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Authors: D.J. MacHale

The Reality Bug

BOOK: The Reality Bug
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“Too late,” he said sadly.

“Too late?” I asked, entering the room. “What do you mean, ‘too late'?”

“What do you think he means, Pendragon?” Aja said quietly. “He's dead.”

The vedder started for the door.

“Where are you going?” Aja asked. “You've got to fill out a report!”

“Not me,” the vedder said haughtily. “My shift's over. I'm jumping. The next shift can handle it.”

The guy left. What a tool. Someone just died on his watch, and all he cared about was jumping into his own fantasy.

“Aja, what happened?” I asked.

Aja looked shaken. She tried to collect her thoughts.” I don't know. We'll have to look at the records of his jump. There are thousands of people in the pyramid. Sometimes they die of natural causes. But…”

“But what?”

“But it's starting to happen more often,” was her sober answer.

This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2003 by D. J. MacHale

ALADDIN

An imprint of Simon & Schuster

Children's Publishing Division

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

Library of Congress Control Number 2003105075

ISBN-13: 978-1-4391-3690-4
ISBN-10: 1-4391-3690-4

Visit us on the World Wide Web:
http://www.SimonSays.com

This is for my sister, Patricia,
the true artist of the family

PREFACE

Dear Readers,

Time to hit the flumes again.

Since the
Pendragon
books have been published, I've heard from lots of readers, and one question keeps coming up more than any other: Will Bobby ever see his family and Uncle Press again?

Good question.
Very
good question. But I'm not telling.

You see, as much as each Pendragon book contains its own unique adventure, there's also a much larger story being told here. It has to do with the Travelers and Saint Dane and the battle of good vs. evil for control of Halla. The origin of the Travelers and why they have the responsibility of protecting Halla will unfold over the course of all the books. So I can't go giving away future secrets now, can I? That would be like opening up presents long before your birthday and ruining the surprise. Okay, maybe that's a bad example because everybody likes to open presents no matter when they get them, but you know what I mean. Right?

I will tell you this much: Bobby may be growing and learning some incredible truths about himself and about the nature of existence, but his family and his uncle Press are always in his thoughts and his heart. I think you'll see what I mean as you read
The Reality Bug
. There are lots of surprises in store for Bobby and the Travelers, and for you readers. But I can't give them away until it's time.

Because that's the way it was meant to be.

Hobey ho,
  D. J. MacHale

SECOND EARTH

Bobby Pendragon slipped the heavy ring
onto his finger, where it belonged. But no sooner was it back in place when surprisingly, it began to twitch.

“What's the matter?” Mark Dimond asked.

“It … it's activating,” Bobby said with surprise.

“Really? You mean there's a gate around here?” Courtney Chetwynde asked.

The gray stone in the center of the ring began to glow, then sparkle. A second later a sharp beam of light shot from its center. With a flash, the light blossomed into an image that hovered in front of the group.

Mark and Courtney took a surprised step backward. Gunny Van Dyke stepped protectively in front of them. But Bobby held his ground. Of the four of them standing on the empty lot at 2 Linden Place, Second Earth, Bobby was the only one who had seen this particular phenomenon before.

Floating before them was the image of a girl. Actually, it was a girl's head. Just a head. It was bigger than life, but definitely a girl. She had blond hair pulled back in a ponytail and wore small, yellow-tinted glasses.

“Whoa,” said Courtney in awe.

“Yeah, whoa,” added Mark.

“Aja Killian,” whispered Bobby.

“Who?” Gunny asked.

“The Traveler from Veelox.”

“Where have you been?” the floating head demanded angrily. “I've been trying to contact you for ages!”

“Long story,” Bobby answered.

“I don't want to hear it, Pendragon,” Aja's head shot back. “You'd better get back to Veelox.”

“Why?” Bobby asked.

Aja-head hesitated. She looked nervous. Or at least as nervous as a 3-D floating head could look. “I'm not saying I made a mistake,” she explained with a touch of embarrassment. “This may be a total false alarm, but—”

“Just say it!” Bobby shouted.

“All right!” Aja snapped. “Saint Dane may have slipped through my security system. He is here on Veelox.”

Bobby smiled and asked teasingly, “You're telling me your perfect security system isn't all that perfect?”

