenge
Steel Trapp IIâThe Academy
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Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters Â© Disney Enterprises, Inc./Pixar Animation Studios
characters Â© Disney Enterprises, Inc./Pixar Animation Studios
Winnie the Pooh characters based on the “Winnie the Pooh” works by A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard
Copyright Â© 2013 Page One, Inc.
All rights reserved. Published by Disney â¢ Hyperion Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney â¢ Hyperion Books, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.
Dedicated to the crew, stewards, cast members, actors, singers, officers, and staff who make the Disney Cruise Line unlike any other cruise experience out there.
HE CONSTELLATIONS GREW DIMMER
, the night sky swallowing them whole. These were no normal starsâthey were red, blue, white, green, yellow. Nor were
they strung in familiar patterns. Instead, they formed long, straight lines, the stars symmetrically spaced.
It was only as white, foaming clouds rose to challenge the stars, dousing Finn Whitman's face with salt water, that he realized the lights weren't stars at all.
But neither was he a boy.
“Help!” A girl's cry. Finn fanned the water, turning around as the ship's wake arrived, bobbing him higher. Just before plummeting into another wave trough, he saw a girl flailing to stay afloat.
Willa. He remembered now: the two of them jumping from Deck 4 of the
cruise ship, leaping into the darkness to avoid a pack of mad hyenas on their heels. Leaving their fellow Keepers back on the ship.
was on a celebration cruise to inaugurate the opening of the new locks of the Panama Canal, while also promoting the onboard installation of the Kingdom Keepers' hologram DHI guides. The dangers that had arisen on and off the ship during the cruise's first stop at Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, had happened less than a day earlier. It felt more like a year.
The speed with which the
surprised and frightened Finn. As a passenger he'd had no idea how fast they'd been moving. As he watched the cruise ship shrink away at an alarming pace, he understood that in a minute or two it would be just another flickering light on the horizon.
Another wave from the ship's wake caught Finn, lifting him like a cork. He saw Willa riding the top of the adjacent crest, looking toward the ship.
“Over here!” Finn shouted.
Treading water, Willa turned to face him.
Then she sparkled and vanished.
Finn pulled hard, bodysurfing down the rolling wave and swimming strongly toward Willa. Stretching to extend his freestyle strokeâamazed by his own strengthâhe saw his hand and forearm dissolve into glitter, a sparkle of light washed away by the hungry spray.
An instant later, Willa reappearedâand so did Finn's arm.
The phenomenon would have stunned, even frightened, an ordinary person. But to Finn it made perfect sense. He and Willa were holograms, three-dimensional projections of light generated by a computer server on board the disappearing
. The farther away from the ship, the worse the projection. Being low in the water as they were, the two holograms were subject to additional interference from each wave. Riding the crests, they came into clarity. But it wouldn't last, and once their projections failed, Finn would have no way of finding Willa. The audio stream, being a narrower bandwidth, might last slightly longer, but it wasn't a risk worth taking.
“Here!” Finn shouted a second time. Kicking
ferociously, he propelled his hologram down from the wave's crest, through the trough, and up the other side, cutting the distance between them in half. Their holograms sputtered, a result of distance from the ship. Any farther, and they would dissolve altogether.
He and Willa, along with several other high school kids now aboard the
, had once modeled for the roles of Disney Host Interactive (also known among Disney Imagineers as Daylight Hologram Imaging) teenage Park hosts, holograms that guided families around the Disney parks. And now the cruise ships.
Undisclosed at the time (some would say “unknown”) was a side effect that allowed the DHIs to “cross over” in their sleep, becoming their hologram replicas. Finn and his friends often found themselves inside a Disney park while their bodies, their human selves, slept at home. They'd quickly discovered that their holograms had been engineered by Disney's Imagineers to do battle with certain Disney villainsâthe Overtakersâwhose one desire was to take over the parks and ruin them.
The OTs, as the Kingdom Keepers referred to the Overtakers, dreamed of a darker experience for Park guests than the one Walt Disney had envisioned. That same dark force, in the form of Maleficent, the Evil Queen, and Cruella de Vil, was currently aboard the
âand intent on turning it into the
This time, the Overtakers had stolen a historic
journal once belonging to the Disney Imagineersâor perhaps even Walt himself. The Overtakers had infiltrated the ship, and smuggled Tia Dalma and Chernabogâa mysterious and monstrous creature from
âaboard at Castaway Cay. The addition of a witch doctor and the most evil of Walt Disney's creations didn't bode well. Where Maleficent went, trouble followed.
Which accounted for the man-eating hyenas that had forced Finn and Willa to jump overboard in the
first place, and had put them in their current predicament.
When a hologram's projection failed, it fell into what the Keepers called DHI shadow. The result was invisibility, which in certain instances could be a good thing. Not so much when you were nearly drowning, and the only hope for survival was steaming away at eighteen knots.
“Your hand!” Finn called, reaching for Willa. “Before we're gone!” Then, when she didn't react instantly: “Come on!”
Again, he amazed himself by how strongly he swam. A Florida boy, Finn was no stranger to waterâbut since when could he swim like a lifeguard?
Willa's hologram had lost its density and was porous, like sand spread loosely over a floor. It had lost its third dimension as well; she looked like a pixelated, digitally enlarged photograph. The final stage before invisibility.
“Reach!” Finn shouted. His voice sounded like a bad radio signal, scratchy and popping with static. Desperate, he plunged his face into the sea and called out, “Starfish wise, starfish cries!” a phrase he'd been given to summon King Triton, who'd saved Finn once before.
Striking out blindly in the water, Finn felt his hands catch Willa's. Finn squeezed hard, then walked his
fingers up to Willa's forearms so that they held each other's wristsâa stronger “fireman's” grip.
