The Super-Secret Science Club: Case of the Disappearing Glass

       S.C. Davis / Science Fiction


Table of Contents
Copyright
Dedication
Get Book Two!
Chapter One - The Yellow Sticky Notes
Chapter Two - First Notice of Failure
Chapter Three - Little in Common
Chapter Four - "Just Jenna"
Chapter Five - How to Make Something Disappear
Chapter Six - "Project Crack Ethan"
Chapter Seven - Aliens and Pianos
Chapter Eight - The Gloomy Pizza Party
Chapter Nine - The Physicist
Chapter Ten - An Invisibility Cloak
Chapter Eleven - Dodging the Mom Bullet
Chapter Twelve - Jenna the Jerk
Chapter Thirteen - Herding Cats at Jenna's House
Chapter Fourteen - Solar Panels and Strange Smells
Chapter Fifteen - The Disappearing Glass
Chapter Sixteen - The Super–Secret Science Club
Chapter Seventeen - The Rosalind Group
Chapter Eighteen - Our Mission, Should We Choose to Accept
Chapter Nineteen - The Accusation
Chapter Twenty - Jenna's Theory
Chapter Twenty-One - The Grand Underground Room
Chapter Twenty-Two - The Midnight Break-In
Chapter Twenty-Three - Dr. Wyatt Improvises
Chapter Twenty-Four - The Strange Note
Chapter Twenty-Five - The Missing Oil
Chapter Twenty-Six - Mr. Gregory's False Confession
Chapter Twenty-Seven - The Reprimand
Chapter Twenty-Eight - Got a Bad Feeling About This
Chapter Twenty-Nine - Alma's Confrontation
Chapter Thirty - Jenna's Secret Sidekick
Book 2: The Secrets of Rosalind
At-Home Refraction Experiment
About the Author
Note from the Author
The Super-Secret Science Club: Case of the Disappearing Glass
Copyright © 2016 by S.C. Davis.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

For permission requests, contact the publisher online at:
http://www.brightmindpublications.com/

If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

Cover design by Jeanine Henning

ISBN 978-0-9971905-1-9

This book is available in print at most online retailers.

Discover other titles by S.C. Davis:
The Super-Secret Science Club: The Secrets of Rosalind
For Ricky.
The mission continues…
“The Secrets of Rosalind”

BOOK TWO in the Super-Secret Science Club Series is available now in paperback and digital download. Don’t miss the adventure! Visit scdavisauthor.com today to find out where to buy!
Chapter 1
The Yellow Sticky Notes

Jenna: Please see me after class today, regarding your grade. — Mr. Gregory

THAT’S ALL IT SAID. One tiny yellow sticky note, nine little words, and my stomach twisted into knots. It was only a month into the school year. How could I be failing science already? Do you know how long an hour can feel when you're waiting to find out something like that? Not surprisingly, for the entire class I felt a gnawing sense of anxiety that kept me from focusing.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not one of those obsessive kids who cry over an A-minus. And my parents aren't cracking a whip at my heels while they fill out my college applications five years early or anything. I'm really just kind of a regular girl. Above average grades, sure. But I don't exactly lose sleep if a pop quiz doesn't end up being my finest moment.
So why did that letter from Mr. Gregory freak me out so much? Well like I said, it was only a month into the school year. We had only had one quiz and a handful of homework assignments so far. We still had five weeks to go before our first test at the end of the nine-week period. It just didn't make any sense.
I started to imagine all sorts of scenarios; my homework got lost, or I had been accused of cheating, or Mr. Gregory had accidentally used the wrong key to grade my quiz, or…something.
I avoided eye contact with Mr. Gregory for most of the class, instead staring down into my lap as I tied a piece of string hanging off the hem of my hoodie into a billion knots. My face burned hot with confused shame.
I tried to snap out of it and pay attention, but halfway through class I caught a flash of yellow out of the corner of my eye. To my right and one row ahead, Chase Ortiz angrily rolled a small piece of yellow paper into a ball. Then, two rows ahead of him, I noticed Britta Schwarz nervously folding the same color yellow paper into a dozen tiny squares.
Odd. I took a quick scan of the rest of the class. In the front row to the far right sat Alexandra Carmichael, who had a yellow sticky note hidden inside the cover of her science textbook. I only saw it because every few seconds she opened the book to steal another glance at it. Maybe she was hoping it would disappear in there.
To Alexandra's left, also in the front row, Ethan Webb had his sticky note stuck right on top of his science book, out for the world to see. One more glance around the room, and I noticed Wesley Nguyen, all the way in the back. He sat slouched back in his chair, no books in sight, but with a single yellow sticky note smack in the middle of his desk. He simply sat with crossed arms and stared at it.
So what? The voice of reason in my head said. Yellow is totally the most common color of sticky notes. Those could be anything.
Occasionally, a girl just knows something is up, no matter how loud their voice of reason is. That was the case with these yellow notes.
Something was definitely up.
Chapter 2
First Notice of Failure

AFTER WHAT FELT LIKE hours the bell finally rang, and my classmates jumped to their feet and clambered through the door. It was lunchtime. Feeling slightly jealous, I watched them all leave, and my stomach growled as I thought about the thermos of leftover spaghetti in my lunch box.
I stood and slowly stuffed books into my lime green backpack, not wanting it to seem obvious that I was staying after class. I pretended to fiddle with one of the dozens of buttons that decorated the bag, and then I casually glanced around the room. Sure enough, the other five yellow-sticky-note-holders were still lingering as well.
The others must not have noticed all the other notes like I had, because they each looked quite confused when they saw each other, and me, all staying behind. Before anyone could say a word, Mr. Gregory appeared in the middle of the puzzled circle of students, pulled a chair out from under a desk and swung it around to sit on it backwards.
He propped his arms up on the back of the chair, sleeves half rolled-up, and thoughtfully stroked his thin red beard. Mr. Gregory is really a pretty cool and relaxed teacher. Younger than most of the other teachers, he seems to prefer acting like our friend rather than an authority figure. But now, he simply looked disappointed.
“I'm sure you're all wondering why I've kept you after class,” said Mr. Gregory. “So I'll cut right to the chase.”
Chase smirked. I wondered if he did that every time he heard the expression, and I found myself involuntarily rolling my eyes.
“I know it's early in the year,” Mr. Gregory continued. “But based on your grade patterns so far, it's looking like each of you isn't doing so well.”
Six different reactions followed. Britta looked sheepish, Chase looked angry, Alexandra appeared dejected, Wes remained stone-faced, and Ethan just looked surprisingly smug. I felt embarrassed. Though I had spent the entire class period imagining the worst, hearing Mr. Gregory confirm my fears left me mortified.
“Now, this is as much of a surprise to me as it is to you. You're all very bright students, and I know you each have a knack for science in one way or another. I talked to Miss Lawson about your science grades from last year and she said you all did great.
“So, I'm thinking the reasons for your slipping grades aren't because you struggle with the material, but because of other personal stuff going on outside the classroom. I don't need anyone to explain,” he said, holding his hands up to halt us as we all began to open our mouths in explanation, mistakenly thinking he was giving us an out. “But let's just say I'm willing to give you a chance to turn it around.”
At the mention of “other personal stuff going on outside the classroom”, I began to reconsider whether or not it was so inconceivable that I might be failing. After all, I had spent the first few weeks of seventh grade sort of...distracted.
I wasn't sure why, but I had taken to daydreaming at the most inappropriate times. In class, at the dinner table, at lunch in the cafeteria, you name it (much to the annoyance of my family and friends, by the way).
Mom thought there was something wrong with me, and started talking about getting me evaluated for various conditions she read about on the internet.
“It's probably attention deficit disorder. Gosh, I hope it's nothing worse!” I overheard her saying to my dad one night.
Dad just started laughing. “June, relax!” he said. “She's a twelve-year-old girl! She'll be a teenager soon; did you think of that? She's too smart for her own good, anyway. She's probably just bored.”
I decided to make an effort to reign in the daydreaming when I caught myself doing it, especially now that there was an apparent consequence. As for the other five, I had no idea what their alibis were, but I didn't really care. All I cared about was working out my own stuff and getting myself out of the “Fail Club”. I might not be a grade freak, but failing a class is a totally different ballgame; and I didn’t want to play.
Chapter 3
Little in Common

AFTER REVEALING THE PURPOSE of our meeting, Mr. Gregory stood up and gestured for us to have a seat at the front of the room. He moved to the white board and began to write something.
“As I said, I'm willing to give you a shot at fixing it. I'd like to see your grades come up by the end of the nine-week period, which is in five weeks. I'm going to give you a special project to work on, as a group.”
I groaned and rolled my eyes, as did the others. It’s not that I had anything against any of them, but we weren’t what you’d call friends. I wasn't even entirely certain I had ever had a conversation with each of them.
From where I stood, we had very little in common besides the fact that we all lived in Bradbury and attended Brisby Middle School. I cringed as I mentally added “failing science class” to the list of things in common. Other than that, there wasn’t much else.
First of all, there’s me; average as can be. Well, besides being a self-proclaimed child prodigy food connoisseur. I could talk you under the table about herbs, spices, sauces and stews. I’ve made nearly every recipe in Julia Child’s books, and I’m told my béchamel is better than what’s made in France itself. But don’t take my word for it; ask my trusted board of taste-testers, especially my best friend Alma.
I've known Alma Rossetti since the third grade, when she moved to our town from New York. She was born in the Bronx, and it was immediately obvious how feisty she was, compared to us small-towners.
She walked into the classroom on her first day, escorted by the principal, and sat right down at an empty desk next to me. The desk was actually assigned to Timmy Gladwell, but he was absent that day. The fact that a large sticker with his name on it was stuck right on top of the desk didn’t seem to matter much to Alma.
“Class, we have a new student. This is Alma,” the teacher, Miss Mason, had said. “Alma, I actually have your desk right over here,” she said with a timid smile, as she gestured at another empty desk in the front. Alma’s name was already written on a big bright sticker on top of it.
Most students, myself included, would have picked up their bag and shuffled over to their assigned desk at that point. But not Alma. She had made her selection.
“Oh, no thanks, that’s okay,” she said to Miss Mason, as if her instructions for Alma to move had actually been an optional favor. Alma flashed a mischievous smile, as if to dare Miss Mason to ask again.
I giggled, then immediately clasped a hand over my mouth, surprised by my own reaction. Alma kept her eyes on our teacher. Miss Mason, still young and new to teaching, hadn’t quite gotten the hang of authority just yet. The next day, the name stickers had been switched on the desks, and Miss Mason led a confused Timmy to his new seat.
I was entertained, intrigued, and more than a little intimidated by Alma, so later that week when she suggested that we be study partners, I wasn’t about to decline.
In the following weeks, I was very careful to correct her as gently as possible when she kept messing up multiplication problems, but though she eventually improved on most of them, there was one she just could never seem to remember: twelve times twelve.
One day, I snapped.
“One hundred and forty-four! One hundred and forty-four, Alma!” I said, slapping my palms onto the desk in exasperation. She sat and stared at me wide-eyed for what seemed like an eternity.
I stared back. I had seen her punch a kid on the playground a few days before, and I knew the punch was coming my way any second. I closed my eyes and braced myself for it, hoping it would be over quickly.
Suddenly Alma started to laugh. She cracked up, in fact. She gripped her stomach and rolled back in her chair, eyes watering. I opened my eyes, unsure of what was happening. Did she think I had been joking? Was this the evil laugh that came right before ripping me to shreds?
When she finally composed herself, she reached out her hand and grabbed my shoulder. I flinched, but her grip was light and friendly. She smiled at me, still hiccupping from laughter.
“Jenna, I think you’re my new best friend,” she said. It was settled. We were from that day forward.
Not long after, she invited me over to her house to watch football one Sunday. Even at the tender age of eight she was a hardcore Jets fan like the rest of her family. I remember being pretty terrified the first time I watched a game with them. My dad grew up in New Orleans, and we had always rooted for the Saints in my house.
I remember being afraid to tell Alma’s family that. I thought her big brothers might beat me up. But when my dad picked me up from her house after that first game wearing a Saints jersey, the cat was out of the bag.
Since then, it’s been a tradition that I go to her house every Sunday. Usually I bring some new culinary experiment to test on her and her family. I’ve learned the way into a Rossetti’s heart is through their stomachs, so they’ve come to love me as one of their own. I’ve even picked up a few Italian cooking tricks from her dad, including his secret recipe for “Rossetti’s Risotto”, never before shared with a non-family member.
Alma and I are people-watchers. It’s our thing. We spend our weekends sitting on the bay beach, or walking around the town and dipping in and out of coffee shops, ice cream parlors, and the occasional antique shop.
We rarely buy anything; we just sit and observe, often adding our own commentary on the exchanges between other people in the store, or making up elaborate stories about their secret lives as spies or bounty hunters or underground black-market traders.
Some evenings after school we sit on the hill above the athletic fields and watch the high school teams play football, baseball, soccer; whatever is in season. Sometimes the youth sports leagues play, and we get to watch our own classmates compete.
Alexandra Carmichael is always one of them. If there’s a youth league for it, she’s in it. Track, cross-country, soccer, softball; she does it all. In the winter, she’s in the gym for volleyball, basketball, and gymnastics.
Not surprisingly Alexandra is one of the more popular girls. She’s got the looks to go with her superb athletic record, and it also doesn’t hurt that her dad is our math teacher. Kids must assume Mr. Carmichael will hand out good grades to all of his daughter’s friends, so they cling to her like Velcro when he’s around.
He's okay, but seems a little superficial and overbearing. He virtually ignores her in class, but is intensely engaged when she’s competing at sports. Alexandra has four older sisters. They’re all high achievers and star athletes. One is even the starting center on the women’s basketball team at her university. It's no secret that Mr. Carmichael expects Alexandra to be just like them.
“You’ll thank me one day when all the college scholarships start rolling in,” I overheard him say to her at a basketball game once, as he sent her limping back onto the court with a twisted ankle.
Alma says that Alexandra overdoes everything to try to hide her insecurities of not being good enough. Alma has a terrible habit of trying to psychoanalyze everyone, but I have to be honest; she’s usually right.
“Trust me on this one,” she said the first time she made the observation. “It comes with the territory when you have a bunch of siblings.” This was something I couldn’t argue with. Being an only child, I would never understand what it was like.
But I pride myself on not being a spoiled only child, like Ethan Webb so famously is. Ethan is not exactly anyone's favorite. He's extremely smart, but he's got one of those know-it-all personalities that almost no one can stand. I try not to let him get under my skin, since he’s my friend Julianne’s cousin, but I'm not totally immune either.
Ethan has only gone to school here since the middle of fifth grade, so he also still has a bit of that “new kid” stigma. His family is quite rich, and he takes any opportunity to casually remind his peers of that. I felt a bit guilty about it, but learning that Ethan was failing a class was somehow…satisfying.
I can’t say the same for Britta Schwarz, though. I don’t know her well, but she has a certain sweetness about her that makes everyone want to protect her. Seeing how crushed she was about failing made me feel worse for her than I did for myself. She's tiny and timid, skinny and pale, and looks like she could easily break.
She's from Germany, but her family moved here when she was still a toddler. We've gone to school together since kindergarten. Her parents are well-known environmental activists, and Britta herself is extremely sensitive about all that earthy stuff. I’ve seen her cry over someone stepping on a spider before.
Come to think of it, that person was Chase Ortiz. As one of the bigger kids with a tough-guy persona, he’s always been a bit of a troublemaker. Chase has always acted “too cool for school”, but despite that front, he's actually really smart.
He won a regional contest for a book report back in the fifth grade, and the prize was a field trip for our entire class to Washington, D.C. to visit the Library of Congress. He thought it was too lame, so he didn't even go.
I remember seeing him stand with his other tough-guy friends that day, and as the bus pulled away I could have sworn I saw a bit of longing in his face. Since then, I have always suspected that Chase is a huge fraud. I think he’s a smart, caring guy who is playing the role he thinks he’s supposed to play. But just in case I’m wrong…I hope to never get on his bad side.
Kind of like I hope to never be on Wes Nguyen’s bad side either. I wouldn’t say he intimidates me. I hardly know him at all. I guess I’m more mystified than anything else. He's always been super nice and polite any time he's spoken to me, but he's really quiet and keeps to himself.
He's tall and wears dark clothes and hangs out with the punk kids, who avoid anything mainstream. All I really know is that Wes plays the keyboard in a band with some of his friends. They played at Field Day last year. The music was a little harder than I’m used to, but they seemed pretty talented. I was sort of getting into it until I saw Alma giving me a disgusted look.
“You can’t seriously like this junk, can you?” she said with a crinkled nose. She’s strictly a hip-hop fan, and I usually roll with it, even though my own taste in music is quite diverse.
“What, this? No way, it’s not even music,” I lied.
Now, sitting next to Wes in Mr. Gregory’s class as we were learning of our punishment for failing, I smiled a little at the memory, wondering if Wes would be surprised to know I kind of liked his music.
Oh, right…the group project. I sighed as I snapped back into reality, and Mr. Gregory continued sentencing us.
“This is your chance to show me that you can solve a problem from the ground up, with very little to go on. This is your chance to use your brain, to think hard, to use trial and error, to think outside of the box, to use good experimentation practices and test theories.”
This sounded absolutely horrifying. He was looking at the wrong group of kids. There wasn't a Darwin, a Newton, an Einstein, or a Sagan among us.
“I'm going to give you one small instruction, and you have five weeks to—”
What? We have to do this for the entire five weeks? The horror! The injustice!
“—to present to me an answer, and explain it fully,” Mr. Gregory concluded.
During this whole monologue, while the rest of us seethed with anger, Ethan had maintained an arrogant smile that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the meaning of.
“Ahem,” squeaked Ethan. Five sets of glaring eyes shot towards him.
“Oh right, sorry Ethan,” Mr. Gregory said. “Guys, I want to let you know that Ethan is here for a different reason. He’s not failing the class. In fact, he has the highest grade.”
Jealous huffs escaped from the rest of us.
“He's going to be sort of a peer advisor to you guys. Now, he's not here to instruct you and don't think he's going to do all the heavy lifting for you. He's simply going to make sure you all have the correct understanding of a concept before you move further into the project.
“So, thank you Ethan for agreeing to participate. And guys, make sure you show your appreciation to Ethan as well.”
I found myself snarling at Ethan's self-congratulatory smirk, but Mr. Gregory interrupted my dark thoughts.
“Let's get down to business.” He stepped away from the board to reveal what he had written behind him.