“Are you coming or not?” Aja demanded. She didn't like being challenged.

“On my way,” Bobby answered.

“Don't take your time,” Aja said snottily. Then the image vanished. The beam of light shot back into the ring and all was normal.

“Well,” said Courtney with a sigh. “That was … strange.”

“I guess I'm going to Veelox,” Bobby said. Then looked to Gunny and asked, “Want to come?”

“Wouldn't miss it,” Gunny answered with a smile.

Bobby turned to face Mark and Courtney. “This has been the best week of my life,” he said sincerely.

The three friends had just spent an excellent week together, forgetting for a short while that Bobby Pendragon was a Traveler who shot across the universe, protecting Halla from an evil demon. Mark was nearly in tears. Courtney wasn't far behind. She walked up to Bobby and before he realized what was happening, she grabbed him and planted a serious kiss on his lips. Bobby didn't fight it. Once the shock was over, he wrapped his arms around Courtney and held her close.

Mark and Gunny turned away.

“So?” Gunny asked Mark. “How 'bout them Yankees?”

When Courtney and Bobby finally unlocked lips, Bobby's eyes were a little watery. But Courtney's gaze was razor sharp.

“Let's not wait another year before the next one, okay?” she said.

“Uh … sure. Sounds good,” Bobby replied, trying to keep his knees from buckling.

Mark looked at Bobby, his best friend, and said, “Remember what we talked about, okay?”

“I promise,” Bobby answered sincerely.

Bobby and Gunny walked toward the street and the limousine that was waiting to take them to the Bronx, and the flume.

“How are you feeling, shorty?” Gunny asked. “I mean … where is your head you know, with things?”

“I feel like Saint Dane got the better of me on First Earth,” he answered thoughtfully. He then locked eyes with Gunny and said with total confidence, “And I'm not gonna let it happen again.”

Gunny chuckled.

“What's so funny?” Bobby asked.

“Shorty, you're starting to sound just like your uncle Press.”

Bobby smiled. He liked that. The two got into the back of the big car, the driver gunned the engine, and they were on their way.

Mark and Courtney watched as the black limo picked up speed with Bobby's hand still out the window, waving good-bye.

“What was it you guys talked about?” Courtney asked Mark.

“All sorts of things,” he said with a sly smile. “But I'll tell you one thing: I'll bet we're going to see Bobby Pendragon again, a lot sooner than you think.”

They took a last look at the departing limousine and saw Bobby pull his arm back inside. The car turned onto the main road and disappeared.

SECOND EARTH

Mark Dimond was ready for an adventure.

He had spent the first fifteen years of his life on the sidelines, watching everybody else have all the fun. It was getting old. He was tired of being wallpaper, tired of being the brunt of geek jokes, and
really
tired of wishing he was somebody else. Anybody else. But even Mark had to admit that it was going to be tough pulling himself out of the deep hole of dorkdom he had been digging since birth.

When he was a baby, his parents barely let him out of the house because he was allergic to everything but air. In three years of Little League he got on base only once, because he was hit by a pitch that broke his glasses. Girls scared him, but that wasn't much of a problem because most girls never looked at him twice anyway. They weren't interested in a guy who constantly gnawed on carrots (to improve his vision), sat in the first row of class (because he had every correct answer, always), and had a stringy mop of hair that always looked like it should have been washed yesterday.

No, Mark hadn't exactly been living large. But now that he was fifteen, he was determined to make a change. He was ready to seize the day and kick start a new life filled with adventure and excitement. Why?

Because he had a best buddy named Bobby Pendragon.

They had been friends since kindergarten, though most people thought they were as different as east and west. Bobby was athletic and funny and people loved to be around him. Mark was quiet and tripped a lot. But that was just surface stuff.

Mark and Bobby liked the same things, and not always the normal things that other kids thought were cool. They loved old Abbott and Costello movies, '80s music, Thai food, and James Bond novels (not the movies, the original novels). They laughed at the same jokes. They started a band, but Bobby could barely play the guitar and Mark only had an ancient set of bongos. Neither could sing. They were terrible. They had a blast.