“You okay?” he said, but it came out, “ooâ¦ay?”
Finn turned his back to Willa and pulled her hands around his neck so that she rode on his back like a cape. She held tight; he felt her soft cheek pressed against his neck. He swam. Swam hard. Kicking and pulling through the sea, more like a machine than a man. Finn supposed this crazy strength had something to do with his exposure to a massive jolt of electricity just before he'd jumped. He'd been in the ship's engine room. A world away from here.
But he didn't much care about the source of his power, only its efficacy.
Finn's progress was admirable, his churned wake joining the wide white strip of aerated seawater thrown out by the ship's propeller. The water sparkled and fizzed like a freshly poured soda. Viewed from overhead, Finn and his passenger were invisible, not even a speck in a strip of sea paved flat by the passing of a hundred and thirty thousand tons of steel.
“â¦invisâ¦” Willa said. Or tried to. “Dâ¦shâ¦
Finn didn't bother trying to answer, saving his energy for his breaststroke. If he could get close enough to the
for his hands to start flashing, however faintly, his voice would likely return.
But that was the problemâas hard as he was swimming, they weren't catching up. Not even close. Granted, Finn had slowed the rate with which the
pulled away, nearly matching the ship's forward progress. But he wasn't gaining on it. Not an inch. And if he eased back at all, the ship visibly pulled farther away.
He knew what had to be done. Knew the one chance they had. The likelihood of drowning was slim, given the state-of-the-art software upgrade running their projectionsâDHI 2.0. But it hardly mattered. If they remained invisible, lost at sea, their human bodies would stay asleep on board, unable to awaken. They would be locked in what the Keepers called “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome,” or SBSâa hologram no-man's land where their sleeping bodies never woke, and their hologram projections could not be reached.
King Triton's code offered the promise of rescue, but Triton's agents could not rescue what they could not see. He and Willa had to move closer to the
“Fâ¦thhh,” Willa said. Choking Finn with her left forearm, she tapped him on the shoulder with her right hand, forcing him to look back. He saw something no thicker than a tree branch sticking out of the water, moving quickly toward them, cutting a fine wake to either side.
A fin? A shark? The object sparkled as it caught starlight from a dazzling sky. A pipe. A periscopeâan old, rusted periscope moving very fast and coming right for them.
Captain Nemo? Finn wondered.
Finn uttered a series of wet burps and patted Willa's arms, indicating:
Then he swam hardâstraight for the periscope, now eight to ten yards to his right. He had to time it perfectly; he could ill afford to undershoot or overshoot his target.
The approach of the periscopeâits sudden appearance out of nowhereâseemed to suggest it was part of a rescue attempt. Arranged by Wayne? How could he know of their predicament? They'd only been in the water a matter of minutes. Had the sub been following the
all this time?
Or was this a result of his calling for King Triton's help, as he'd been instructed?
Finn calculated his position, adjusted with a swift backward flutter kick, stretched forward, and grabbed the briskly moving periscope with both hands. His arms felt like they would tear from his shoulder sockets. The submarine was moving much faster than he'd imagined.
With Willa holding on to his neck for dear life, the two surfed and coughed for air. Somewhere in the deep recesses of his mind, Finn understood that as a hologram he didn't need to concern himself with breathing; but instinct dictated otherwise.
During the next gulp of air, he saw the
's lights as distinct strings. The sub was pulling closer.
Finn's hands suddenly appeared, clasped around the periscope. They flashed and pulsed lightâthen vanished. Finn ducked into the water and closed his eyes. With the next lifting of his head, he clearly saw the hologram images of his arms. He was visible again. Willa, too.
“Return!” she said, gargling the word.
The suggestion hit Finn as a beacon of hope. Philby, a fellow Kingdom Keeper, or Storey Ming, a shipboard ally, would be attempting to cancel their current hologram projections and “return” them to their sleeping selves, on board ship. Having failed to accomplish the task immediately after Finn and Willa jumped, hopefully they had not given up altogether. With Finn and Willa back in range, it was imperative the Return be attempted again.
But how to signal them?
The sub continued to gain on the
; the ship's stern loomed ahead, black paint glistening. An oversized Captain Mickey, sprawled on a plank slung from the upper deck, had been installed on the stern. Mounted next to Mickey and the yellow letters that spelled out
were three large Disney brooms and pails from
The sight reminded Finn of a near-deadly conflict Maybeck and Charleneâthe final members of the Kingdom Keepers teamâhad had a week earlier backstage at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
If those brooms
come alive tooâ¦
He and the Keepers didn't have a credo, per se, but if they did it might have been:
Nothing is as it seems; take
nothing for granted
. Park attractions came alive at night. Disney characters turned out to be realâand the Disney villains, dangerous. Turns out that magic pens, evil curses,
puzzling stairways, corrupt villains, secret passages, and dungeons all existed within the parks. All for real.
Part of Finn was ready to get back to being a normal high school student and leave all of it behind. But in that order. He didn't want to leave it all behind by drowning.
“You see what I see?” Willa choked out.
At that exact moment, the sub veered off course, steering well to port of the massive ship. The periscope began slipping through Finn's hands; the sub was submerging. He would have to let go in a matter of seconds or be sucked under.
To signal Philby and Storey for the return, Finn and Willa needed to be spotted from the shipâbut without drawing undue attention. Finn needed passengers to notice, for the word to spread quickly, and for it all to be considered a big mistake a few minutes later. He could not invite lifeboats and alarms without drawing attention to the Keepers' “misuse” of their hologramsâan action that might get them locked up for the remainder of the cruise, and prevent them from stopping the OTs.
Finn spotted a romantic couple leaning on the rail
of an upper deck, and remembered all the fuss the
night of the Sail-Away party.