Task: Make something disappear.
Rules: You cannot move it, it must still be in place, you cannot hide it behind a solid object, and it must remain in its original form.

“Take a second and write this down,” Mr. Gregory said. We all rolled our eyes and pulled out our smartphones to snap a picture of the board.
“Oh that reminds me,” Mr. Gregory said. “I've Googled every possible combination of 'how to make something disappear,' so don't even think about it. I know exactly what results will turn up for you, so you’ve gotta come up with something original.”
There were more groans of displeasure.
“To make sure you're giving it your all,” he continued, “I'm giving you a time limit. You must meet six times, for one hour. I reserve the right to reject any of your submissions if I think it isn't original enough or that you didn't put in enough effort. The project is due on October sixteenth.”
The complaints shot out from each of us and tumbled over one another.
“What?”
“That's not fair!”
“You could reject anything we do if you wanted to!”
“How are we supposed to know what you would consider original?”
“This is going to take up all my free time!”
“You'll be fine!” Mr. Gregory said, brushing aside the complaints. “I've got faith in all of you. You're free to head to lunch now. Here's a note for each of you if you end up needing extra time to eat.
“By the way, I'm not going to organize any time for you guys to work on this project, so it's entirely up to you to coordinate amongst yourselves. You're free to use this classroom any time between classes or after school. I've loaned Ethan a key.”
Another smirk from our so-called “peer advisor.” No one cares you have a stupid key to the science classroom, Ethan, I thought to myself.
Mr. Gregory pulled open his desk drawer and pulled out a small cooler and headed for the door. His mood had brightened, probably because he started thinking about his lunch.
“You guys are gonna crush this! You'll have fun! And heck, even if you don't, it's better than failing class, right?” he said as he waltzed out of the classroom.
I wasn’t sure whether he was mocking us or if he really was that positive, but either way I had to fight the urge to stick out my foot and trip him as he walked past. Mr. Gregory is one of those teachers whom you can't help but like, but at this particular moment, he only had one fan in the classroom, who sat twirling a brass key between his fingers.
“No one cares you have a stupid key to the science classroom, Ethan,” Chase said as he stormed out of the room and headed for the cafeteria. I had to laugh at that. I had been in school with Chase since the third grade. We probably had never exchanged more than a few words, and now we were sharing thoughts.
Funny, how misery brings strangers together.
Chapter 4
“Just Jenna”

WE DECIDED TO HOLD our first project meeting after school the day after “the notice.” After Chase had hastily left for the cafeteria, the rest of us followed. It was Ethan who came around to each of us in the cafeteria afterwards.
“Like Mr. Gregory said, it's on you guys to plan your meetings, but I'll do you the favor just this one time of scheduling the first meeting. Tomorrow after school in the science room, okay?”
I'm pretty sure he fed the same line to each of us, as he worked his way around to each of our tables. I imagine we were pretty easy to find, since the entire seventh grade sat at the exact same tables every day, with the same group of kids.
For instance, Alma and I always sat with Audrey Spencer, Ashton Brown, and Julianne Maynard at the end of the long table by the door. People called us “the A.J.s” since all of our names started with A or J. We pretended to hate the nickname, but secretly we all loved it.
“Thanks Ethan,” I said as he started heading for Britta’s table nearby. I didn’t try to hide my sarcasm, but I don’t think he even noticed. He was super focused on his mission.
“What is this all about?” Alma said, narrowing her eyes in suspicion.
I hesitated to respond. Alma always felt the need to be protective over me, like she was a big sister or my bodyguard or something. I knew it was out of love, but sometimes it got annoying. Mostly because it also included cracking down on me if I wasn't giving something my best, so I wasn't looking forward to telling her I was failing science.
I decided to downplay it. “I need to get my grade up in science, so Mr. Gregory is letting some of us work on an extra credit project. Hey, anyone want my fruit cup? I don't think I have time to eat it.”
My attempt at changing the subject was unsuccessful.
“Whoa whoa, hold the phone,” Alma said. “Just how much do you need to get your grade up?” An awkward silence hung between us as I desperately tried to think of a good lie, but I came up empty.
“From an F to…not an F,” I responded, staring down into my lunch bag.
Alma slammed her palms onto the table, leaned forward and stared at me wide-eyed.
“You're failing? What the heck, Jenna! Wait a minute; this is about how weird you've been acting, isn't it? You're always in some other world, and you should be paying attention to what's going on in front of you.”
Alma's face was getting more red as she spoke. The other girls just exchanged glances with raised eyebrows. They didn't dare interrupt.
“Alma, relax. It's fine, there are six of us working on the project and Ethan is one of them. He’s smart. I'm sure we'll get it done quickly, and I'll be passing science in no time,” I said, trying to calm Alma's rage.
“That's not the point. You shouldn't even have to be doing extra credit to keep from failing, Jenna. You've always rocked science, better than any of us at this table.
“That's it; I'm talking to my Aunt Gretchen. She's a psychologist, she'll figure out your depression or whatever this is about.” She said it as if she had all but made the appointment for me.
“No!” I said as I practically dived across the table and grabbed Alma's wrists. I was really getting sick of all the suggestions that something was wrong with me. Why did everyone assume I was some nutcase all of the sudden?
“No, just…just give me a little more time and I'll fix it. Jeez, why does everyone think I have a mental illness or something? I just need to refocus. Let me handle it,” I said.
The truth is, I was well aware of my lack of focus. I wouldn't say I was too smart for my classes, but maybe I was just bored, like my dad said. Lately I was feeling like my life was a little...dull. Too average, perhaps.
I was tired of being “Just Jenna”. I wanted some excitement and adventure. But at Brisby Middle School, I just didn't see that happening anytime soon. Unless...
“Jenna!” Alma interrupted as I started to slip into yet another daydream. “Did you hear me? I said I'd give you two weeks to snap out of it, and then I'm taking over, got it? Someone's gotta look out for you if you won't.”
The bell rang, and the cafeteria echoed with a flurry of screeching chairs and lunch trays slapping onto the rack. I usually take Alma’s lectures with a grain of salt, but this time I felt myself on the verge of tears. I was starting to get worried. What if something really was wrong with me?
Before the tears could start, I mumbled something under my breath about taking care of the focus thing, then dashed out into the hall and made my escape.
Chapter 5
How to Make Something Disappear

IT WAS A TUESDAY after school when we held our first meeting for the science project. It was about three o'clock, and out the window we could hear the laughing and shrieking of the other kids waiting at the bus loop or jumping into their parents' cars.
On this particular afternoon, I tried not to think about home as my stomach growled and my eyelids drooped. On most days, I walk home from school. I’ve always loved the fact that our house is right downtown and close to everything in the small but charming bayside town of Bradbury.
When I get home, my parents are still at work, so it’s my job to take our beagle, Parsley, on a walk around the block. When I get back, I grab a soda and some pretzels from the kitchen and plop down onto the couch with Parsley to watch Food Network, my guilty pleasure, until Mom gets home.
But because I had let my mind slip one too many times in class, I was paying the price now. No soda, pretzels, or Food Network for me this afternoon.
At first we all sat in our usual desks in the science classroom. Habit, I guess. I expected Ethan to take charge and kick things off, despite his insistence that he was “only guiding, not leading”. But it was Alexandra who made the first move. She turned to face the rest of us.
“Well,” she said with a nervous laugh, “how do we want to do this?”
We all kind of looked around at each other, hoping someone had figured it out already or at least had a plan in mind. But I hadn’t given it a single thought, and it wasn’t looking like the rest of them had, either.
Since Alexandra had been the first to speak up, she must have felt obligated to continue to carry the conversation. “Okay, well... what if we start by...I dunno, ruling out some things? Maybe narrow down our choices on what we could do.”
Ethan sat at the front at Mr. Gregory's desk, to our annoyance. He grinned and nodded subtly as if to say, “Yes my innocent little pupils, I have taught you well.” Ugh.
“Good idea, Alex,” Britta said as she perked up in her chair. I saw Alexandra cringe a little bit; even I knew that she despised being called “Alex”. She let it go, though. Britta always got away with anything.
“We should start with the rules Mr. Gregory gave, and write down all the things we know we can't do,” Britta said.
We each took out our phones to open up the photos we had snapped the day before of the white board with the rules written on it.
“Can't move it, or get rid of it I guess. Can't hide it behind anything, and can't change its form,” Chase read out loud, sighing loudly to make it clear how much he didn't want to be here. I happened to feel the same way.
“So basically, we have to make something disappear without making it disappear?” I complained, studying the picture on my own phone.
Alexandra went to the white board, uncapped a red dry-erase marker, and began copying down the rules.
“So for each of these rules let's name some things we can't do,” she said with her back to us.
“Well, the first one kind of explains itself, right? We can't take the thing and make it disappear by moving it somewhere else. It has to stay stationary,” Chase observed. I was actually a little surprised to see him so engaged right up front.
“Okay. Self-ex-plan-a-tor-y,” Alexandra said, one syllable at a time as she wrote the words under the first rule. “What about the second one? Also pretty self-explanatory, right?” she continued.
We nodded and mumbled in agreement.
“The third is maybe the one that's a little less obvious. Can't change its form,” she said, staring thoughtfully at the words on the board as she tapped the marker on her chin.
“Like we can't make a liquid evaporate into gas and stuff,” a quiet voice said from behind us. We all turned to look at Wes.
“Yeah. Great point. Exactly,” we said in unison, almost as if we feared we might not hear a peep from him again if we didn't show extreme gratitude and encouragement of his contribution.
Alexandra turned to write “no liquid evaporation” under the third rule.
“No melting anything either,” Ethan interjected.
“Well if we melted something, we would still be able to see it, so it wouldn't have disappeared anyway,” Chase argued, annoyed at the unwanted suggestion.
Ethan shuffled nervously in his chair and looked down at the floor. The rest of us continued brainstorming. Well, that’s not exactly true for me. The mention of melting got me thinking about making some chocolate-covered pretzels when I got home. After a few minutes of drooling, my salty-sweet daydream was disturbed when Ethan excused himself to go to the bathroom.
“I'm thinking we find a way to make him disappear,” suggested Wes, as soon as Ethan was out of earshot.
“Or I can just find a way to make that 'holier-than-thou' attitude disappear,” said Chase as he flexed his muscles and rolled up his sleeves. We laughed at that, but I wondered for a second if he might be serious.
“Guys,” said Britta as she tried to stifle her own laughter, “we have to figure out how to tolerate him for the next five weeks. Maybe once he gets over the high of being Mr. Gregory's 'chosen one' he might not be so bad.”
“Not likely,” I said, but Britta’s attempt to be the peace-maker was endearing.
“Wait a second. I might have an idea. A kind of messed-up one, but still an idea,” Chase said, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
“Mr. Gregory says we have to meet at least six times, right? What if we took on our own project-within-a-project? What if we made a goal of cracking Ethan over the next five meetings?
“We could spend most of the meetings buttering him up and making him feel like he's our best friend. Then, when it's getting close to the deadline, we could easily convince him to just tell us what to do for the project!
“Then we don't have to do all this boring thinking just to have our ideas shot down. Whatever Ethan would come up with I'm sure would be something Mr. Gregory would accept as original enough.”
No one wanted to be the first to respond. Were we bad kids if we all admitted we loved the idea? Were we goody-two-shoes if we rejected it? Before anyone could speak up, Ethan walked back into the classroom.
“All right, break's over guys. I'm sure you came up with your project while I was gone, right? No? Surprise, surprise,” he said sarcastically as he sat back at Mr. Gregory's desk and kicked up his feet.
The rest of us exchanged glances, and with five faint smiles and five tiny nods, we all knew: “Project Crack Ethan” was on.
Chapter 6
“Project Crack Ethan”

WE HAD A QUICK HUDDLE after Ethan's mother picked him up from our first meeting. The plan was to each find out something that Ethan liked, try to learn about that topic, and then strike up conversation about it during our after-school meetings.
Our idea was that we could get Ethan so interested in these conversations that he would forget to hound us about getting the science project done. After a few meetings, he would feel like we were all such great friends that he wouldn't want to say “no” when we asked him to help us finish our project.
The hard part was going to be finding out what kinds of things he liked. He didn't really have any friends, so there was no one we could ask. It was starting to look like we would have to talk to him directly.
I sat beside Ethan in English; not by choice but by assignment. I decided that the next day in class I would try to strike up conversation and see what I could figure out.
Turns out I didn't have to start a conversation. It seemed Ethan felt that working on an after-school project together meant we had some secret bond that no one else would understand.
As soon as I sat down in class that morning, he turned to me and said, “Great meeting last night, right?”
What a dumb thing to say. He probably sat there all morning trying to think of something cool to say about the meeting, and that's the best he could come up with. I started to make a face and give one of my typical sarcastic responses, but I thought better of it. Instead, I smiled and nodded.
“Yeah, really great. Looks like it will be an, uh…interesting project for sure,” I said, fighting the urge to roll my eyes.
Since people were still trickling into the classroom, and Mrs. Tanner hadn't shushed us yet, I decided now was as good a time as any to dig for some intel on Ethan’s interests.
“So, what did you do when you got home last night? Anything fun?” I said, but as soon as I said it I regretted it. It seemed a bit personal. I didn't want Ethan to get the wrong idea.
Argh! Why didn't I just ask him about something school-related? I thought.
He looked pretty surprised that I had asked, but also flattered. Then he looked embarrassed.
“Well, not a whole lot. I ate dinner with my sister, then I got in a little piano practice before it was time to get ready for bed.”
I had to fake a sneeze to keep from laughing. I blew my nose into a tissue, and then I rallied.
“Huh, that's cool, I didn't know you played piano,” I said, my voice cracking. “What kind of music do you play?” I was pretty sure I knew the answer already.
“Mostly classical. When I play casually, like after school, it's usually a short prelude, or maybe a nocturne to wind down for the night. Long-term, though, I'm working on Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 3, which I hope to perform in the December recital. Last year I did Beethoven's Moonlight—”
Mrs. Tanner was my new best friend at that moment, as she turned away from the white board and shouted in her usual opening greeting.
“Okay class, sit down,” Mrs. Tanner’s voice boomed, drowning out Ethan’s. “We've got a lot of material to cover today, as we begin our poetry unit.”
Mrs. Tanner, a husky woman, isn’t what you’d usually picture for an English teacher. She seems more suited for P.E., with her broad shoulders and loud voice.
Even more surprising is her love of poetry, but her eyes glimmered in excitement as she announced the new topic. When she heard Ethan still whispering to me about piano, the twinkles in her eyes turned into daggers.
“Mr. Webb! Is there something you’d like to say about poetry? Perhaps you’d like to recite your favorite one? I’m sure a classy gentleman such as yourself has plenty memorized.”
The class giggled and Ethan’s face turned a shade of crimson. For a moment I pitied him. I felt like it was half my fault, being the one who asked him for the information.
“No, ma’am,” he said, staring at the floor.
Once Mrs. Tanner turned away and resumed her lesson I smiled at Ethan and shrugged in a half-apology. At the end of class, I made a point to rush out before he had a chance to pick up where he had left off with the piano conversation.
As I walked briskly toward history class, I pulled out my science notebook and opened to the last sheet where I jotted down “classical piano”. I shook my head and laughed at how typical that was, but I was satisfied at my first successful collection of intelligence for “Project Crack Ethan”.
Chapter 7
Aliens and Pianos

