Authors: Tony Abbott
To Guardians everywhere
New York City
Twelve hidden relics.
One ancient time machine.
A mother, lost.
even minutes before the nasty, pumped-up SUV appeared, Wade Kaplan slumped against his seat in the limousine and scowled silently.
None of his weary co-passengers had spoken a word since the airport. They needed to. They needed to talk, and then they needed to act, together, all of themâhis father, astrophysicist Dr. Roald Kaplan; his whip-sharp cousin Lily; her seriously awesome friend Becca Moore; and his stepbrotherâno, his brotherâDarrell.
“Ten minutes, we'll be in Manhattan,” the driver said, his eyes constantly scanning the road, the mirrors, the side windows. “There are sandwiches in the side compartments. You must be hungry, no?”
Wade felt someone should respond to the older gentleman who'd met them at the airport, but no one did. They looked at the floor, at their hands, at their reflections in the windows, anywhere but eye to eye. After what seemed like an eternity, when even Wade couldn't make himself answer, the question faded in the air and died.
For the last three days, he and his family had come to grips with a terrifying truth. His stepmother, Sara, had been kidnapped by the vicious agents of the Teutonic Order of Ancient Prussia.
“You can see the skyline coming up,” the driver said, as if it were perfectly all right that no one was speaking.
Ever since Wade's uncle Henry had sent a coded message to his father and was then found murdered, Wade and the others had been swept into a hunt for twelve priceless artifacts hidden around the world by the friends of the sixteenth-century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicusâthe Guardians.
The relics were originally part of a
âan ancient time machine that Copernicus had discovered, rebuilt, journeyed in, and then disassembled when he realized the evil Teutonic Order was after it.
What did an old time machine have to do with Sara Kaplan?
The mysterious young leader of the present-day Teutonic Knights, Galina Krause,
to possess the twelve Copernicus relics and rebuild his machine. No sooner had the children outwitted the Order and discovered Velaâthe blue stone now safely tucked into the breast pocket of Wade's father's tweed jacketâthan the news came to them.
Sara had vanished.
Galina's cryptic words in Guam suddenly made sense. Because the Copernicus legend hinted that Vela would lead to the next relic, Sara would be brought to wherever the second relic was likely to beâto serve as the ultimate ransom.
Wade glanced at the dark buildings flashing past. Their windows stared back like sinister eyes. The hope that had sustained his family on their recent layover in San Franciscoâthat Sara would soon be freedâhad proved utterly false.
They were crushed.
Yet if they were crushed, they were also learning that what didn't kill them might make them strongerâand smarter. Since their quest began, Wade had grown certain that nothing in the world was coincidental. Events and people were connected across time and place in a way he'd never understood before. He also knew that Galina's minions were everywhere. Right now, sitting in that car, he and his family were more determined than ever to discover the next relic, overcome the ruthless Order, and bring Sara home safe.
But they couldn't sulk anymore, they couldn't brood; they had to talk.
Anxious to break the silence, Wade cleared his throat.
Then Lily spoke. “Someone's following us. It looks like a tank.”
His father, suddenly alert, twisted in his seat. “A Hummer. Dark gray.”
“I see it,” the driver said, instantly speeding up. “I'm calling Mr. Ackroyd.”
The oversize armored box thundering behind them did indeed look like a military vehicle, weaving swiftly between the cars and gaining ground.
“The stinking Order,” Lily said, more than a flutter of fear in her voice.
“Galina knew our plans from San Francisco,” Wade said. “She knows every single thing about us.”
“Not how much we hate her,” said Darrell, his first words in two hours.
That was the other thing. If their global search for the Copernicus relicsâTexas to Berlin to Italy to Guam to San Franciscoâhad made them stronger, it had made them darker, too. For one thing, they were armed. Two dueling daggers, one owned by Copernicus, the other by the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, had come into their hands. Wade was pretty sure they'd never actually use them, but having weapons and being a little more ruthless might be the only way to get Sara back.
“Galina Krause will kill to get Vela,” Becca said, gripping Lily's hand as the limo bounced faster up the street. “She doesn't care about hurting people. She wants Vela and the next relic, and the next, until she has them all.”
“That's precisely what I'm here to avoid,” the driver said, tearing past signs for the Midtown Tunnel. He appeared to accelerate straight for the tunnel, but veered abruptly off the exit. “Sorry about that. We're in escape mode.”
Roald sat forward. “But the tunnel's the fastest way, isn't it?”
“No options in tunnels,” the driver said. “Can't turn or pass. Never enter a dark room if there's another way.”
He powered to the end of the exit ramp, then took a sharp left under the expressway and accelerated onto Van Dam Street. The back tires let loose for a second, and they drifted through the turn, which, luckily, wasn't crowded. Less than a minute later, they were racing down Greenpoint Boulevard, took a sharp left onto Henry, a zig onto Norman, a zag onto Monitor, then shot past a park onto a street called Driggs.
Why Wade even noticed the street names in the middle of a chase, he didn't know, but observing details had also become a habit over the last days. Clues, he realized, were everywhere, not merely to what was going on now, but to the past and the future as well.
Becca searched out the tinted back window. “Did we lose them?”
“Three cars behind,” the driver said. “Hold tight. This will be a little trickyâ”
Wade's father braced himself in front of the two girls.
Wade wanted to say, but the driver wrenched the wheel sharply to the right, the girls lurched forward, and he himself slid off his seat. The driver might have been hoping that last little maneuver would lose the Hummer. It didn't. The driver sped through the intersection on Union Avenue and swerved left at the final second, sending two slow-moving cars nearly into each other. That also didn't work. The Hummer was on their tail like a stock car slipstreaming the tail of the one before it.
Lily went white with fear. “Why don't they justâ”
“Williamsburg Bridge,” the driver announced into a receiver that buzzed on the dashboard, as if he were driving a taxi. “Gray Hummer, obscured license. Will try to lose it in lower Manhatâ”
They were on the bridge before he finished his sentence. So was the Hummer, closing in fast. Then it flicked out its lights.
Becca cried, “Get down!”
There were two flashes from its front passenger window and two simultaneous explosions, one on either side of the car. The limo's rear tires blew out. The driver punched the brakes, but the car slid sideways across two lanes at high speed, struck the barrier on the water side, and threw the kids hard against one another. Shots thudded into the side panels.
“Omigod!” Lily shrieked. “They're murdering usâ”
As the limo careened toward the inner lane, the Hummer roared past and clipped the limo hard, ramming it into the inside wall. The limo spun back across the road, then flew up the concrete road partition. Its undercarriage shrieked as it slid onto the railing and then stopped sharply, pivoting across the barrier and the outside railing like a seesaw.
The driver slammed forward into the exploding air bag. Lily, Becca, Wade, and Roald were thrown to the floor. Darrell bounced to the ceiling and was back down on the seat, clutching his head with both hands.
Then there was silence. A different kind of silence from before. The quiet you hear before the world goes dark.
Looking out the front, Wade saw a field of black water and glittering lights beyond.
The limo was dangling on the bridge railing, inches from plunging into the East River.