Authors: Jude Watson
As she read, her eyebrows knit together. All these years, they’d wondered about the fascinating Gideon Cahill, the man who set out to stop a plague and developed a powerful serum. Who knew that his wife, Olivia, was just as fascinating and brilliant as he was? The journal made clear that it was Olivia who gathered the serum ingredients, Olivia who assisted Gideon in the lab, Olivia who kept the family together. Amy read Olivia’s words.
The power he sought for healing transmogrified into a beast. A beast with the power of great destruction. And so it must itself be destroyed. To each is its opposite. The opposite negates the other.
She looked again to the poem right before the coded end of the book. She’d read it that evening several times, but hadn’t understood it. She read it again, her heartbeat thudding in her ears.
Four souls, four elements, now dispersed.
Twas as though my Family, cursed
and burdened — lo! to pass through years
of Strife, Calumny, Fears.
Yet beneath my beating Heart my Secret gave me joy and hope —
a future seen — not grasped. My Joy, you have strength enough to cope
and take up battle not with arms but wisdom gained from ancient land
kept close and passed from hand to hand
mio maestro di vita
, thee of timeless woman, universal man.
Then he to me bequeathed it, and with instruction bid
and I, through his own methods, hid.
Using this, gathered I the parts. And with one dram shall mend
what was torn asunder. And to the ash heap send.
I take and here record from what my guide hath guarded
with no edges glimpsed, dark sketched the key imparted.
My Joy, my Song, you have my charge. Now take what thee owns outright, count eight and on the sixth do pause.
Take that sixth, match to first that Romans brought, and end assault on Nature’s Laws.
Four souls, four elements.
It was clear to Amy what Olivia meant.
The four souls were the children: Luke, Thomas, Katherine, Jane.
Four elements: the four parts of the serum.
Dispersed: the children were each given a part of the serum, and all of them scattered, bitterly divided. Olivia had not been able to hold her family together. The serum had been too powerful. Just as for generations of Cahills, as Olivia had foreseen. Murder, plots, lies, revenge . . . stretching out for five centuries, pitting Cahill against Cahill.
Misery handed down, generation after generation.
Yet beneath my beating Heart my Secret gave me joy and hope.
That was Madeleine, the child Olivia was carrying when she fled the destruction of her home.
Then references to gathering . . . what? To make a dram — a bit of the serum?
, Amy thought.
Olivia hates the serum. That is clear.
My Joy, my Song, you have my charge.
She’s telling Madeleine to do something. . . .
Amy sat up in bed. Could it be? It made sense. It made
“Yes!” she cried. This was it, this was the answer. This was the key!
She ran across the hall to Dan’s room. She shook him awake.
He bolted up. “What’s happening? Where’s my pants?”
“Dan, wake up! I’ve been reading Olivia’s book.” Amy waited until the sleepy confusion left Dan’s eyes. “I think I know what Olivia was working on. She was formulating the
for the serum. That’s the key to stopping Pierce!”
The house felt so big without Fiske and Amy and Dan. Nellie wasn’t used to such silence. It seemed to echo against her ears. When she walked across the polished wood floor, her footsteps had sounded as loud as a giant’s. She’d kicked off her boots and was now padding around in her socks.
Anxiety gnawed at her. She’d run into a big, fat dead end. It was like Sammy had disappeared into thin air.
She reached into her pocket and brought out the New Jersey Turnpike ticket. Whoever had used it had traveled the entire distance — the turnpike ended at the Delaware Memorial Bridge.
She recognized Pony’s knock — three rhythmic taps. Then the taps turned into pounding. She ran to let him in, her phone still in her hand. Pony stepped inside, took one look at her open laptop, and crossed to it in two steps.
“What are you doing?” Nellie asked as he quickly began typing.
“Catching a mouse,” he said.
“I thought you said that laptop was safe.”
“It was.” Pony kept typing, his clumsy hands agile on the keys. “I got you, mousie,” he murmured. “Follow the cheese. . . .”
“Are you writing to someone?”
“Code. I’m hunting them while they’re hunting me.”
“But you’ll lead them here!”
“You swine!” Pony slapped his hand down on the table, then resumed typing. “Not you, goddess. Listen, it’s not . . . here . . . I’m worried about. They
where you are. It’s . . . Dan and Amy . . .”
“They’re trying. Did you receive an attachment from them?”
“Just a photograph . . .”
Pony muttered through his teeth. “I’m rerouting . . . through Johannesburg . . . to Beijing. . . . And then . . . come on, mousie, follow me. . . . ”
Nellie crossed her fingers, then closed her eyes.
“GOTCHA!” Pony closed the laptop with a smash.
“Did it work?” Nellie asked.
“They are probably right now looking in Mozambique.”
“Could you track their computer?”
Pony shook his head. “Almost got them, but I can’t pinpoint it. It’s not in the US. Somewhere in Europe.”