WE HAD DECIDED TO have our second meeting on Thursday, so Wednesday night I did some research on classical piano to prepare for distracting Ethan. I fell asleep on my laptop at my desk, until my mom came in around eight o'clock.
“Jenna, wake up. Are you working on homework? You ‘d better finish it if you're already getting sleepy.”
I didn't have time to close my browser window, so my mom saw that I was reading a Wikipedia article about classical piano. She scrunched her face up in curiosity.
“What are you studying that for? Are you interested in music all of the sudden?”
It might sound like she was teasing me, but she really wasn't. In fact, she was probably hoping I would say “yes”. She always told me she wished she had taken music lessons as a child, but her parents never had the money for that sort of thing. We did, so she reminded me every so often that I could take a lesson if I wanted to.
I never became interested in it, though. I loved listening to music, but never felt a desire to make it. I could sense Mom’s disappointment, but she never made it obvious.
“She’s just trying to live vicariously through you. Don’t worry about it,” Alma said once, after I was feeling especially guilty about rejecting Mom’s offer to buy me a starter guitar. As always, I assumed Alma was right.
After Mom asked about the Wikipedia article, I sat up groggily, trying to think through the fog about how to answer. I definitely didn't want to tell Mom about “Project Crack Ethan”, but I also didn't want to lie and say I was suddenly interested in music myself. I made a quick decision to only sort of lie about it.
“No, not really, but there's this boy in one of my classes that plays. I thought I would just read up about it a little. In case he ever wanted to have a conversation about it or something.”
I hesitantly glanced up at her to see her reaction. I knew right away what assumption she was going to make, but I was willing to take the hit.
“Ohhhh....” Mom said, her voice fluctuating up and down in pitch. A smiled curled onto her face, and she plopped down onto the edge of my bed as if I had just invited her to have a “woman-to-woman” conversation, as she called them. That was most decidedly not what I wanted at the moment.
“Mom,” I whined, “it's nothing. I don't want you to get all worked up about it. I just found out he played, I thought that was interesting, so I wanted to just…hear a sample of what that kind of music sounds like or something. No big deal, okay?”
She winked as if to say “your secret's safe with me”, and she stood up and started to walk out. At least she hadn't asked his name; then I would have had to lie for real. There's no way I would have given her Ethan Webb's name. Mom can be pretty chatty with her girlfriends, and most of them are my classmates’ moms.
“He might be impressed if you knew what the four main time periods of classical music categories are,” Mom said with a sly smile as she gently closed my bedroom door. “Just a suggestion. Don't forget to do your real homework, too.”
While slightly annoyed with my mother, I was pretty grateful for the tip. That at least gave me a topic to focus on. I spent the rest of the evening researching, and felt ready to bluff on the topic for the meeting the next day.

-----

Day one of “Project Crack Ethan” went just as we had planned. As soon as we pretended to start brainstorming for the science project, Chase brilliantly kicked things off.
“Did you guys see the season finale of Alien Planet Battles? Oh man, was that crazy or what?”
Chase had dark circles under his eyes, despite his apparent energy. My guess is that he stayed up all night watching the entire season of Alien Planet Battles, whatever that was. I had to hand it to him; I was impressed at the dedication. At the mention of the show Alexandra perked up a bit, and then she immediately blushed.
“Um…I saw it. I actually love that show,” she said with a sheepish laugh. Chase shot her a look that said, “If I had known that, I would have let you have this conversation with Ethan and I could have gotten some sleep last night!”
Ethan, of course, lit up like a Christmas tree and engaged the other two in a twenty-minute debate about whether or not Captain so-and-so is really dead, or if he's just joined the whatever tribe on the next planet.
Our plan was working. Once the Aliens conversation began to wrap up, I figured I had better jump in before Ethan had a chance to snap back into science mode.
“You guys don't mind a little background music, do you?” I said to no one in particular as I set my phone on the desk and pressed play. The music immediately jerked Ethan's attention away.
“That's Liszt's Sonata in B Minor,” he said, as if he were surprised anyone else in the world had ever heard it at all.
“Jenna, I didn't realize you were into this stuff. But, of course, we never did get to finish our conversation about it yesterday. So, tell me then, who’s your favorite composer?” he asked excitedly.
I felt a slight panic. Sure, I could name off a few composers, but I knew he was going to want to know more. He was going to find out I was bluffing. Then, out of nowhere, Wes came to my rescue.
“I don't know about you guys, but I've always admired Ligeti. He totally reinvented and modernized orchestra piano, while at the same time keeping up the influence of the ‘greats’. Chopin, Liszt, Debussy...” Wes trailed off into more detail than I would ever have been able to come up with. I wanted to hug him.
Of course! He plays the keyboard in a band, how could I possibly have forgotten about that? I thought. Sure, his style is definitely not classical. But he probably learned how to play piano with classical pieces.
The nice thing was that Wes didn't sound like he was simply doing me a favor. He was really into the conversation, like the others had been about that stupid show. Before we knew it, the hour was up.
Chase glanced at the clock, stood up and stretched and said, “Well, looks like we're done for the day,” and started to gather his things.
Ethan was now the one who looked panicked. “Oh my gosh, guys! We didn't even touch on the science project at all!”
He got up and ran to the window to look out at the bus loop. His mother was waiting in her Mercedes to pick him up.
“Maybe we should stay another twenty minutes or so. I'm sure my mom wouldn't be too annoyed,” he said, flustered.
The rest of us glanced around at each other. We hadn't really anticipated him suggesting we stay, but Britta quickly handled it.
“Um, I'm really sorry guys, but I have to get over to the organic vegetable farm I volunteer at. I’m always there at four-thirty,” she said.
“Yeah, I have to let my dog out, he's already been kept inside an extra hour,” I said, not actually having to lie.
“Same for me, I have band practice,” Wes said.
Ethan looked defeated, like he had let himself down for not being a strict peer mentor at this meeting.
Chase walked over and clamped his huge hand onto Ethan’s shoulder. “Hey buddy, don't worry,” he said, a bit condescendingly. “This project isn't hard. Mr. Gregory just wants to make us think it is. We've got plenty of time to finish it.”
In a flurry of “see-ya-laters” and a few jokes about Aliens, we all shuffled out the door, leaving Ethan no choice but to follow reluctantly. The other five of us celebrated our success with subtle winks and went our separate ways.
Chapter 8
The Gloomy Pizza Party

THE NEXT TWO MEETINGS went exactly the same way as the last one. We had each learned a thing or two about Ethan's interests, and we filled the meeting hours distracting him.
The funny thing is, it seemed that at least one of us shared each interest somehow. Chase and Alexandra obviously loved that silly Aliens show, and Wes had a passion for piano, as we learned in the second meeting.
When Wes started chatting with Ethan about botany, Britta jumped right in and talked about all the herbs and vegetables she tends to at the organic farm.
And as for me, who could have figured Ethan loved pasta-rolling as much as I do? The only topic no one seemed to relate to was his obsession with trains. We didn't dwell on that one too long.
As much as any of us would hate to admit it, Ethan wasn't the only one who was being cracked; the rest of us were as well. We discovered so many common threads, with Ethan and with each other, that we nearly forgot why we were having the conversations in the first place.
As cringe-worthy as it was, we were all starting to like each other. Yes, even Ethan's annoying habits became somewhat lovable as we got to know him.
By the end of the fourth meeting, we had forgotten about the project entirely, and Ethan no longer panicked at the end realizing we had made zero progress. As we were leaving, we decided on the following Wednesday for our fifth meeting.
“That's perfect,” Alexandra said. “My dad is holding tryouts for the youth girls' volleyball league that night, and he's getting a bunch of pizzas. I’m sure he won’t mind sparing some extras for us.”

-----

At our fifth meeting, a few minutes after the hour Alexandra walked in the door with two large pizza boxes. My mouth watered as soon as the scent of bubbly mozzarella and crispy, buttery crust hit me. She dropped the pizzas on a desk with a thud, obviously annoyed.
“If you hate pizza that much, I can take care of your share. I would do that for you,” Chase said.
“Har har”, she responded wryly, and immediately crammed the first slice of pepperoni into her mouth.
“It's the volleyball thing, right?” I asked, concerned for Alexandra's feelings, but more wanting her to retract her claws enough so that it was safe to grab a slice of pizza. I was starving.
“You'd rather be there?” I said.
“Nope. I’m just fine right where I am,” Alexandra said stubbornly. “But Dad thinks otherwise, and he had no problem making that clear when he gave me the pizzas. I asked him about it this weekend and he said it was no problem.
But today I felt like I had to practically beg. He called me out in front of the whole team for having to miss practice today and still have the nerve to ask for pizza.”
I already knew Mr. Carmichael could be kind of a jerk to Alexandra, but after getting to know her better, hearing this was starting to upset me more than I expected.
“Sometimes I feel like he only likes me when I’m playing a sport. You'd think a parent would cut their kid some slack for missing one practice to work on a school project. Especially when your dad’s a teacher himself! Not mine, though,” she said.
Alexandra walked toward the windows and slumped down into a bean bag chair. We all dived for the pizza at that point.
“Since when are sports more important than science?” Alexandra said in her best nerdy voice.
We all laughed...then almost choked on our pizza, remembering all at once the reason we were meeting in the first place. “Project Crack Ethan” had worked. It had worked too well, and we had ended up distracting ourselves just as much as we’d distracted him.
“Oh my gosh, you guys! We only have one meeting left!” Britta cried. “And we haven't done the slightest bit of work on this project!”
Each of us frantically looked around the room at each other, hoping one of us had the answer already. Then, we all turned and stared at Ethan. I had so many conflicting thoughts. This is what we had wanted, right? Now was the point where we were supposed to ask Ethan to take over the project for us.
But for some reason, the idea didn't sound so great anymore. In the short time since we'd been meeting, we had come to know each other a little better. Ethan, though still annoying as ever, had actually become…a friend.
I made a decision. I reached for my backpack, preparing to pull out my science book and lead the charge. But to my surprise, I wasn’t the only one to act.
In one swift move, we were all springing in to action. Some of us were pulling out our textbooks, Alexandra pulled out the dry-erase markers again, and Wes began to fire up the classroom computer for research. The only one still standing was Ethan. He looked, once again, defeated.
“I should—” he stumbled, “I don’t—I mean...”
“It's all right Ethan,” Chase interrupted. “It's not your fault. We'll be fine. Let's get back to brainstorming together.”
I had never heard such compassion coming from Chase, and something told me he had just shown us more of his real self than he ever had before.
By the end of the meeting, we had tossed around a couple ideas between bites of pizza. Ethan participated in the brainstorm, but it turns out he hadn’t given any thought to how the project could be done after all. He had been too busy basking in the glory of being selected as the peer advisor to think too much about it.
“I'm not a genius,” Ethan said, hanging his head in embarrassment after offering up a few mediocre ideas. “It’s just that I’m good at studying and memorizing and taking tests, so I get good grades.”
Chase once again got up and clamped his huge hands onto Ethan's shoulders, although this time there was care behind the gesture.
“Dude, stop being so hard on yourself. None of us are geniuses. You're still going to be a valuable part of this team, so buck up and let's get to work,” Chase said as he tousled the hair of the much smaller Ethan.
As it turns out, this would become a typical interaction between those two all the way up through high school graduation, as Chase would develop a protective big-brother role over Ethan.
I smiled as their exchange made me think of my relationship with Alma. Then I felt a little tug in my chest as I realized something: I hadn't spent much time with her at all in the weeks since the project began.
Was I the one who wasn't around, or was it her? It must be me...I would have noticed if she were withdrawing from me. Had she noticed? Was she hurt by it? I had to shake off the thoughts and make a mental note to deal with it later. It was time to get this disappearing act done once and for all.
Chapter 9
The Physicist

ON A COLDER THAN usual morning in late September, Dr. Terry Wyatt walked briskly along the winding sidewalks through the small campus back to his lab. He had been on to something much earlier that morning while contemplating his research, and he reluctantly left his lab mid-thought in order to go and give his eight o'clock lecture.
He was distracted for the whole hour and fifteen minutes, and now couldn't wait to resume his work. He was close; he could just feel it.
Upon arriving back at his lab, he found one of his graduate students, Kieran, organizing his own workbench. Kieran was attending the college on a scholarship from Ireland. He was cheerful and funny, and was the most hard-working student in Dr. Wyatt's lab.
“Good mornin’ to ya, Dr. Wyatt,” Kieran said in his charming Irish accent. “How was Introductory Physics?”
Dr. Wyatt grunted. “I don't know. I wasn't really paying attention.”
Kieran laughed. “It takes a truly talented professor to not even pay attention to his own lectures.”
“I was on to something good this morning before the class. My mind wasn't ready to leave it yet,” Dr. Wyatt said as he tossed his briefcase and jacket into a chair. He marched over to his workbench and checked his notes for where he had left off that morning.
Kieran had never seen his advisor so intensely preoccupied by anything. Intrigued, he walked over to Dr. Wyatt's side and tilted his head to read the notes.
“Balsam?” Kieran asked, once he was able to decipher the chicken-scratch on Dr. Wyatt's notes. “A tree?”
“Yes. Well, no, not the tree. The resin from the tree. It's the clove oil that made me think of it. It reminded me of microscope slides.
Clove oil is used to dissolve Canada balsam resin, which makes the slide cover stick to the slide. The balsam acts like glue, and because the balsam, clove oil, and glass all have virtually the same refractive index, it stays transparent.”
“Makes sense,” agreed Kieran, waiting for the professor to continue.
“The only problem is, eventually the balsam turns yellowish once it dries and the oil evaporates. But back in the day, balsam was refined and used as a resin to construct eyeglass lenses. Once it was purified, it stayed clear.” Dr. Wyatt stopped and thought for a moment. So did Kieran.
“This might be the missing piece, Kieran,” Dr. Wyatt said. “This might be what makes our Jasper Oil harden and dry without affecting its ability to manipulate light refraction before it passes through the glass.”
“You’re thinking that if we dissolved refined, clear balsam into some clove oil, and added that to the Jasper Oil, it would dry hard, like in a microscope slide. So the oil wouldn’t rub off or evaporate,” Kieran said.
“Exactly!” Dr. Wyatt said. “I don’t believe adding these would alter the cloaking ability of the Jasper. But we’d, of course, need to test it.”
A knock on the door of the lab interrupted their thoughts.
“Yes come in,” Dr. Wyatt said, without looking up.
Kieran turned to see a man and a woman enter the lab. He didn’t recognize them as faculty. They certainly weren't students. The man, tall and solidly muscular, wore a well-tailored dark gray suit with dark sunglasses. His hair, overly gelled and jet-black, came to rest at the nape of his neck in small neat curls.
The woman was short and petite, but not skinny. She also wore an expensive-looking skirt suit in a surprisingly attractive hunter green. Her shiny dark hair was pulled back into a neat bun, and everything else about her screamed perfection: manicured nails, a stylish tote bag, and flawless makeup with deep blood-red lips. She seemed confident and powerful, and she did all the talking.
“Dr. Wyatt, I presume?” she said in a stiff British accent.
“We do apologize for the unannounced visit, but we would love a moment of your time to chat,” the woman said, presenting a brilliant white smile.
Dr. Wyatt, being the polite man that he was, tried to hide his frustration over the interruption of his deep thoughts.
“Uh, yes ma'am, I'd be happy to assist you,” he said as he forced himself to turn away from his workbench and shake hands with the strangers.
Kieran noticed out of the corner of his eye that the tall man was staring right at him, rather than Dr. Wyatt.
“To what do I owe the pleasure? Oh, my manners. This is Kieran, my best PhD student. He's working on a study for—”
As if the woman read the mind of her silent colleague, she interrupted the professor. “Dr. Wyatt. Or may I call you Terry?” she said with a wink.
“Yes, of course,” Dr. Wyatt said with a slight blush.
“Terry. Do you perhaps have a private office we could adjourn to for this conversation?” the woman said.
Dr. Wyatt began to laugh heartily, looking over at Kieran. Kieran snickered as well, knowing just what was so funny.
Dr. Wyatt's desk in his office was a mythical object piled under years’ worth of collections of papers, old lab equipment, and random trinkets he had found interesting at one point or another. The floor, filing cabinets, and chairs were just as disguised as the desk.
“Oh I have an office, sure. But it would take me an hour to clear a spot for a proper lady like yourself to have a seat,” Dr. Wyatt said once he had composed himself.
“Heck, I don't think I've spent more than fifteen minutes in there myself in the last five years. Unless I'm looking for an old paper or something,” Dr. Wyatt said, quite amused with himself. This was one of Kieran's favorite qualities about Dr. Wyatt: his ability to laugh at himself.
The woman's face started to show the beginnings of annoyance, but she caught herself right away and revived the beaming smile. The man continued to stare at Kieran, who simply decided to take his cue and save Dr. Wyatt any further embarrassment.
“Actually, I have to head off to a lecture myself. No need to excavate the office,” he said with a small nervous laugh.
Somehow, he didn’t trust these people. Something seemed off about them. They did not seem like the type of people who would have any sort of business with Dr. Wyatt, or interest in his work. What exactly did they want?
Kieran gathered some of his research material and exited the lab. He closed the door behind him, leaving it cracked a bit. He thought for a moment about staying and eavesdropping from the hallway.
Come on, Kieran, he said to himself. It's none of your business.
He reluctantly pulled the door shut and walked away.
Chapter 10
An Invisibility Cloak