They liked to fish in the small river that wound its way through their little town of Stony Brook, Connecticut. It didn't matter that they hardly ever caught anything. It was all about getting away for hours to just hang. Like most guys, they talked about girls and sports, and about what teachers they wanted vaporized. But they also talked about ideas, about traveling and seeing different places, and about the future.

Each always seemed to know when the other needed encouragement, or a kick in the butt. For Bobby, Mark was the only guy he knew who thought outside the box. For Mark, Bobby was his lifeline to the rest of the world. Both knew that no matter what twists their lives took, they would always be best friends.

What they
hadn't
known was that during the winter of their fifteenth year, Bobby and his entire family would mysteriously disappear. A huge investigation by the local police turned up nothing. Literally. It was like the Pendragons had been magically erased from existence.

But Mark knew the truth.

He wasn't sure what had happened to the rest of the Pendragon family, but he knew where Bobby had gone. He had left with his uncle, Press, to become a Traveler. Bobby Pendragon and his uncle had flown through a portal called a flume that took them to strange, distant territories where they joined with other Travelers to do battle against a demon named Saint Dane. In the year and a half since Bobby had left home, he helped prevent a medieval territory called Denduron from blowing itself up, halted the spread of a poison that would have wiped out the entire population of a water territory called Cloral, and traveled back in time to stop Nazi Germany from developing the world's first atomic bomb.

What was Mark doing while Bobby was defending humanity? Watching a lot of SpongeBob SquarePants. Yes, Mark was desperately ready for an adventure. He needed an adventure.

He was about to get one.

“Courtney!” Mark shouted.

Courtney Chetwynde had just stepped off the school bus that brought her to the first day of classes at Davis Gregory High School. Courtney hated the bus, but school was too far from home to bike, and her parents wouldn't let her ride in cars with the older kids yet. Courtney was the only other person who knew the truth about Bobby Pendragon. But unlike Mark, Bobby and Courtney had started out as rivals—athletic rivals. Courtney had done her best to beat Bobby's butt at everything. It had been her way of covering up that she had an incredible crush on him.

Now not a day went by where she didn't think back to the night a year and a half ago when she finally admitted to Bobby that she liked him. That moment got better when Bobby told her that he liked her, too. It got
seriously
better when the two of them kissed. But it all went south when Bobby's uncle Press showed up to break the magic and whisk him away on the back of a motorcycle to begin his life as a Traveler. If Courtney had one wish, it would be that she could wind back the clock to that night and stop Bobby from riding off with his uncle.

As she stepped off the hated school bus, Courtney saw Mark scurry up to meet her.

“Anything?” she asked hopefully.

“Nope,” Mark answered.

He knew she was asking if another journal had arrived from Bobby. It hadn't.

These two made an odd couple. Courtney was beautiful, popular, confidant, and athletic. Mark … wasn't. If it weren't for their connection with Bobby, they never would have been on each other's radar screens.

“First day of high school,” Mark said. “Nervous?”

“No,” she answered truthfully. Courtney didn't get nervous.

They were starting the tenth grade, which was the first year of Davis Gregory High. Last year they were on the top of the pyramid at Stony Brook Junior High. Now they would have to start over again at the bottom of the school food chain.

As the two walked toward school, Mark had to hurry to keep up with Courtney's long strides. “Courtney, there's s-something I want to talk to you about.”

“Whoa, you're stuttering,” Courtney said seriously. “What's the matter?”

“N-Nothing,” Mark assured her. “I just need to talk to you is all.”

“About, you know, journals and stuff?” she asked while glancing around to make sure nobody heard her.

“Sort of. Can we talk after school?”

“I've got soccer practice.”

“I'll come watch. We'll talk after.”

“You sure everything's okay?”

“Yeah. Good luck today!”

The two then separated and began the first day of their high school careers.

Courtney pretty much hung with her regular friends, though she made sure to check out any new kids. In English class she found herself staring at a cute guy named Frank. It felt a little weird, like she was cheating on Bobby. But Bobby had written in his journals about how fantastic the Traveler girl named Loor was. Courtney thought that if Bobby could like a girl from a far-off territory called Zadaa, then why couldn't she like a guy from two desks over in a class called English?

Mark stepped into high school with expectations of starting a new life. Three junior highs emptied into Davis Gregory, which meant at least two-thirds of these kids didn't know the dorky truth about him. The Etch-A-Sketch of his life had been turned over and given a healthy shake.