“That doesn’t exactly narrow it down.”
He scratched his ear. “Best I could do in thirty seconds. But I can’t be one hundred percent sure they didn’t get a general location on D and A before I managed to divert them.”
“I’d better tell Dan and Amy to get out of there.”
“Not with that phone, you’re not.” Pony held out his hand. “Did you connect the phone to the laptop at any time?”
“The photo came in as a text so I downloaded the photo. . . .”
He dropped the phone on the floor and smashed it with his shoe. “Annoyed!”
“Pony, you’re scaring me.”
He faced her, his hands deep in his pockets. “You should be scared. We should all be scared. This situation is completely wreckitudinous. We have been chomped by the supreme empress.”
“Pony, I’m begging you now. Please speak English. It is our common language.” Nellie tucked her hands in her armpits. She hated it when her hands started to shake. By the look on Pony’s face, she knew it was bad.
Whatever Pony would tell her, she knew one thing: It was time to overrule Amy. They needed help.
He sighed as he sifted the phone through his fingers and dropped it in his pocket. “I figured out who hacked into your system. Who is probably
trying to track you.”
“Who?” Nellie asked, bewildered. Whoever it was, there was a look of fear on Pony’s face.
He leaned in and lowered his voice, as though the house itself was no longer safe. Maybe it wasn’t.
“Waldo,” he whispered.
An undisclosed location
April May got her first cell phone at four. Of course it was an old one of her mother’s and she couldn’t make a call on it, but it was her favorite toy. She took it apart, which made her parents laugh. But when, at ten, she opened up her father’s motherboard, they didn’t take it so well.
April had always had a thing for secrets. When other children had imaginary best friends, she constructed her own multiple identities. She could be anyone she liked on the Internet. That was freedom, something in short supply in her house. Her mother wanted to know everything she was thinking and her father wanted to know everything she was doing.
There was no privacy in her household. The one time she tried to keep a diary, her father read it, then returned it with his own corrections in red pen. Her mother copied it and sent it to her own therapist so she could discuss April’s problems “in the context of my own personhood.”
April soon learned to fabricate a false front, a place where her parents could access her, while her real self roamed free somewhere else: in her imagination, her dreams . . . and the Internet. That was when she first realized that there, people could be anything they wanted. They could visit sites, write e-mails, join communities that had nothing to do with their real selves.
She never cared for school-yard games. She’d rather sneak back into the classroom and hack into her teacher’s cell phone, then read all the e-mails. Secrets were power.
Her parents soon learned to change their passwords often. It didn’t help much. She still hacked into her father’s e-mail when she was twelve. She didn’t like what she found there, but she used it. The next thing she knew, she was in boarding school. That’s when her hacking really began.
At school, as her skills increased, she discovered that there was a whole shadow world out there, filled with people just like her. People who saw that digital firewalls were just a challenge to be overcome. April worked less and less on social studies and field hockey and music and math, all those high school preoccupations that suddenly seemed lame compared to this thrilling, secret world. Why bother studying for a math test when you could tell your teacher that you know about his secret weekend trips to that casino in Atlantic City — the trips his wife doesn’t know about? Why bother befriending a roommate who you know is sending texts about how weird you are? Easier to live in a shadow world.
But even April had scruples. Exposing hypocrisy was her game. She didn’t hack to destroy, only to reveal. Sure, she could hack into the CIA, but did she want to? Not yet, anyway.
In the past year or two, she had found another thrill: making money. Lots of it. For certain select clients, money was no object. She was choosy about her clients. She’d only hack into the accounts of people or organizations she didn’t approve of. Actors, politicians, silly celebrities, billionaires who got that way by lying, cheating, and stealing.
She named her company WALDO. She employed a few good hackers, but only a few. No one had ever seen her. There were no photographs of April May on the Internet, and she intended to keep it that way.
She now had a comfortable couple of million dollars or so residing in a very secure account in the Cayman Islands.
Her latest client, J. Rutherford Pierce, was possibly her biggest yet. She didn’t like him much, but he tested her abilities, and that was a good thing. Thanks to him, she’d broken into several search engines and manipulated results. He had his eye on a political career, and April May had discovered early on in this business that almost everyone had something to hide.
He was going places, too. Through him, she could break into media and possibly politics, and then the sky was the limit.
And she didn’t like two rich entitled brats with everything in the world they needed causing trouble wherever they went, either. So. If trading information for cash meant you humiliated people in a handful of tabloids, maybe seriously mess with their lives . . . hey, it was a living.
They’d hired some expert security control, that was for sure. Walls behind walls. April was almost beginning to enjoy the game.
The kids weren’t in Mozambique. That she knew for sure. The hacker could send a false chain, but she wasn’t about to pick it up.
She tapped in another line of code. April leaned forward. This was good news she could pass along to her latest client. The Cahill account was heating up.