THE REST OF THE fifth meeting for the science project was spent brainstorming. We came up with some ideas, but eventually decided against each one. We couldn’t quite come up with something we thought would impress Mr. Gregory.
Britta had been up pacing the floor for a few minutes when she spoke up.
“So here's what I'm thinking. We've been focusing on making something disappear by making the object itself change somehow. Change into a different color, change to a different phase, stuff like that. But what if we started to think more about another object causing our object to be invisible?” she suggested.
“But one of the rules says that it can't be hidden behind another object,” Ethan countered.
“I know, but I'm not thinking of hiding it behind anything. I'm thinking of another object indirectly making our object invisible. I was thinking about an invisibility cloak,” she said.
We all snickered.
“Really, Britta?” Chase teased. “You know Harry Potter is fiction, right?”
“Yes, I'm well aware of that, thank you Chase,” she said, glaring at him. “I don't mean a literal invisibility cloak; I mean the idea of it. Visibility is just based on the manipulation of light, right?”
“Yeah, refraction! Of course!” Ethan said suddenly. At the mention of the word, I could see the wheels start to spin in Ethan’s head along with Britta’s.
“So you're saying if we can change the way light interacts with an object, our eyes wouldn't see it anymore?” I asked, sort of understanding.
“Guys, check this out,” Wes said from the computer. “Great thinking, Britta. I started Googling as soon as you said it.”
Wes pulled up a YouTube video of someone running a simple optics experiment. They submerged a small clear glass into a large beaker that was filled with cooking oil. When the glass was fully submerged, it became totally invisible.
“Wow,” Alexandra said with raised eyebrows. “How does that work?”
“The refractive index, which is basically the angle at which light bends when it hits an object, is different depending on the material. But it’s pretty much the same for oil and glass.
“If it were a different object in there, say a clear plastic cup which doesn't refract the same as oil, the light would pass through the oil, then bend again when it reached the cup. The bending of the light is what makes the cup visible to us,” Ethan explained. So there was the genius, coming back from hiding.
“So since the light doesn't bend anymore once it passes through the oil and reaches the glass, it's as if the glass isn't there at all,” Alexandra concluded.
“Right, or at least not to our eyes, it isn't,” Ethan said.
I was getting excited and I felt like we were on to something, but the fact that it was all over YouTube concerned me.
“This is a really cool idea and all, but remember what Mr. Gregory said? He already Googled a ton of ideas and I'm pretty sure he would’ve seen this one. I mean, look how many other videos there are showing the exact same thing,” I said as I pointed to the list of other videos on the right side of the screen.
“I agree,” said Alexandra. “I think it's worth exploring the topic more, though.”
“Yeah I'm sure this experiment is all over the place because it's so easy and cheap to do it. But it's only scratching the surface of the subject of optics. I think we just need to learn a little more about it and see if we can come up with something clever,” Wes said.
We all agreed, and began looking through our books and online to find more information on the topic. But it seemed like everything we could get our hands on was either too basic or too complicated for us to understand.
Eventually, Wes spoke again from the computer.
“The top search results for 'refractometry research' are for a few foreign labs and schools,” he said as he continued scrolling down the page. “A few schools in the Netherlands. One in South Africa. Then there's this American guy, Dr. Terry Wyatt. Wonder where he—HEY!” he said, and we all jumped.
“What?” I gasped.
“This Dr. Wyatt guy works at Bradbury College! Right in our own town!” he exclaimed.
“Oh my gosh, it's a sign from the universe,” Britta said dreamily.
“Sign or no sign, it's definitely something we should take advantage of,” I said. “My mom is a professor at Bradbury College too. I'll ask her about him tonight.”
Wes was still furiously scanning something on the screen, and a fascinated smile was forming on his face.
“This article talks about how he uses something called ‘metamaterials’ combined with basic principles of refraction to make organically derived invisibility cloaks! It sounds like it’s some seriously groundbreaking stuff!” Wes said excitedly. “Britta, you might have really started something.”
Chapter 11
Dodging the Mom Bullet

LATER THAT EVENING, I offered to help my mom fix dinner so that I could talk to her about Dr. Wyatt. My dad was always such a chatterbox at the table, so I figured I would ask her beforehand while I could get a word in edgewise. Plus, being such a natural in the kitchen, cooking relaxes me.
“Mom,” I began as I worked on dicing vegetables with my best Santoku knife, “do you know a professor at Bradbury named Dr. Terry Wyatt?”
Mom looked at me quizzically. “Yes. He's in the Physics department. I don't know him well, but I do know who he is. Why do you ask?”
“It's for the science project. We found him online while we were doing some research today on our topic. It's basically in his field, so we thought we might try to go talk to him,” I said.
Mom looked impressed at my level of effort.
“Oh, that's a good idea,” she said. “Now just so you know, he can be hard to pin down for a meeting. One of the things I know about him is that he refuses to hold open office hours during the week.
“He says that the lectures he teaches and the student work he has to grade take up enough of his time away from his own research, without dealing with students dropping in and asking questions on weekdays.
“But the college requires every faculty member to hold office hours. So, Dr. Wyatt has his on Sundays,” she said with a laugh, as if it were a running joke among the college employees.
“The policy didn’t specifically say that office hours had to be held on a weekday, so they had to allow it,” she said with an amused shrug.
“Huh,” I said, thinking that this guy sounded like quite a character already. “Well, we're kind of on a tight schedule, so I think we might have to go pay him a visit this Sunday then.”
“So who's 'we' exactly?” Mom asked.
“The other kids on the project. Britta Schwarz, Chase Ortiz, Wes—”
“Wait a minute,” Mom interrupted, setting her sauce-covered wooden spoon down abruptly and looking at me with narrowed eyes. “You've never said anything about a science project. Why is this the first time I'm hearing about it? And why such a tight deadline if it's a new project?”
I felt my face warming. How could I be so stupid? I hadn't mentioned the science project to my parents at all. I couldn't think of any way to cover it up without hinting that I was failing, so I had just decided not to tell them at all. Now, that was coming back to haunt me.
Think, Jenna. Think quick. You're good at this. What's it gonna be this time?
“It's for extra credit,” I blurted out. Once again, not entirely a lie.
Mom's brow furrowed. “Do you need the extra credit, Jenna?” she asked, looking at me suspiciously.
“Ha, well, um. Even if you already had a million dollars, wouldn't you still want another million dollars if you had the chance?” I said, laughing nervously. I thought I sounded like a complete idiot. The pause afterward seemed to last an eternity, and I waited for Mom to call me out.
“Hmm, good point,” she finally said, picking her spoon back up and stirring the saucepan. “Well that makes me proud, sweetie,” she said and smiled at me. “I look forward to seeing that big fat A-plus on your report card.”
I couldn't believe I had dodged that bullet. I didn't even have to technically lie. I mean, the project was extra credit...mandatory extra credit, but still. And I avoided the second question by asking another question! How slick was that? I guess playing “Questions” during my summer improv class was paying off in an unexpected, though not entirely innocent, way.
The only problem now was that Mom was going to expect an A in science. Even if this project brought me up to a passing grade, there's no way it would take it straight up to the top. I was going to have to figure out something. I decided I would have to deal with that problem later, and for now focus on getting the project completed.
Chapter 12
Jenna the Jerk

THE NEXT DAY WAS Thursday, and I knew the science group wouldn’t have a chance to meet again until the following week. We only had one meeting left, and we were going to have to finish the whole project in that one hour.
We needed to get the visit in with Dr. Wyatt as soon as possible, and it sounded like Sunday would be our only opportunity. When the bell rang for lunch, I rushed to the cafeteria so that I would have enough time to talk to each of the other kids.
“Hey guys!” I said cheerfully when I got to my usual lunch table. Julianne, Audrey, and Ashton all greeted me in their normal ways, but Alma was quiet.
I don’t have time for this, I thought, irritated. I was surprised at my attitude towards Alma, especially after my realization that I was the one who had been neglecting her ever since the science project started.
But I had arrived at school that day excited to tell the others about Dr. Wyatt and his office hours. Alma’s moping was a buzz-kill that I wasn’t inclined to tolerate.
“Well, Alma, how’s that psychologist aunt of yours? I noticed I haven’t been dragged off in a straight-jacket yet. Guess that must have fallen through, huh?” I said with more attitude than I had planned.
I had no idea why I said it at all. I could already see the hurt on Alma's face. In my head, I blamed it on the stress of the science project and the tight deadline, but deep down I also knew it had something to do with my new group of friends. Something about Alma's protectiveness over me had become irritating.
None of my new friends would treat me like that. Why couldn’t she just mind her own business? But still, as soon as I had spoken, I regretted it. I didn’t even give Alma a chance to respond before I made my cowardly escape.
“Be back in a quick second,” I said.
For the next fifteen minutes I breezed around the cafeteria, going to each of the other science kids in turn to talk about Dr. Wyatt and his Sunday office hours. I took a minute to sit and chat with each one, too.
As I was laughing hysterically with Alexandra over an Aliens joke she made, I happened to look up and lock eyes with Alma from across the cafeteria. She immediately looked away and pretended to laugh at something Ashton had said, even though none of the others at the table were laughing.
By the time I finished talking to everyone, we had agreed on a plan. We would all meet at Wes's family's coffee shop downtown at ten o'clock on Sunday morning, then walk together to the college.
Mom had given me his lab room number and said she would leave a note with the physics department administrative assistant about our visit. She told me she would let me borrow her key to the building too, in case it was locked.
I started walking back to my table, glancing at the clock. Five minutes left of lunch. That was plenty of time to slurp down a thermos of tomato soup and crush a few saltines.
I walked with a new spring in my step. I was feeling good about things. I couldn't explain it and didn't want to admit it even to myself, but I was actually excited about the project, as if it was going to be so much more than it seemed. Something told me it was the start of the adventure I had been craving, but I couldn't put my finger on why.
When I got to the table and sat down, still smiling, Alma stood up abruptly.
“I've got library duty next period,” she said, and walked off.
Every seventh grader was on a rotating schedule to spend a class period in the library helping sixth graders. Because of the number of seventh graders, it ended up being only once or twice per year for each of us.
But here’s the thing: I could have sworn Alma already served her library period just a few weeks before. In fact, I was sure of it. Alma was simply giving me the slip now. I immediately felt a sense of relief to have her out of my hair…then I felt guilty for it.
Chapter 13
Herding Cats at Jenna’s House

ON SUNDAY MORNING I left the house a few minutes before ten and began the short walk to the coffee shop downtown. Wes's parents had opened it earlier in the year, adding to their portfolio of two other cafes in neighboring towns and one small specialty foods store near the college.
I came to the coffee shop every now and again on rainy days when I wanted to get out of the house. I would take a book or my homework, get a dark chocolate banana smoothie, and spend an hour or two mostly people-watching. Alma would usually come meet me. It felt strange to be meeting someone there other than her.
I arrived at the coffee shop a few minutes early to find Alexandra already in line, so I joined her. It was a cold morning in early fall, so I had decided I wanted something warm rather than my usual smoothie. Hot cider sounded perfect.
Alexandra smiled when I joined her in line. “Have you been here before?” she said.
“Yeah, all the time,” I said.
Alexandra lived out in the suburbs, so she wasn't as familiar with the town as I was. I always felt a bit of pride over the fact that I lived downtown and could literally walk anywhere, including school.
Somehow it made me feel more experienced or cultured or something. I got to be around people other than just my own family, and I knew my way around better than anyone.
“What's good here?” she asked, turning toward the chalkboard menu high up on the wall over the counter.
“I usually get a smoothie, but since it's cold today, I'm going to get their hot cider. It's delicious. If you like cider, that is,” I said.
Alexandra scrunched her nose.
“Nah, I've gotta get something with espresso in it,” she said.
I chuckled and looked at her to make sure she was serious and not just making fun of the coffee shop culture. She looked at me and smiled, blushing a bit.
“I'm serious! I know, it's weird. I have kind of an addiction to coffee, though,” she said.
“Aren't you a little young for that?” I said.
“It's all my cousin's fault. I spent a few weeks with her over the summer in Boston. She's really cool. She goes to Harvard and has her own apartment.
“She’s never gotten along with my older sisters, even though they're closer in age. She told me I’m her favorite cousin. My sisters never got invited to go stay with her in Boston,” she said triumphantly.
I don't have siblings, so I always found the extreme competition that seemed to exist between them confusing. But I was glad to hear that Alexandra had at least something that her sisters didn't, even if it was just the attention of a cool older cousin.
“Anyway, she has to have coffee or espresso like twice a day. I guess she rubbed off on me,” Alexandra said, shrugging.
Somehow I got the feeling that the “addiction” was forced, and more of a conversation-starter than an actual love for the bitter, dark liquid. I personally couldn’t stand it.
Just then I heard Chase and Ethan chatting as they walked in the door together. They were talking about that stupid show again. Then Wes came out of the kitchen behind the counter, tossed aside a floury apron, and joined us on the other side. I was a bit intrigued.
“Do you bake?” I asked, tilting my head curiously.
“Yeah,” he responded, with a look that seemed to say “doesn't everyone?”. Interesting; another twelve-year-old who likes to cook. Every day I learned something new and surprising about these kids. None of them were turning out to be who I thought they were.
Finally, Britta breezed through the door, and she was filthy. She had dirt smudged on her face, and she wore muddy muck boots that went up to her knees. Wes reacted quickly enough to keep her from walking into the coffee shop, and gestured for her to stay on the floor mat. Britta looked frantic.
“I'm so sorry I'm late! I was helping harvest pumpkins at the farm this morning. We got the wagon stuck and it was just a huge mess,” she said.
We all looked her up and down. “Mess” was an understatement.
“Jenna!” she said suddenly, startling me.
“What?” I said defensively, as if she were about to tell me it was my fault or something.
“You live close, right? Please, please let me come borrow some of your clothes and wash my face. I swear it will just take a second,” she begged.
Seriously? Now I had to take this whole crew to my house? How embarrassing, and how risky. What if Mom started asking questions about the project? What if the boys made fun of my room? What if my dad made a bunch of cheesy jokes?
I attempted to refute the request. “Well, no, it's not far, but it's in the opposite direction from the college.”
But Britta's disappointed face quickly got to me, and I caved in. I really didn't have a good reason to say no, anyway.
“That's okay,” said Chase. “We'll walk quickly to make up for it.” I definitely couldn't say no to Chase.
“This way,” I said, and we walked back toward Olive Street.
I sent Mom a quick text as we walked, so she wouldn't be surprised when I walked in with five other kids. As soon as we got there, I attempted to herd everyone into the kitchen, hoping they would stay put.
Having them all see the inside of my home felt so weirdly personal. I had grown to like them all, but none of them were in “come to my house” friend territory yet.
“Stay here. We'll be right back,” I said to the others as I whisked Britta off to my room. I pulled out a few pairs of shoes from my closet for her to try on.
“Do you have some socks too? And, maybe some pants? I kinda regret the cotton skirt today. It's pretty cold outside,” she asked with a small laugh, seeming embarrassed by her misjudgment.
I couldn’t stay annoyed with her. I tossed her some socks and a pair of clean jeans.
“Here, try these,” I said. “They’ll be big on you, but I don't think I have any of the stuff I've grown out of anymore.”
“These will be just fine, thank you. I owe you,” she said. I waved it off and showed her to the bathroom so she could wash her hands and face. I grabbed her dirty clothes and boots and headed downstairs to drop them off in the wash room.
We had been upstairs for no more than two or three minutes, but when I got downstairs, no one was in the kitchen anymore. In fact, no one was in the same spot at all.
Ethan was in my dad's office looking through books on his shelf. When I stopped short in the hallway and stared at him, he said, “Oh! Your dad said Alexandra and I could borrow some of his books on oceanography and cartography.”
I leaned further into the office and saw Alexandra in the big corner chair, sipping on her espresso beverage with Parsley tucked into her lap. She held up her cup as if to “cheers” me. I didn't even bother to ask why in the world they wanted to read about oceanography and map-making. Dad’s work had never interested me, that’s for sure.
Shaking my head, I rushed to the wash room to drop off Britta’s clothes and to see where everyone else was. Suddenly, beautiful piano music drifted down the hall. I was confused; our piano hadn’t been played in ages. I headed toward the formal living room where the piano was, but Ethan bolted past me once he had heard it too.
“Oh, sure, don't worry Ethan, I got this!” Alexandra called out from the office, annoyed that she now had to deal with the pile of books he had pulled out herself.
When I entered the living room, I saw that Mom had cleaned all the books and decorations off of the old dusty piano. Wes was sitting on the bench, playing a beautiful melody that was nothing like the hard rock I was used to hearing him play with his band.
I couldn't believe the piano was even in tune. Maybe it wasn't, and he was just that good. I felt a little twinge of...something. I had found it so stereotypically nerdy when I learned that Ethan played classical piano, yet I was more than impressed to hear Wes play.
Mom stood behind him looking as if she were going to cry. Wes was the musically-inclined child she never had. It sure wasn't me. Ethan stood looking over Wes's shoulder as if he desperately wanted to find something to correct about his playing, but came up with nothing.
As charmed as even I was by the piano music, I shook my head and walked back through the kitchen to the den on the other side. There I found Dad and Chase, engaged in some lively discussion about football while Thursday night's highlights played on the huge TV in front of them.
Dad was all decked out in his Saints jersey, waiting for the game to come on in a few hours. He grew up in New Orleans, and had been a loyal Saints fan his whole life. While his Creole accent was only still there in traces, when his “boys” played, it came out in full force.
“You can take the boy out of the bayou, but you can't take the bayou out of the boy!” Dad always said with a laugh.
Fortunately, he wasn't all worked up just yet since the game hadn't started. Even still, he was tame compared to how excited Alma's family got during Jets games.
Suddenly I felt an overwhelming sense of dread pass over me. Alma. Football. Sunday. I had promised her I would come over today, like I did every week. In the midst of our plans to visit Dr. Wyatt, I had completely forgotten about it.
I looked up at the clock and saw it was almost eleven. We still had about two hours before the game started. Even though I always went over to Alma's an hour or two early, I could get by with just showing up on time.
“Guys! We've got to head out, let's go!” I said loudly.
No reaction. The piano continued, as did laughter from the den, Alexandra playing with a squeaky toy with Parsley, and was that the shower I heard upstairs?! It was like herding cats.
I headed back toward the living room, prepared to give Mom that panicked “help me, do something!” glance that only a mother could translate. Before I got the chance, she spoke first.
“Jenna, I forgot to tell you, Alma called a couple times after you left this morning.”
“Why would she call the house?” I said as I pulled out my cell phone. Then I saw the notification: “Alma: (3) Missed Calls”. Shoot! My phone must have been silenced. I couldn't stand to hear disappointment in her voice, so I started to write a text to her instead.
'Hey! Sorry I missed your calls, I was out walking Parsley and didn't have my phone. I'm heading to the grocery store with Mom now but I wanted to text you really quick to tell you that I will try really hard to be there by kick-off!'
As I finished the message off with three or four smiling emojis, the doorbell rang. Probably FedEx or something. I hit send, then walked back toward the kitchen to try to rally the troops again. I could see into the den, where my dad was just opening the door.
There stood Alma.
My heart leapt up into my throat.
“Hey Sugar Bean!” my Dad greeted her with the pet name he had given her years before.
“Hi Mr. Wallace,” she said, her eyes falling onto Chase, who leaned forward on the couch watching the television. He nodded his head and said “What’s up, Alma”. She returned a small wave, but her forehead crinkled in confusion. Then her eyes traveled up to meet mine.
I was prepared to grab her and run her back out the door, make up some stupid lie about how I was going out with Chase now or something, and she would get all excited and giddy, and she would give me a free pass on football today so I could spend time with my new beau, and tomorrow at school she would be so happy for me that she would forget all about being mad at me, and—
Another daydream interrupted. Apparently the troops decided to rally at the most inconvenient time for me.
At that moment Parsley shot past my legs pursued by Alexandra, who had engaged him in a lively game of tug. Then came Ethan, his arms full of a stack of Dad's books. He took them over to Dad to show him which ones he'd chosen, and they started talking excitedly about the content of each.
Then came Mom and Wes, as he wrapped up a story about the first symphony he attended. Mom seemed mesmerized. Great, I thought, now Mom's going to be all like “why can't you be more like Wes”. And the icing on the cake: Britta appeared all fresh and clean, wearing my clothes.
“Oh hi sweetie!” Mom shrieked when she saw Alma. She loves Alma. “Well now it's really a party!”
The worst part about all this was that I could not read Alma's face. She was my best friend. We knew everything about each other. We had seen each other's best and worst sides. But this time, her face looked completely expressionless.
For the first time, I had no idea what she was thinking or feeling. I would have rather seen rage on her face than nothing at all.
She nodded as if something was clear to her now. “I can't stay, I just…wanted to see if you were still coming today, Jenna. You look pretty busy, though, so how about we take a rain check until next week.”
She started to turn back toward the door. The others had gotten back into their own conversations, and though the room was full I felt like it was empty except for the two of us. I couldn't come up with anything to say.
As soon as she started to open the door, her phone made a chirp. She pulled it out of her pocket with her gloved hand and read something. I had another mini heart attack.
The text message!
I felt every second that passed made me less worthy of her time, her forgiveness, or her friendship. And I had absolutely nothing to say for myself. Who was I? What was with all the lies lately?
As she read, she crumpled her forehead once more in confusion. Then it softened. She looked back up at me, shook her head, and turned and left.
Chapter 14
Solar Panels and Strange Smells