Unfortunately, by the end of last period, Mark had gotten lost six times, showed up late for every class, made a girl in chemistry gag because his sneakers smelled like an experiment gone sour, and got laughed out of the cafeteria when he made the mistake of sitting down to eat lunch next to an all-county wrestling jock. As punishment for invading his space, the guy made Mark stand up on the table and sing “Wally the Green-nosed Tuna” to the tune of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”

It was junior high hell all over again, only with bigger kids.

While Mark was discovering the horrible truth that his life of humiliation was going to continue, Courtney was learning that things for her were going to be very different. Courtney was tall and pretty with long, light brown hair, deep gray eyes and a nice smile. She had lots of friends, too. Except when it came to sports. In sports, Courtney had no friends. She hated to lose and had the goods to back it up. It didn't matter what sport, either. Baseball, track, basketball, even judo. She had absolute confidence in herself. In fact, she had gotten so used to winning that she was looking forward to high school because she desperately wanted more competition.

She got it.

“Chetwynde! Get your shoes on the right feet!” the soccer coach yelled at her.

Courtney's fall sport was soccer. She had played center forward on the junior high team and led the town in scoring. She fully expected to step onto the high school varsity field and dominate like always.

She didn't. Courtney realized she was in trouble during the very first drill. It was a dribbling drill. Courtney brought the ball forward with a confidant smile, ready to give these high school girls a taste of Hurricane Courtney. She ducked right, moved left … and the defender stole the ball.

Whoa.

When it was her turn to play defense, the girls put moves on her and dribbled past like she wasn't even there. One girl made such a hot move that Courtney got her feet crossed and fell on her butt—prompting the comment about her shoes being on the wrong feet.

All afternoon Courtney was one step behind. These high school girls were good. Really good. They shot no-look passes, stole the ball from her, and basically made her look like she was a little kid playing with grown-ups. One girl stole the ball, flipped it up with her foot, bounced it off her knee, and slammed a header downfield. She then looked to Courtney and said, “Welcome to the big time, superstar.” When it came time for sprints, Courtney was nearly last every run. That was unheard of. Nobody beat Courtney Chetwynde. Ever! What had happened?

The truth was, nothing had happened. Courtney was always big for her age. It was one of the reasons she had been so good at sports. But between the ninth and tenth grades, the other girls caught up. Girls who had been too small to compete with Courtney were suddenly eye to eye with her. It wasn't that Courtney had suddenly gotten bad, it was that everybody else had grown up and gotten better. Much better. For Courtney it was an absolute, total nightmare. But she wouldn't let it show. No way.

On the sidelines Mark sat under a tree, watching practice. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. Everybody had bad days, but seeing Courtney struggle like this was disturbing. There were some things in life that were absolute. He knew that pi times the radius squared gave you the area of a circle; he knew that water was made up of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen; and he knew that if you challenged Courtney Chetwynde, you would lose.

The last one of Mark's all-time truisms was now being proved wrong. It was the perfect way to end a totally crappy day.

“Looks like she ain't so tough after all,” came a familiar voice from behind Mark.

Mark looked up quickly to see that the horror of this day wasn't yet complete. Standing over him was Andy Mitchell. The guy snorted back a lougie and spit, barely missing Mark's hand. Mark spun out of the way, but Mitchell flicked his cigarette butt in the other direction and Mark nearly rolled into it. Mark had to pop to his feet or risk getting gobbed on.

“What'sa matter, Dimond?” Mitchell laughed. “Twitchy?”

“What do you want?” Mark grumbled.

“Hey, don't get all testy with me,” Mitchell shot back. “I'm just out here having a smoke. Seeing Chetwynde getting whupped up on was a bonus.” Mitchell wheezed out a laugh through yellowed, smoke-stained teeth.

“Go away,” was all Mark managed to squeak out. He turned and walked off, but Mitchell followed.

“I didn't forget, Dimond,” Mitchell snarled. “About them journals. Pendragon is out there somewhere. You know it and I know it and I know you know I know it.”

Truth be told, there was a third person who knew about what happened to Bobby Pendragon. It was Andy Mitchell. Mitchell had seen one of Bobby's journals and blackmailed Mark into showing him the rest.

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