Somewhere over the west of Ireland
Below them, stone walls, green fields, patches of yellow, patches of rust. White puffy clouds in a blue sky. It was a fine day to fly. Pierce’s hands rested lightly on the controls. He loved small planes. He didn’t like highways. He was always in a hurry now that he had someplace to get to. He looked down at his hands. One day soon they’d hold all the power in the world.
Every step he’d planned so meticulously had worked.
Millions of followers.
Financing from secretive billionaires.
Stockpile of weaponry.
Next: the United States presidency.
And now, the final push. Announce his candidacy. Hire Atlas to start some sort of war somewhere. Detonate a couple of warheads. Then blame the current US president for it.
Galt and Cara sat in the seats behind him. They looked bored. They wouldn’t be soon enough.
Such perfect politician’s children — he’d made sure of that. Sporty boy, musical girl. Blond and even-featured like their mother. Cara was pretty — a bit on the bland side, like Debi Ann — but that worked in his favor. Politicians with gorgeous daughters got the wrong kind of media attention. The focus needed to be on
Handsome Galt, only thirteen and already looking like Pierce. Straight nose, good chin, gray eyes. Killer instinct.
Thanks to his new regime for the kids, they had shed doubt, defiance, pounds, ethics . . . all those pesky things he used to despise in them.
“Hey, kids,” he called over the noise of the engine. “How are you feeling since I started you on those smoothies? Stronger, am I right? Maybe even smarter? Quicker?”
“I feel awesome,” Galt said.
“Super, Dad,” Cara said. Why did she always sound like she was mocking him? Pierce glanced at her quickly, but she stared peacefully back.
“What are you thinking right now?” he fired at her.
“I enjoy the mango flavor best,” she answered promptly.
“Not a very interesting thought,” Pierce said. “But acceptable.”
It started as a game when they were young. How they used to squeal with pleasure when he asked them the question! He had invented the game. They had to answer within one second, so that he could be sure they weren’t lying. Little did they know, at three, at four, at five, that he was training them. What was the use of having children unless you could count on their loyalty?
Every morning he rose early enough to scan the newspapers. He cut out the articles he wanted them to read and placed them by their plates. Evenings were for printouts and magazine articles. He was forming their minds so that they would be just like him.
Lately he’d been thinking that the web was too vast to control. He was drawing up a plan to delete certain parts of history from it, so that his kids couldn’t access stories unless he approved.
Cara was reaching for her earphones. He’d lose her to a symphony in a second. He needed her attention.
“Kids, remember, it’s our secret, right? Your mom — you know how she is. She’d want to protect her babies. She’d still have you on applesauce and mashed carrots if she could.”
“Are you ready for one last test? Are you up for it?”
“Yeah!” Galt said, pumping a fist. “Bring it on!”
“I know you’re loyal,” Pierce said. “I know you’re smart. I know you are in excellent physical condition. What I don’t know — and I need to — is that you can operate independently.”
Cara looked warily at him. “What do you mean?”
“I need to know that you can be dropped into a situation —
situation — navigate through it, and deliver results. Are you ready for your assignment?”
“Ready,” Galt said.
“I’ve got reporters all over the globe looking for Amy and Dan Cahill. Those two drive web traffic like nobody’s business. I have a location where they
, but I don’t know where they
“Are we heading to London?” Cara asked.
“Not yet. We’re over the west coast of Ireland now. Your assignment is to find Amy and Dan Cahill and pass along their coordinates to me in time for me to send some paparazzi their way.”
The two kids looked dubious. Pierce needed them to buy into this. He could hardly send his bodyguards swarming over the Irish countryside. Galt and Cara would be perfect. Nobody paid attention to kids.
“Just pretend you’re students backpacking around Europe,” he told them.
“This doesn’t sound very challenging,” Galt said sulkily.
“I think it sounds fun,” Cara said, peering out the window. “It’s a beautiful country. And as long as I don’t have to sleep outdoors, I’m cool with it.”
That’s good, because you don’t have a choice
, Pierce thought, but he knew better than to say it.
“Where are the backpacks?” Cara asked.
“Right behind your seats. With the parachutes. Tony will help you into the gear.”
The man the kids had assumed was a steward came forward from where he’d been sitting in the back, well out of earshot.
“P-parachutes?” Cara sputtered. “But we’ve never skydived!”
“Not to worry. Didn’t I say you were in top physical condition?”
Tony began to slide a chute over Galt’s shoulders.
“Dad? I’m not so sure about this!” Galt exclaimed. “Couldn’t you find a nice airport to land in?”
“Don’t want to leave a paper trail,” Pierce said. “Besides, this will be fun. I’m looking out for you guys.”
“I don’t want to d-do this,” Cara said as Tony steered her toward the back of the plane.
“Stop whining,” Pierce said, and Tony opened the cabin door.