I WAS RATHER QUIET during the fifteen-minute walk from my house to the college campus, thinking about Alma and what was going on with our friendship. Was she just jealous that I was making new friends, or was I really neglecting her more than I even realized?
It's true that I had forgotten about football that day, but was there more that I wasn’t seeing? I had been keeping her out of all the science group stuff, but up until recently that was only because I was embarrassed to be a part of it. Now, it was because I was changing; Alma wouldn’t understand.
Once we reached the science building, I shook off thoughts of Alma. I got out the key Mom had lent me, but the door was unlocked. Mom had told us Dr. Wyatt's lab was on the lower floor, so we found the stairs and headed down.
As we walked down the hallway, we could see that several labs had their doors open with a few people working inside. Some sat at computers, some in front of microscopes, some scrubbing things in sinks.
Dr. Wyatt's lab ended up being all the way at the end of the hall. As expected, his door was open, but I still felt a little nervous going inside. We were just a bunch of kids, and he a brilliant scientist. Would he even waste his time helping us?
The lab wasn't quite what I was picturing, which was something like a huge squeaky-clean white room filled with tubes of colorful bubbling liquids.
In Dr. Wyatt's lab, large brown cabinets with thick, black countertops lined every wall, and more set up in rows in the middle of the room. There were sinks, cabinets with glass doors, and many shelves of clear glass containers ranging from beakers the size of buckets down to tiny vials no larger than my pinky finger.
The thing that surprised me the most about the lab from the second we walked in was the smell. It wasn't the musty, chemical smell I had expected. The air was full of an odd mixture of scents, some quite strong. I couldn't put my finger on exactly what each of the smells were, because there were so many.
As my eyes travelled around the room, I discovered another shelf full of dark brown glass vials and bottles. The labels said they were all different types of oils. I went to get a closer look, and realized that the smells were coming from each of the oil bottles. There was sunflower, wintergreen, clove, coconut, lavender, and dozens more.
“What is this, an aromatherapy parlor or something?” Alexandra said jokingly as she walked up beside me. She must have been following her nose as well.
Her words snapped me out of my trance, and I realized at that moment that the lab had been empty when we walked in. Dr. Wyatt was not there.
“Should we be in here, you think?” Britta asked, looking over her shoulder as if we were doing something illegal.
“I'm sure it's okay. The door was open, and plus these are Dr. Wyatt's open office hours,” I reminded them. “Maybe we should just wait here a little while. He could have just gone for a break or something.”
The others nodded in agreement, and we all spread out to continue exploring the lab. How could we not? Ethan, still the know-it-all he had always been, felt the need to say, “We probably shouldn't touch anything, though.”
I found myself drawn back to the oils; there were so many different types. I couldn't quite figure out why a physicist would be working with oil in the first place, and why so many unique kinds.
I noticed a small cabinet with a glass-paned door over the counter where the oils sat. I reached up to open it, but it was locked. Inside were various small bottles of what must have been more expensive or rare oils. Some I recognized from my cooking interests, like truffle oil and saffron oil. Others I had never heard of before.
One in particular caught my attention. It was on the top shelf by itself, and it was a larger bottle than the rest. The label read “Jasper Oil v. 5”. What in the world was Jasper? A flower, perhaps? And what did “v. 5” mean; version five?
Just then I heard someone walk into the lab. I turned to find a rather skinny young man with flowing hair the color of burnt sienna, and a thin matching beard.
Dr. Wyatt was way younger than I was expecting. He looked quite shocked to see six middle-schoolers wandering about his lab, but I suppose I would have been, too.
“Er, hello there,” he said in a charming accent. Scottish, was it? Irish? “Can I help you?” Definitely Irish.
Britta stepped forward, as if she were relieved to finally be able to justify the trespassing.
“Hi, we're seventh graders from Brisby Middle School. We're working on a refraction project for science class, and we learned about you online. Jenna's mom works at the college and told us we could find you here during your office hours today,” she said hastily, as if it were rehearsed.
“Ah,” the man said, nodding. “You're looking for Dr. Wyatt. I'm a student of his, actually. My name's Kieran.”
That explained his youthful appearance. Britta blushed at the mistake, though I'm sure we all had made it.
“Do you know when he'll be back? We just wanted to ask him a couple questions. I'm sure he's very, very busy,” Alexandra said, appearing to sense Britta’s nervousness.
“Ha,” Kieran said, rolling his eyes. “Wouldn't we all like to know the answer to that question?” We glanced at each other, not comprehending his meaning.
“Dr. Wyatt suddenly decided to take a vacation! In the middle of the semester. Without any warning,” he said flatly.
He was smiling, but the tone of his voice implied that he was somehow burdened by Dr. Wyatt's absence.
“So, in addition to having to put my own research on hold, guess who's having to substitute teach Dr. Wyatt's classes? Oh, that would be me as well!” he said in mock surprise.
We each giggled uncomfortably, not sure if we were supposed to find him funny or pity him.
“Last I saw him was two weeks ago. He had a couple visitors stop by here one afternoon, and then the next day he was gone. Not sure who they were, but they must have irked him to the point of needing a mental holiday,” Kieran explained as he began to tidy up a workspace.
“Ah,” he said as he waved his hand dismissively. “I'm sure he's got his reasons. Just wish he had warned me, is all.”
“How do you know he went on vacation? Did he leave a note?” Ethan asked. I elbowed him, feeling like that was none of our business, but Kieran didn't seem to mind.
“Yeah, he did actually. It's right there.” He gestured to another workspace near the oils, where an open notebook sat. I was standing right by it, so I stole a peek.

Kieran,
Sorry to do this to you pal, but I need a little getaway. I'll return before the end of the semester. Please take care of my lectures and go easy on those kids.
We'll pick up our discussion about your theory when I return.
Cheers,
Dr. Wyatt

It sounded genuine enough. It also sounded somewhat...sad. What in the world would make someone of Dr. Wyatt's position just want to leave everything behind for a while, especially if it meant burdening someone who looked up to him?
As I was about to turn back to Kieran, I noticed something else scrawled at the bottom of the page. It was in the same handwriting, but a lot sloppier, as if it had been written hastily.

Changed my mind about clove and balsam. DO NOT add these to Jasper Five, add coconut and shea instead.

What in the world were these guys doing, making bubble baths and lotions? I thought their work was supposed to be pretty important, but it wasn't looking like it at this point.
“Well since you made the trip out here on a Sunday, is there some way I could help you? I'm certainly not an expert like Dr. Wyatt, but I do study this stuff all day every day,” he said with a sort of overwhelmed laugh.
Britta looked back at us as if for permission. I nodded, and she turned back to Kieran.
“Sure, that would be great. We saw an experiment where they make a glass beaker disappear by submerging it into oil.”
Oh, duh...oil. I thought to myself. Maybe that's what all these oils were about, perhaps testing the different properties of each? What was it Ethan had said, the “refractive index” maybe?
“We want to do a project sort of like that because our challenge is to make something disappear, but we wanted to come up with something a little more unique than that same experiment,” Britta said.
“Any ideas?” Chase said, sounding like he was trying to speed things up. I heard his stomach growl. That explained his impatience.
“Hmm.” Kieran thought for a minute. He glanced over at all the oils, then back at us as if he were trying to decide if we could be trusted with something. He finally shrugged and said, “Ah, what the heck.” He grabbed a key ring from his bench drawer and started toward the oil cabinet.
“As it so happens, one of the projects we're working on right now is basically the same thing: how to make something invisible. Solar panels, to be exact. We're trying to find a way to make solar panels invisible so that they can be placed on more surfaces.
“Right now they're somewhat limited to rooftops or open fields. But there’s a new technology being developed for transparent solar panels. They don’t have the bluish-black squares on them like you’re used to seeing. They look just like regular glass. They’re called transparent luminescent solar concentrators, or TLSC’s.”
“Does that mean regular glass, like windows, could be replaced with that stuff?” I asked. I vaguely remembered hearing something about it on PBS a while back.
“It sure does. It’s got great promise, especially for big skyscrapers that are pretty much entirely glass. All that glass could be replaced with a TLSC to collect solar energy, and it wouldn’t look any different,” Kieran said.
We raised our eyebrows and nodded, impressed with the idea. I wondered, though, how Dr. Wyatt and all the oils played a role in the technology. The way Kieran described it, it sounded like the TLSC’s were developed elsewhere.
“So, why do you need to make solar panels invisible, then? If there’s already a way to make them transparent,” Britta asked, sounding almost hesitant to put him on the spot.
“Well,” Kieran began with a chuckle,” Dr. Wyatt’s the kind of guy who’s always thinking about how to make a great thing greater. When the TLSC technology came out, the first thing he did was criticize it. ‘Well that’s all good and well for buildings with tons of windows, but what about everything else?’” Kieran said, mimicking Dr. Wyatt in what I assumed was his best “Dr. Wyatt” voice.
“He decided transparent wasn’t going to be good enough. He wanted to go one step further. He wanted to make the panels invisible,” he said. “That way, they could be installed almost anywhere without covering up whatever surface they’re on.”
So much for lotions and bubble baths…this sounded like some serious stuff. I laughed a little at how far off the mark I had been. Kieran reached up to unlock the cabinet, and we drew in closer to see what he was going to bring out.
“Since you already know about the simple oil experiment, I'm sure you understand that it works because light doesn’t bend when passing through oil to clear glass,” he said.
We all nodded to confirm. Ethan nodded especially hard, wanting Kieran to be sure that he already understood.
“Well,” Kieran continued, “Dr. Wyatt and I have been experimenting with the idea of something called ‘metamaterials’. These are just—”
“Man-made materials engineered to have properties that natural materials don’t,” Ethan interrupted. “Usually for manipulating electromagnetic waves.”
Kieran laughed, equally surprised and delighted by Ethan’s intelligence. The rest of us twisted our faces at Ethan like he had just spoken a foreign language.
“Would you care to translate?” Chase said to Kieran, sounding annoyed. Ethan didn’t seem to notice.
“Your friend’s right. Basically, metamaterials are usually constructed from stuff like metal or plastic. They’re put together in tiny patterns that interfere with and change the waves of whatever they’re meant to intercept; light, sound, and so forth,” Kieran said. My brain was working overtime trying to keep up.
“The idea is that the right metamaterials could actually divert visible light around an object. And since you understand refraction, I’m assuming you know that the only reason we can see objects is because they absorb and reflect certain wavelengths of visible light.”
We nodded, then Ethan chimed in again.
“And if light is bending around an object instead of bouncing off of or being absorbed by it, it means we wouldn’t even be able to see the object.”
“Correct again!” said Kieran cheerily.
The idea was interesting enough, but I was already starting to feel my mind slip. It was too much for me to grasp. I was no physicist. I was staring at the bottles of oils, and wondering what it would be like if I were the scientist, and this were my lab.
Alexandra must have seen my eyes glaze over, because she gently elbowed me. I focused back in on Kieran.
“Dr. Wyatt decided to try to make something that would function like metamaterials, as far as being able to manipulate light waves, but without constructing anything at all. Instead, he started looking in to mixing natural substances.”
Ethan was clearly far more excited about this than the rest of us. I was still waiting for it all to click, wondering if it ever would.
“Long story short,” Kieran said— I had to laugh at that paradox— “Dr. Wyatt found that a certain mixture of oils could arrange its molecules into a pattern similar to what’s seen in metamaterials.”
This ‘metamaterial’ stuff was still a great mystery to me, but I was starting to understand the purpose of the oil collection.
“The effect of the oil is really quite simple. It doesn’t deflect any light around anything. Rather, it harnesses the light once it reaches the oil, and forces it to maintain its angle. Usually once light reaches oil, it would refract, since the refractive index of air is different from oil.
“But this oil we’ve developed forces the light to maintain course. It neither reflects nor refracts. And once it’s passed through the oil to the glass on the other side, we already know it doesn’t refract. It still continues straight on through. So, no refraction means?”
“No visibility,” Ethan concluded, looking proud to be the one to deliver the punchline.
Kieran exhaled deeply, like he’d just completed a marathon. He looked at us hopefully.
“You follow me so far?” he said.
Ethan turned to look at us, too, as if he himself were one of Dr. Wyatt’s students. We nodded.
“Excellent!” he said, brightening. “So we’ve got a formula that makes the glass totally invisible. But the challenge is that we can't have a surface that's all oily, right? So we're trying to find a way to make it dry but still retain the refractive qualities we need.
“I thought we were onto something before Dr. Wyatt left, but he must have thought of some reason it wouldn't work. He left me some instructions to do something different.”
I assumed based on the note I’d read that the “something” they’d been on to was adding clove and balsam. And just as Kieran said, Dr. Wyatt had, for some reason, instructed him to use coconut and shea instead.
“It's not perfect yet, but if you guys are looking for something that will impress your teacher, maybe you want to see this anyway,” Kieran said.
As he spoke, he pulled down the bottle from the cabinet labeled “Jasper Oil v. 5”.
“This is the latest version of the oil combinations we're testing. It's named Jasper after Dr. Wyatt's childhood dog,” he said.
“Aww,” we girls cooed.
“This particular mixture is almost exactly what we need. It does make the glass completely and totally invisible, but the problem is that the oil doesn't dry the way we want it to. It eventually evaporates.”
Kieran carefully unscrewed the bottle cap, which doubled as a glass dropper with a rubber tip. The air filled with a swirl of fragrances. I smelled wintergreen, gardenia, truffle, and fish oils among others. A very peculiar bouquet of scents, to be sure.
With the dropper, Kieran added a bit of the Jasper Oil to an empty Petri dish that was sitting nearby, then he pulled a sponge brush out of a drawer.
“Watch this,” he said.
He coated the sponge brush with oil from the dish, and began stroking it onto the flask. At first, the outline of the flask rippled and waved, like an asphalt horizon on a hot day. Then, seconds later, it vanished completely. Kieran looked around at all of our reactions, and was clearly happy with each of the dropped jaws he saw.
“It just…disappeared!” Alexandra said in disbelief. “I can't believe it, I mean, I can't see it at all!”
“I never imagined anything like this would be possible,” Britta said, seeming to be in a trance.
“You could almost imagine it being used for some bad stuff, if it got into the wrong hands,” Wes observed.
Kieran nodded. “Absolutely. But for now, this mixture only does this to clear glass. Wouldn't work on anything else. Still pretty cool though, right?”
“Yeah, amazing,” I said.
“Can I touch it?” Ethan asked. I had to laugh at the irony, considering he was the one who insisted we didn't touch anything.
“Sure, if you can find it!” Kieran said with a laugh.
Ethan pointed his finger and slowly reached in the direction of the flask. When his finger made contact, I expected to be able to see the flask move. But all I saw was the tip of Ethan's finger bending up slightly, as if all on its own.
“Wow!” Ethan said as he pulled his finger away.
“But look,” Kieran nodded back to the flask. We leaned in closely, waiting for something to happen, and then we saw it. A smudgy fingerprint, floating in mid-air like a ghost. It was the craziest thing I'd ever seen. Ethan held his finger up to show us the oily sheen left on the tip of it.
Kieran picked up a towel, reached for the flask and put it into a sink full of soapy water. It slowly became visible again as it bobbed up and down. He tossed the sponge brush in the trash and placed the Petri dish in the sink as well.
“You should probably wash your hands, kid. No guarantee your finger won't fall off if you don't,” Kieran said with a wink. He turned back to look at the rest of us and smiled. “You know what? How about you guys take this with you. Show your class. They'll love it.” He held out the bottle of Jasper Oil v. 5 to me.
“But, this is your big research project, we can't take this,” I said, trying to hand the bottle back to him.
Kieran waved his hand again. “Nah, that's version five. We've got other bottles of that lying around, plus I keep a detailed record of exactly what's in it so I can replicate it. We're onto version six now, so this one's not so important anymore.”
“Cool!” Chase said, taking the bottle from me and looking at it like it was gold. “What's different about version six?”
“Well, like I said, I added a couple things that Dr. Wyatt had suggested in some notes he left for me,” Kieran said.
Coconut and shea? I wanted to ask, but I didn't want him to know I'd been snooping earlier.
“But, it doesn't quite work the way he probably hoped. It dries better, but it leaves a film that's impossible to get off. I'm going to have to play around with it some more,” Kieran explained.
“But anyway, you guys take that. I can't tell you everything that's in it because we're hoping to one day get a patent on it when it's perfected, but I can certainly give you a couple notes on some of the ingredients so you can explain the concept to your teacher.”
We all thanked him and started chattering about how we could set up the presentation for Mr. Gregory.
“He's going to love this!” Britta said, clapping giddily.
Kieran printed out a couple pages of notes for us to take and packed the bottle of Jasper Oil v. 5 into a box with Styrofoam. We thanked him again, wished him luck with his workload, and promised to let him know how our project went.
“That was so cool!” Ethan said, once we were outside of the building.
“Mr. Gregory is going to be totally impressed. I think we’ve successfully completed our mission, guys!” I said.
We agreed to meet up for the sixth and final time the next day, Monday, to make the magic happen. Then we said goodbye and parted ways.
I was the one entrusted with the Jasper Oil, simply because my house was the closest and there was less of a chance of anything bad happening to it on the way. When I got to my house, I paused on the porch for a moment. I couldn't resist.
I sat down on the steps and set the box down beside me. I opened it and carefully pulled the bottle out from between the Styrofoam pieces. I just wanted one more sniff before I took it inside, where the smell would no doubt fill up the entire house if I opened it in there.
I gently unscrewed the cap, lifted the dropper to my nose, and inhaled deeply. Smell is a great memory trigger, and mine was flooded with images of wildflower fields, Rossetti’s Risotto, chewing gum, and the marina, among others. I smiled at the unusual mixture.
As I was about to replace the dropper, another image was triggered inside my mind. Ham. Christmas ham.
I giggled at the thought, thinking I must just be hungry.
But then it hit me. I pulled the dropper out again and sniffed. Yes, there was something in there that was reminding me of the smell of a ham.
“Oh, I know what that is! It's cloves!” I said out loud, excited that I had cracked the code. My grandmother always cooked honey ham with tons of cloves stuffed into the sides for Christmas dinner. The smell was absolutely unmistakable. I gave the dropper another sniff to confirm.
“Yep,” I nodded proudly. But then, yet another image was triggered. Greenery. Evergreen branches. I laughed again at myself, assuming the thought of Christmas ham had me thinking about the holidays.
But no, I definitely smelled evergreen in that oil. Like a fir tree. A Balsam fir, perhaps?
That thought struck up another. Dr. Wyatt's note had said something about clove and balsam. Maybe he was talking about their oils. But the note said don't add clove and balsam to Jasper Oil v. 5.
I looked back at the bottle label to confirm. Indeed, this one was labeled Jasper Oil v. 5. Why would Dr. Wyatt leave instructions not to add those if they were already in the mixture?
And then I wondered...did Kieran go against his professor's advice? That didn't make sense. If he had, wouldn't he want to keep that mixture around to test further, or simply to show Dr. Wyatt how it had worked out?
Of course, there was another possible explanation: someone else added those oils, and Kieran had no clue.
Chapter 15
The Disappearing Glass

IT WAS THE MOMENT of truth. All of us gathered in Mr. Gregory's classroom for one final meeting after school. This time Mr. Gregory was there, ready to see what we had in store for him.
He sat waiting for us at the front of the room, sitting backwards on a chair like he always did. He looked almost…nervous. As if our success affected him as much as it affected us. I found that a bit strange, but maybe I was just misreading him.
Sunday night, Ethan had taken charge of making up a slideshow presentation for Mr. Gregory, using the notes Kieran had given us. We had agreed that Alexandra, who seemed to be the most confident speaker, would explain the experiment while the rest of us handled the demonstration.
After Alexandra’s presentation, there was a brief moment were I feared the experiment wouldn't work. That somehow the oil had changed, and we would make fools of ourselves in front of Mr. Gregory.
But to my relief and my excitement, the flask still vanished from thin air moments after Chase brushed the oil onto it. It was just as amazing as when Kieran had done it.
Mr. Gregory looked dumbfounded.
“That’s...that's incredible,” he said, moving slowly toward the flask, wide-eyed, checking it from different angles. “I've never in my life seen anything like that!”
We had thought it would be a good idea to let him touch the invisible flask, like Ethan had, so we invited him to do so. He reached out slowly, and his finger eventually found the side of the glass. Once he pulled it away, I pointed out the floating fingerprint, and he was, once again, amazed.
He looked at each of us in turn, as if he were seeing us for the first time.
“How did you do this?” he asked.
“Well…,” I began hesitantly. “Mr. Gregory, to be honest, this isn't exactly original research or anything.”
The others shot me looks of warning. What was I doing?
“We learned about refraction and knew it had to be our topic, so we found out that there’s this professor at Bradbury researching the very thing we were trying to demonstrate. We went to visit him yesterday,” I said.
I don’t know why I was giving all this away. I guess with all the lies I had been telling lately, I felt I should show at least some honesty.
I continued to explain how the visit with Kieran had gone, how he provided us with the oil, and then assured Mr. Gregory that the important thing was that we understood the science behind it.
Mr. Gregory was quiet for a few moments as he stood bent over, his hands supported on his knees, staring at his own levitating fingerprint before him. We all waited patiently, nervously, to find out whether or not he would accept our experiment. Finally, he stood up and put his hands on his hips.
“To be honest, this isn't what I was expecting from you all.” We all hung our heads, thinking he was disappointed that we only borrowed someone else's hard work.
“Instead, you went above and beyond my expectations,” he said. A collective sigh of relief.
“You didn't simply hop online and copy a basic experiment easy enough for kids your age. You made the effort to find help, to learn from someone else, and to discover the hard work of an expert.
“You came up with something simply amazing to show me, and even better, you fully understand how it all works,” Mr. Gregory said proudly. “You pass! With flying colors!”
We tried not to behave as if we were in a cheesy movie scene, but that's exactly how it played out, anyway. After the whooping and high-fiving, we demonstrated the disappearance a few more times on some other flasks and beakers Mr. Gregory brought out.
He was astounded with the result no matter how many times we repeated it. Finally, after about an hour, it was time for everyone to leave.
“Don't worry about all the stuff, I'll clean it up when I get here in the morning,” Mr. Gregory offered.
“What should we do with the Jasper Oil, though?” I asked. I certainly didn't want to be in charge of its safekeeping, but I also didn't want to see it thrown out or lost. Somehow, I had a feeling it might be needed again.
“Let's just keep it here in the classroom. Maybe we can show the rest of the class or something,” Wes suggested. We all agreed that was a good idea, so he re-packed the bottle and carried it over to a cabinet full of chemicals and more expensive equipment that Mr. Gregory kept locked.
“I'm going to just move these invisible flasks into the sink, otherwise you'll forget they're here and knock them over,” I said, still smiling from the success of the demonstration.
I reached out to pick up the flasks and noticed something odd. The one we had first demonstrated on was completely dry. Still totally invisible, save for Mr. Gregory's fingerprint smudge, but otherwise completely invisible and dry to the touch.
I didn't say anything about it right away, because I suspected that it had something to do with the clove and balsam oils that seemed to have mysteriously made their way into the mix.
Instead, I placed the rest of the flasks in the sink, but kept the first one out. I wrapped it in my sweatshirt and stuck it into my backpack without anyone noticing. I wasn’t sure what I planned to do with it, but I felt compelled to study it further.
As I packed it away I felt a small surge of guilt. I knew I should be keeping the others in the loop. But I couldn’t help it; I wanted to crack this one myself.
Chapter 16
The Super–Secret Science Club

WE DECIDED TO HAVE one last meeting for old time’s sake. We gathered on Friday afternoon, and everyone sat around laughing and chatting for half an hour or so. Eventually we grew quiet.
Suddenly a feeling hit me that totally caught me off guard. I was actually feeling sad that this project was ending. We had gotten to know each other in the last few weeks and shared stories, jokes, opinions, ideas, and even harmless debates. We actually had become friends, despite the expectations.
Unfortunately, middle school is not so merciful when it comes to picking your friends. Everyone has a group, and there isn’t always much overlap. As unfair as it is, spending too much time with random kids outside of your usual crowd often results in suspicion, or teasing.
So it seemed from here on out, it would be casual “hellos” passing in the hall, or maybe the occasional group project in a shared class if we were lucky.
But definitely no more of this. No more tough-guy jokes from Chase, no more surprisingly bold outbursts by Wes, no more pep talks with Alexandra or passionate speeches by Britta, and definitely no more affectionate teasing of Ethan.
“I'm just going to throw this out there.” It was Wes who broke the silence. “What if we kept this going? Made it like an after school club? Our own thing. We can keep it about science, since we all seem to be good at that, and so Mr. Gregory will have a reason to let us use the classroom.”
I couldn’t believe it. Apparently I wasn’t the only one feeling reluctant to end the project.
“We can try to come up with new challenges to work on each time we finish one. But most importantly, just keep up the good times, y’know?” Wes said. “I mean, let’s face it. We all seem to really like each other.”
For some reason, he looked right at me when he said it.
This time there was no pondering or looking around to see what others were thinking before answering.
“I'm totally down for that,” I said.
“Me too, I think that's a great idea,” Alexandra said with a smile. “Gives me a much-needed break from sports.”
“Yeah that sounds really nice. I'm in, too,” said Britta with a sweet smile.
We each looked at Ethan and Chase. “Guys?” I asked.
Chase looked thoughtful for a moment, then pursed his lips and nodded.
“All right. Let's do it,” he said.
We all turned then to Ethan, who actually looked a little emotional. He had never formed a bond with other kids like us, and he was probably the most upset to see the project come to an end. I think the suggestion to keep it going felt personal to Ethan. Like we were doing it just for him.
Suddenly he came back to himself and tried to play it cool.
“Yeah, I guess I could probably make room in my schedule for it if it's something you guys want to do,” he said.
We laughed, then of course gave him a little grief.
“Gee, thanks, Ethan,” I said. “We’re humbled by your generosity.”
“So, are we just 'The Science Club' or something?” Chase asked, snickering at his own nerdy suggestion.
“Well, no offense, but…I don't know that I want the whole world to know that we do this,” Alexandra said timidly. “It's nothing to do with you guys at all. It's just the whole thing with my family and how crazy they are with sports and stuff. I can just hear my dad now: 'If you have time for some stupid science club, why aren't you signed up for the youth basketball league?'“ she mocked.
“Okay. 'The Secret Science Club' then,” Chase said with a wink.
“I'm with Alexandra. I'm not so sure my band mates wouldn't make fun of me if they knew I was doing this on purpose,” Wes said. “Definitely should be a secret.”
“Okay, okay! The 'Super-Secret Science Club' then! Happy? Everyone can just make up their own excuse for where they are and what they're doing for our meetings,” Chase said, throwing his hands up like he was out of ideas.
“That's that, then,” I said smiling. “The Super-Secret Science Club it is.”
“S-3-C. Secret code name for our secret club,” Ethan said proudly.
“S3C!” We all approved.
Chapter 17
The Rosalind Group

THE S3C HAD ITS opening meeting the following Tuesday after school. We talked about some possible new experiments to try, but mostly we just chatted. We were about to head home when, to our surprise, Mr. Gregory walked in. He didn’t seem surprised to see us at all, as if he knew all along that we would have decided to do this.
“Hey Mr. Gregory, guess what?” —Ethan could not contain his excitement— “We decided to keep meeting. We're going to be a club. A secret club though, so don't tell anyone!”
“Yeah, we decided we actually enjoyed the project. Something new and different to do,” Chase said with a shrug, still a tad self-conscious about it like a few of us were.
“We'll keep coming up with new science projects to work on just for fun,” I said. “Maybe you can even suggest some.”
“Is it okay if we keep using the classroom after school?” Britta said, bright-eyed.
Mr. Gregory smiled knowingly. “Of course. This is great news. I'm really glad to hear this.”
He seemed like he was keeping something inside. Like I had sensed at our project demonstration, he seemed strangely nervous. He walked to the middle of the classroom and turned a chair around backwards in his usual move.
“Listen, there's something quite important I need to discuss with you all,” he said.
We all slowly sat back down, slightly alarmed. The last time Mr. Gregory had used such a serious tone was when he told us we were failing. All eyes were on him.
“First, I need to confess something. But please, before you react…hear me out.” He sighed, and then continued. “None of you were ever failing my class.”
A rush of confusing feelings washed over me. I was all at once angry, hurt, and betrayed, but at the same time grateful for the new friendships that had begun. Not to mention relieved that I wasn't actually failing.
“You see, I noticed something within each of you; some unique characteristic or skill that each of you have that I think is necessary in order to accomplish the real goal here. I'm so sorry that I had to lie to you about it, but I needed to test my hunches. I needed to give you a sort of 'audition,' if you will, for the real task ahead.”
At this point I was growing a little uncomfortable. What was this “real task ahead” he was talking about? I even found myself wondering if he was about to ask us to do something illegal. I really wanted him to just get to the point.
“Needless to say, you all passed. It was as much a personality test as it was a test of your smarts and skills. And finally, your decision to remain a group shows your commitment, loyalty, and appreciation for knowledge. This was the icing on the cake,” Mr. Gregory said.
I couldn’t fathom what we were being tested for, if not science class. Why did we need commitment, loyalty, and an appreciation for knowledge?
“It’s time for me to tell you the truth,” Mr. Gregory said. “I’m a member of a secret organization called the Rosalind Group. It's named after Rosalind Franklin, a brilliant scientist who played a huge part in the discovery of DNA.
“But you rarely hear about her. Watson and Crick, her male colleagues, were given full credit for the discovery. It's one of the greatest-known cases of a scientist not receiving proper credit for her work.”
I was growing impatient. Was this some science history lesson or did he actually have something meaningful to say?
“The Rosalind Group’s original mission was to find and prevent cases of stolen scientific research, such as what happened with Rosalind Franklin, and worse,” Mr. Gregory said.
This news put me more at ease. It sounded like Mr. Gregory was still one of the good guys.
“So, is it part of the FBI or something?” Chase asked.
“Actually, the government doesn’t know we exist at all. We operate off the radar to try and prevent cases from happening in the first place,” Mr. Gregory said.
“And?” Chase asked, settling back in his chair.
Mr. Gregory then explained how the group had recently changed leadership after their former director passed away. His nephew, a wealthy businessman named Dr. Nigel Rigby, had persuaded his ailing uncle to appoint him as the new director on his death bed.
“At first we didn't understand why Dr. Rigby would have any interest in the group,” Mr. Gregory said. “He wasn't a scientist himself, and it wasn't clear what his involvement with the scientific community was.”
What does this have to do with us? I wondered.
Mr. Gregory then went on to explain all the changes that took place in the Rosalind Group after Dr. Rigby’s takeover. Old members were dismissed, new people were brought in, processes changed.
“All our projects changed, too,” he said. “Investigations that were already underway seemed to disappear, abandoned before they were complete, and new ones were assigned.
“The case information they gave us for the new assignments was confusing. Most of it didn’t make any sense. It's almost as if the information was scrambled or encoded to hide something. Something was obviously very wrong. So, a few of the original members, myself included, began to look into it a little deeper. Eventually, we figured it out.”
“Figured…what out?” I asked, reluctant to hear the answer.
“We weren't the good guys anymore,” he said, a hint of shame in his voice.
This wasn't what I had expected to hear.
“What do you mean by that?” Britta asked, as if she hoped she’d misunderstood.
Mr. Gregory sighed once more, and looked down at his hands folded into his lap.
“The Rosalind Group is no longer protecting scientists from having their research stolen. We’re now the ones who are stealing it.”
Chapter 18
Our Mission, Should We Choose to Accept

I WAS MORE DISAPPOINTED than surprised to hear what Mr. Gregory had just revealed about the Rosalind Group. I knew that money was a powerful weapon, and that people have done pretty terrible things for the sake of it.
I was, however, a little surprised to hear Mr. Gregory say “we” instead of “they”. If he knew they were up to no good, why was he still involved in the group? His next explanation cleared that up, and also revealed why in the world he was telling us, of all people.
“You might be wondering why I'm still involved with the Rosalind Group after finding out what they're up to,” Mr. Gregory said, apparently having read my mind.
“I thought about leaving. I really did. But that felt like turning a blind eye to a problem without making any effort to stop it. I would feel just as guilty about walking away as I would about staying and being a part of it,” he said.
We nodded, understanding his dilemma.
“Fortunately, the others who helped me dig up the dirt on Rosalind felt the same. We decided to work behind the scenes to bring the organization down. We've been working hard over the last few weeks, gathering intelligence and making plans. The real goal is getting rid of Rigby and his crew, so Rosalind can get back to doing good work,” he said.
Hearing this gave me a whole new level of respect for Mr. Gregory. He could have easily walked away like the other former members. Maybe even been paid to walk away. But he didn't. He stayed true.
I found myself ready to agree to do anything to help his cause, even though it was still a great mystery what the six of us had to do with any of this. Whatever the case, I was starting to get excited. Was this the adventure I had been longing for?
“So here it is. Here's why I'm telling you guys about this,” he said, and I felt butterflies in my stomach, excited to hear what was next.
“The leaders of Rosalind are onto us. They're suspicious. There are only a handful of original members left, and they keep a close watch on all of us. They don't know that we know what they're really up to now, but they’re always wary of the possibility of us finding out.
“It's become too difficult for us to dig for information and even think about taking any sort of action without the leaders intervening. They've kept us on board for different reasons, but if we give them enough reasons to kick us out, they certainly will. Only, I'm not so sure kicking us out of the Rosalind Group will be the only form of punishment.”
The six of us kids stole glances at one another. We were starting to realize the gravity of the situation, and now we were all thinking the same thing. Was he about to ask us what we thought he was?
“We realized we needed to find some help. But these new leaders are cunning and clever. We couldn't ask just anyone. They've got eyes everywhere, because they can afford to have them. We can't touch any other former member of the Group. We can't even touch other scientists in the area. We need people that the leaders would never in a million years suspect,” Mr. Gregory explained, looking at each of us in turn. Yep. He was going to ask.
“It was actually not even my idea at first. It was my colleague Claire's idea,” he said. I could have sworn I saw his face blush slightly when he said her name.
“Claire mentioned to me one day that I’m constantly talking about my students. She said I actually brag about many of them; about how smart they are and how I see great potential in some of them,” Mr. Gregory said, smiling proudly.
“She came up with a crazy idea. What if we recruited the help of some of my students? I already knew which ones were the most brilliant, ambitious, and trustworthy. And most importantly, they're kids! The Rosalind leaders would never imagine a random handful of kids being involved in a secret covert operation to rebel against them, right?”
I noticed every single one of us was grinning ear to ear. Was this really happening? Was this a joke? Where were the hidden cameras?
But it wasn't a joke. Mr. Gregory was just as serious as when he began the conversation. He continued his story.
“I'm sure you've figured out where this is going, by now. You six are the 'random handful of kids'. But you know what? You're not random at all. I handpicked each one of you, because I saw qualities in you that I knew we had to have to get this done.
“You're smart, you're kind to one another, you work great as a team, you’re loyal to the things and people you care about, and you all seemed like you would be up for a great adventure,” he finished with a smile.
“The whole purpose of the after-school project was to confirm what I already knew. And like I said, you passed the test.”
I'd never felt so proud of anything in my life. He handpicked me? I always felt like such a background fixture. I considered myself your basic girl-next-door. I didn't stand out in any particular way. I wasn't overly smart, I wasn't a major achiever, but I also wasn't an epic failure. I was just incredibly average. Just Jenna. What were these qualities that he saw in me that were so impressive?
“Mr. Gregory,” it was Britta who quietly spoke up. “I don't really get why it's come to this. Why can't you take this to the police? Couldn't they do something?”
She had a point, and we all turned back to Mr. Gregory for the answer. He nodded thoughtfully, as if he knew we would ask.
“Yes, that seems like it would be the obvious solution, and we considered it. The problem is that the Rosalind Group has always operated in secret. The government doesn’t even know we exist,” he said.
“But, if you’re the good guys…why hide?” Britta asked.
“We’ve always found that the fewer people who know about what we're doing, the better,” Mr. Gregory said. “That way there’s less chance of interference, and less chance of conflicts. Even the scientists whose research we were working to protect didn't even know about us. They never even found out that anyone was trying to steal their work in the first place.”
“So how does Rosalind find out?” I asked.
“We received intel from multiple sources, all very discrete. Rosalind had members all over the world, and it was either word of mouth or our own research that revealed cases to us,” Mr. Gregory said.
“If these scientists knew how many cases we dealt with, they would begin to distrust each other. They would grow paranoid and territorial of their work. The quality of important research would drop, or it might not even happen at all. Science relies on collaboration, and we wanted to preserve that while still getting rid of the few bad apples.”
“So, since you hope to rebuild the Group back to its original function, you don't want the officials to find out,” Chase concluded.
“That's right. If it becomes a matter of life or death, we’ll of course take it to the level necessary, but we want to see what we can do without resorting to that, first. If we have to reveal ourselves to the government, we may not be allowed to resume operations at all, even under our original good intentions,” Mr. Gregory explained.
Mr. Gregory waited for more questions, but we all understood. We were ready for it.
“Before I pop the question, I need to make sure you're aware that being involved could be dangerous. I would never put you in harm's way on purpose, but these people are sly and they only care about money. Who knows what they’ll stop at to get it?” he said.
I felt a small shiver at the realization that this was no game.
“I don't believe you’d ever be in any danger physically. But if they ever find out about you, I believe the leaders could very well make your life difficult in other ways. If you’re not willing to take any chances, I’ll fully support that and will never mention any of this again. But if I didn’t believe that the six of you are clever enough to do this, I would never have asked. I have full confidence in each of you.”
Mr. Gregory took one last look around the room, pausing to let it all sink in.
“So without further ado, will you, Alexandra, Chase, Jenna, Wes, Britta, and Ethan, help myself and the other rebels take down the corrupt leadership of the Rosalind Group, and restore it to its original and noble intent?”
Despite his last warning of the risks, it was the easiest decision the six of us had made since the beginning of our meetings.
“Yes!”
Mr. Gregory smiled. His face showed a mix of relief and gratitude, but I sensed he was still very concerned. I wondered if it was more for us, or for the implications of an adult teacher recruiting a bunch of kids to take on a dangerous mission.
Still, the group was buzzing in celebration. After the initial excitement wore off, we all turned back to Mr. Gregory to find out the next step. His smile had disappeared and his brow furrowed, as if he had been reminded of something disturbing.
“I'm so grateful for you all,” he said. “I'd love to celebrate, but I'm afraid there's no time to waste. There’s something that needs our action right now. If this isn't solved quickly, this may be the thing that forces us to involve the government after all.”
We stared at him on bated breath, waiting to hear about our first epic assignment.
“Last weekend, you took the initiative to go and seek out help on your project from Dr. Terry Wyatt at the college,” Mr. Gregory said. “And you arrived to find that Dr. Wyatt had supposedly gone on vacation, correct?”
We all nodded in confirmation.
“That's right. Why do you ask?” Alexandra said.
Mr. Gregory's response was a chilling reminder of just what we would be up against.
“Dr. Wyatt is the first target the Rosalind Group has set its sights on. Unfortunately, he’s not just on vacation…he’s missing.”
Chapter 19
The Accusation

AFTER KIERAN LEFT THE lab, the mood in the room grew more tense. Dr. Wyatt knew there was nothing quite so innocent about the visit of these two strangers. Finally, it was the woman who spoke up.
“Dr. Wyatt,” she began, no longer concerned with charming him by using his first name. “I'm sure you’re wondering about the nature of our visit.”
“Indeed,” Dr. Wyatt said, raising his eyebrows.
“First, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Olivia Pritchard, and this is my associate, Axel.”
No last name? Dr. Wyatt thought to himself, wondering if this so-called “associate”—more like “henchman”—even spoke.
“We represent an agency known to very few members of the scientific community, called the Watson Group,” Olivia Pritchard explained.
While her cold calmness was intimidating, she was not completely without flaws. Dr. Wyatt noticed just enough hesitation in her voice when she named the “group” that he knew instantly that it was a false name.
Perhaps it wasn't only a false name; perhaps there was no group at all. Still, he leaned back casually against his lab bench, folded his arms and waited for Miss Pritchard to continue.
“I'm afraid I cannot reveal too much information about the activities of our group. However, I can assure you that we only have your best interests at heart,” she said, locking him in an intense stare as if she were attempting to hypnotize him.
“I’m sorry to inform you that your research has been flagged, Dr. Wyatt,” she said. “There’s some question as to the legitimacy of your methods and results.”
Dr. Wyatt narrowed his eyes at Miss Pritchard, whose expression did not change. The minion, Axel, had also not taken his eyes off of Dr. Wyatt ever since Kieran had left the room.
There was not a single part of Dr. Wyatt that felt any sense of panic, as if he had been caught, and karma was finally catching up with him. He knew that every word she spoke was false. He knew he was innocent of any activity even remotely close to what she had just described. Still, he thought to himself: Okay, I'll bite.
“Just what, Miss Pritchard, am I being accused of?” he asked curtly.
Olivia pursed her lips and stood a little straighter. Dr. Wyatt guessed she had been expecting him to cower and tremble under the suggestion that his integrity and his work were anything less than spotless.
“I don't feel it is prudent to discuss any details here. I believe this is a conversation better reserved for our director, Dr. Nigel Rigby. We take these matters very seriously, Doctor, and we want to ensure that the matter is researched properly. I'm afraid I’ve not been briefed any further than what I’ve already told you,” she said.
“I’ve been asked to accompany you to our headquarters as quickly as possible so that we may address the matter and, I'm quite sure, absolve your name,” she concluded.
Though she gave the same brilliant smile she had worn when she entered the lab a few minutes before, Dr. Wyatt knew good and well that she had no concern for his “best interests”.
“Well...all right, then. What is it you need me to do?” Dr. Wyatt said.
He spoke as if he were giving in, but he had other intentions. He was no fool, but he also knew that there were ways to play such situations out cautiously.
He could tell that these were not the type of people to simply accept “no” for an answer. The alternative to his cooperation would be brute force. Based on the intimidating size and manner of Axel, Dr. Wyatt knew that he would be the one to do it.
“As I said, I request for you to accompany us to our headquarters, where our director can explain further,” Olivia said.
She paused, then continued with a sly smile. “I might suggest that you appear to be...on holiday, perhaps. The investigation may take a day or two.”
Dr. Wyatt nodded as he processed the strange request. The director’s name she had mentioned earlier, “Rigby”, was ringing a bell somehow. Suddenly, he realized why he knew the name, and an unsettling feeling accompanied the reminder.
A few months before, he had received an email from a wealthy businessman asking to partner with him on his research. Dr. Wyatt had responded with a brief message turning down the offer. He had neither the time nor the interest to work with any corporate partners at this stage in his research.
The man had replied with a simple message: “how disappointing.”
Something about that reply had seemed a bit chilling to Dr. Wyatt. It made him nervous. Ever since, he had had an unshakable feeling of being watched.
At times, he thought he was losing his mind, seeing people on the streets watching him. Seeing students in his class that he’d never seen before, who looked far too old and gruff to be college students. When he confided in Kieran, his student had laughed: “You’re getting paranoid, old man! No one’s out to get ya.”
Now all the pieces were starting to click. This “Dr. Rigby” was the man who had contacted him. Now he was even more convinced he had been watched, with the possibility of goons like Axel lurking about.
As Dr. Wyatt connected the dots, Olivia must have sensed his new fear. She seized the opportunity, stepping closer to him and lowering her voice, all while keeping the same shrewd smile.
“You know, Dr. Wyatt,” she said, tauntingly. “There’s an easy way and a hard way for everything.”
Olivia winked. Dr. Wyatt swallowed deeply, a rush of adrenaline kicking in. But his scientific brain overruled. He reasoned that any pushback on his part would have consequences. These people would make sure of that; he knew it. He would have to be cleverer than that.
“Right. Let me leave a note for my graduate students, then,” he said calmly, trying to sound both cooperative and unsuspecting.
He walked over to his notebook, still sitting next to the set of various oils where he and Kieran had just brainstormed a few minutes earlier. He jotted down a note about needing a holiday, as Olivia had suggested. At the bottom of the note, he jotted down something else.
Dr. Wyatt set the pen down, and was about to turn to walk away, when he had another thought. He picked the pen back up and pretended to continue writing, with his back to Olivia and Axel. With his other hand, he very carefully unscrewed a few vials of oil, and added a couple drops of two new oils into the Jasper Oil v. 5 mixture.
Finally, he turned around, gave a big fake smile, and said, “Let's go sort this out, then.” He grabbed his jacket as he headed out the door, followed by Olivia.

-----

Olivia looked at Axel and nodded toward the notebook. Axel walked over to the notebook and checked it, making sure it did not reveal any sensitive information about their visit and the true nature of Dr. Wyatt's absence.
Axel glanced at the note, then followed the others out of the lab, pulling the door closed behind him.
“Anything suspicious?” Olivia whispered when Axel caught up to her.
“No. Said he was going on vacation. But he did leave a note at the bottom about what to add to the next version of Jasper. Version six, it said,” Axel responded quietly.
“Good,” Olivia said, “Now we know which version will be the latest. Good work, Axel.”
Chapter 20
Jenna’s Theory

MY SUSPICIONS HAD JUST been confirmed. I knew something was strange about the situation with Dr. Wyatt. I also knew it had to have something to do with the Jasper oil and the clove and balsam that Kieran didn't seem to know about. Now that our roles had changed, I knew I needed to tell the others about it.
I explained what I had read in the note Dr. Wyatt left for Kieran, and how I was sure I’d smelled clove and balsam in Jasper Oil v. 5. I also mentioned that the first flask we had demonstrated to Mr. Gregory had ended up being dry when I picked it up to put it in the sink. I still had it in my backpack, so I pulled it out to show them.
“Didn't Kieran say that their entire goal was to find a way to make the coating become dry while still keeping the glass invisible? Well, it seems like version five does exactly that. If Kieran was aware of that, why would he still be experimenting?” I asked.
“Maybe he just never gave the oil a chance to dry completely,” Chase suggested.
“That seems unlikely,” Wes said, unconvinced.
“Or maybe someone changed the contents of Jasper v. 5 without him knowing about it,” I said, finally coming out with my hypothesis.
“Think about it,” I said. “Dr. Wyatt disappeared mysteriously after being visited by two strangers. He left instructions for Kieran to add coconut and shea oils to the mixture. Even I could tell you that wouldn't work; that stuff is used in moisturizers and cosmetics and stuff. There's no way it would dry clear. And Kieran confirmed that the new mixture left a film.”
I could see the others were starting to get on board with my theory.
“Are you suggesting that Dr. Wyatt changed the oil mixture himself?” Mr. Gregory asked. I put my finger to my nose and pointed at him, charades style.
“Bingo,” I said with a wink, having a little too much fun with my new detective role, considering we had a missing person on our hands.
“But if he’d already added those ingredients, why would he tell Kieran not to add them to the new version?” Britta asked.
“Someone's going to steal it,” Wes said suddenly. Everyone looked to him, and I nodded in agreement.
“Someone's going to steal it, and Dr. Wyatt must have figured that out. He made a phony suggestion for Kieran to add the shea and coconut oils to the new version, knowing it wouldn't work. He must have assumed whoever wanted to steal it would take the latest version,” Wes explained. “He didn't want them to get their hands on the good stuff.”
“So why would he add the good stuff—what was it, clove and balsam—to the older version that we now have?” Alexandra pondered.
“I don't know,” I said. “Maybe he was hoping Kieran would use it and notice that it was different.”
“We need to go back to the lab and tell Kieran about all this. If it is true, we might have the only bottle that Dr. Wyatt added the clove and balsam to. If he wanted Kieran to be able to discover it, there's no way he's going to as long as we have it,” Britta said as she stood up, prepared to march over to the college at that moment.
“Not so fast,” Mr. Gregory said. He gave us a helpless look. “This is where it gets tricky and frustrating. Yes, going back to someone like Kieran could make our job so much easier. But remember what I said? The fewer people who know about what goes on, especially other scientists, the better.
“Furthermore, we could be endangering Kieran by bringing him into this. He’ll be a prime suspect to Rosalind; they’ll be keeping a close eye on him to make sure he's not getting involved.”
We collectively sighed as we accepted the limitation. It was certainly going to slow things down, but we understood why it was necessary.
“We can't involve Kieran, or anyone else. At least not right now. I'm sorry,” Mr. Gregory said. “We've got to see how far we can get on our own first.”
We all nodded in understanding and sat in silence for a while, each thinking harder than we were used to, even at school.
“Well,” Mr. Gregory said with a sigh as he stood up. “I've added enough dark clouds over your young minds for one night. I think we should all just take some time and think. This was a really good start. I'm proud of you guys for being so observant,” he said. I actually felt a little proud of myself, too, for my excellent detective work.
Mr. Gregory walked over to his desk and unlocked the bottom drawer.
“Before you go, there's something I want each of you to have,” he said as he pulled out a heavy-duty plastic Pelican case, which was also locked. He unlocked it, opened the lid, pulled out six smaller boxes and handed one to each of us.
I opened the box, and inside was a brand new watch. It had a flat square face, like the screen of a smartphone. The band was a drab gray color.
“Is this the new Apple watch?!” Chase said excitedly.
“Not exactly. Similar, but made by a different company,” Mr. Gregory explained. “It's the same idea, but it's made for a more specific purpose. It's made for...well, for spy activity.”
We all looked up at him, astonished. Now he had to be pulling our legs.
“I'm serious!” he said, reading our faces. “The company gets contracted by the government and military for other similar products. It’s really advanced technology.”
Mr. Gregory motioned for us to huddle around him. He asked Ethan if he could borrow his watch, and he pressed a button on the side that made the screen light up in a bright turquoise. He showed us a few normal functions, like how to adjust the brightness and change the time.
“Now for the cool stuff,” he said. “See this button on the right side?” We all nodded. “And this one on the bottom left side?” We nodded again, craning our necks to see the tiny buttons.
“You press these at the same time, and the watch switches operating systems. It switches from a regular watch into spy mode. You can press this here to go into the GPS feature,” he said as he pressed a tiny icon that looked like a satellite.
“We'll have to sync all the watches together first, then you'll be able to see each other's locations.
“Here's the instant messaging feature, the sound recording feature, and this one is the photo and video recording feature. There's actually a tiny camera lens on three sides of the watch, so you could discretely record photos and video footage without having to hold the watch up in an obvious way.
“And this here is the brick feature,” he said, pointing to a tiny brick icon. “If you think you're about to be compromised, you can press this and it will 'brick' the watch. No one will even be able to turn it on except you. We’ll have to program in your fingerprints.”
I was totally amazed at this new gadget, and I couldn’t believe it would be my very own. I’d never even seen, much less used, such a thing. It made the mission seem even more real, and even more serious. This was actual spy movie stuff!
“Let's meet up tomorrow after school again. We'll get these watches all programmed and ready to go, do some more brainstorming, and then you'll be able to communicate using the watches between meetings,” Mr. Gregory said.
We agreed, said goodbye, and left the classroom to head home. The sun was already beginning to set as I walked toward the town. I heard footsteps behind me, and turned to see Wes jogging to catch up with me.
“I'm heading to the coffee shop to help close up, so I'm walking in your direction,” he said, looking pleased to have the company.
I smiled, and we walked in silence for a few moments, both deep in thought about the unbelievable situation we had found ourselves in.
“So this is all pretty crazy, isn't it?” Wes said.
“You could say that again,” I said in simple agreement. “Yesterday we were just your average seventh graders. Today, we're spies tasked with rescuing a missing scientist.”
Wes laughed, then turned serious. “I'm not gonna lie, Jenna, I'm…I'm a little scared. Not really about anything happening to me, but, what if we fail? What if something happens to Dr. Wyatt before we can help? I don't know how I would live with myself. I would always feel responsible.”
I had been trying not to think that way, but it's true that it was the exact thought that had been brewing in the back of my mind as well. This was big stuff for a twelve-year-old.
I was surprised to hear Wes, who always seemed so strong, admit that he had doubts and fears. He looked so rugged on the outside, with his punk rocker appearance. But I had seen sides of Wes Nguyen over the last few weeks that I never would have imagined he had.
Afraid that he would grow embarrassed over the admission, I quickly responded.
“We might be his only chance. We have to try. Anything less than trying would be a failure, and that's not going to be the case for us,” I said, surprising even myself by the strength in my voice.
We had reached his family's coffee shop, so we stopped on the sidewalk. The first few stars were becoming visible, and I knew I needed to get home to let Parsley out before my mom did. But for some reason, I really didn't want to leave. I noticed Wes was looking at me with something like admiration.
“You're right,” he said, nodding. “I knew I could talk to you about it.”
He reached out and lightly touched my arm in a gesture of gratitude. Nothing out of the ordinary. But I felt the same little twinge I had felt that Sunday at my house when I heard him playing the piano: a single tiny butterfly somewhere deep in the pit of my stomach.
Chapter 21
The Grand Underground Room

WHEN DR. WYATT LEFT his lab with the two strangers in early October, he knew it would be a while before he was back. A small fearful part of him wondered if he would be back at all.
Outside of the science building, parked along the curb, was a dark town car. Typical, Dr. Wyatt thought.
“Dr. Wyatt, please allow us to escort you to our headquarters,” Olivia said as Axel opened the back door. “There will be no need to use your own transportation. We will bring you back here promptly after the meeting.”
It was clear from her tone that it was not merely a suggestion. Dr. Wyatt also knew that they had no intention of bringing him back “promptly”.
He felt, for a brief moment, a strange mixture of panic and sadness. Would anyone even notice his absence? He wasn't married, had no children, no close friends. It was just him, his lectures, and his research.
He supposed the college would eventually notice, but Kieran was covering his classes. Kieran would probably teach them better than he could himself. Dr. Wyatt laughed slightly at the thought that Kieran, his student, was probably his only friend.
Dr. Wyatt did not try to argue or resist. He simply cooperated, trying to think of a way to get himself out of the situation, but also resigning himself to the possibility that he wouldn't be able to. Not just yet, anyway.
Olivia kept up her act. Dr. Wyatt was surprised; couldn't she tell that he knew better than to believe a word she was saying? Perhaps she did know, but was simply carrying out her task as assigned.
The short drive took them to where a few industrial warehouses and small factories fringed the border between the town and the rural areas.
They pulled up in front of an old concrete building with chipping yellow paint on the outside. There were no windows that could be seen, except for two tall narrow ones flanking either side of the front door, which was close to the far right corner of the building. The building was broad, stretching out to the left toward a patch of forest. It was deep as well, extending just as far back from where they stood toward the railroad and a large grassy hill.
I remember this place, Dr. Wyatt thought. The old Natural History Museum.
Decades before, the museum had moved to a modern building right next door to the public library downtown. He never imagined he would ever enter the old building again, and yet, here he was.
Olivia, dressed in her fine suit and heels, led the way into the building. Dr. Wyatt thought she looked out of place, walking into a run-down building on a cracked sidewalk, lined on either side by tall, unruly weeds.
Dr. Wyatt had a hunch that the appearance of the building was a choice made on purpose. A disguise to thwart attention from the outside world.
Inside, the tiny front foyer had a single reception desk, paneled with sun-bleached warped pressboard. The entire room looked like it belonged in the seventies, with ugly chipping paint in mustard yellow and olive green, and gaudy floor tiles to match.
The musty smell in the air was a perfect match. Dr. Wyatt half expected a woman with big hair, thick horn-rimmed glasses and retro clothing to appear behind the receptionist desk, but no one else was there except them.
Instead, Olivia proceeded to open another old wood door into a large dark room. There were no lights on, but dim natural light spilled in from very small gaps that lined the top edge of the walls.
In the faint light, he could just make out rows of shelves loaded down with stacks of yellowed paper, boxes full of manila folders, old clunky staplers, dust-covered gigantic computer monitors, and other random objects. It looked like an outdated and forgotten office supply warehouse.
Dr. Wyatt followed the dark figure of Olivia as she headed across the seemingly never-ending room, mostly following the sound of her heels clicking on the concrete floor. He was keenly aware of Axel's silent but very close presence behind him, ever since he had exited the car.
Finally, Olivia reached a heavy metal door. When she pulled it open, ugly artificial orange light washed into the room. On the left was a downward staircase, with a solid armored door to the right of it. Olivia motioned for Dr. Wyatt to follow her down the stairs.
Expecting just a single-story basement, he became anxious as they descended four flights of stairs before reaching the bottom. It seemed they had reached a dead end; there were no doors in sight. Only the staircase that they had just descended.
Olivia turned to the right and faced a blank cinder-blocked wall. She stepped on a floor tile that Dr. Wyatt noticed was just a shade darker than the rest of the other tiles. A cinder block directly in front of her, about chest level, receded into the wall and sunk out of sight. A shiny black touchscreen panel emerged in its place.
What am I seeing? Dr. Wyatt thought, as he squinted his eyes at the object. Olivia turned and looked at Dr. Wyatt, then snickered as she turned back to the panel and touched a series of buttons that Dr. Wyatt could not see from his angle.
“Never seen the likes of this before, have you?” she said, pompously.
After entering what he supposed was a secret code, the rest of the cinder blocks in the wall before them receded as the first had done. They separated in a jagged line down the middle and spread to either side. It was a door, hidden in plain sight.
Dr. Wyatt followed Olivia through the wall door into the low light of an elegant foyer. The room was in stark contrast to the musty, gray surroundings of the warehouse and the stairwell. To the left was an elevator door, and straight ahead was a thick purple velvet curtain, hanging from the vaulted ceiling all the way to the floor. Olivia pulled the curtain aside and gestured for Dr. Wyatt to pass through.
What he saw on the other side amazed him, and also explained the many flights of stairs they had descended. A gigantic room, easily four stories in height, spread before him. Like the foyer, it was dimly lit.
The room itself was sparse, save for a few large elaborate rugs covering parts of a black tiled floor. Dr. Wyatt could see his own reflection in the polished tiles, even in the low light. Potted ferns decorated the corners. It was like being in a grand hotel banquet room.
“Wait here,” Olivia said as she clip-clopped off to disappear into a dark corner of the room. Axel remained; an everlasting and unwanted shadow.
What struck Dr. Wyatt the most about the large room were the walls. They were made of dark cherry wood panels, each etched with complex images, apparently all with scientific themes. Strands of DNA, a schematic comparing the stages of mitosis and meiosis, cross-sections of the earth’s layers and oceans, and even a life-size human skeleton, every bone carved in great detail.
“The etchings were done by Rudolf Planck,” a deep but gentle voice echoed across the huge room.
Dr. Wyatt pulled away from the etching of a bacterium he had been examining and turned abruptly to face a tall, distinguished man with broad shoulders and a warm smile. His salt-and-pepper hair was tastefully slicked back, and his narrow eyes seemed at once cheery and mysterious.
Dressed in a neatly-pressed light gray suit coupled with a deep purple tie, it was clear this man was just as well off, if not more so, than Miss Pritchard and her associate Axel. The man continued toward Dr. Wyatt, hands confidently tucked into his pockets.
“He was one of the most sought-out scientific illustrators of all time. He was the first to represent hundreds of newly discovered species with his drawings. This,” he said as he gestured around the room, “was his last project. It took him five years to complete it.”
“It's...quite impressive,” Dr. Wyatt said, trying to mask his nervousness. He could only assume this man was Dr. Rigby, but his manner was nothing like he’d expected. Nothing like the other two.
“You’re a scientist as well?” he asked, though he was sure he knew the answer.
“Me? Ah, no, I've nowhere near the IQ for that,” the man said with a friendly laugh. “What I am is a man with means, and a deep respect for brilliant scientists. Like you, in fact,” he said, placing a hand on Dr. Wyatt's shoulder like an old friend. He offered his other hand to Dr. Wyatt in introduction, but Dr. Wyatt already knew exactly who this was.
“I'm Dr. Nigel Rigby. Call me Nigel, though. You're the only person in this room deserving of the title 'doctor',” he said with the same genial laugh. To Dr. Wyatt, it was beginning to sound patronizing.
“I earned a PhD in finance ages ago. Friends and family started calling me 'doctor,' and I never could get them to stop,” he said, smiling in a failed attempt at humility. Dr. Wyatt forced a laugh of his own.
“Well I'm sure you're a busy man, so let's get down to business, shall we? Let's have a seat in my office,” Rigby said, as he headed toward the largest panel right in the middle of the wall at the far end of the room, near where Olivia had disappeared and not returned.
There was accent lighting that highlighted this particular panel and made it stand out from the rest. The etching on it was a large and beautiful portrait of a short-haired young woman sitting with her head tilted slightly down, her chin resting lightly on her hand.
She gave a faint secretive smile that seemed to suggest that she knew something the viewer did not. A woman that brilliant always knew something that everyone else did not, Dr. Wyatt thought in reverence about the woman in the portrait. At the bottom of the panel were etched the words: “Rosalind Franklin, 1920-1958”.
Dr. Wyatt was surprised when Rigby reached out and pressed down a small vertical wooden lever next to the portrait. It had blended so well into the surrounding wood that he would never have noticed it without seeing it used. The large panel swung open silently into a large and lavish office. Another discrete door, Dr. Wyatt thought to himself. Rosalind was proving to have many secrets.
Inside the office, a heavy mahogany desk was centered in front of a floor-to-ceiling oil painting of Rigby himself. Rigby took a seat at his desk and gestured for Dr. Wyatt to join him in the chair on the other side.
Dr. Wyatt obliged, then crossed his legs and sat back, waiting for what he assumed was a second pitch to partner on his research. As before, he was prepared to decline, only this time he was not so confident that it would be that easy.
“I'm sure Miss Pritchard explained to you the reason for this meeting,” Rigby began. The feigned warmth had disappeared from his voice, and Dr. Wyatt had the feeling he was about to see Rigby's true character.
“She gave a story of sorts, yes,” Dr. Wyatt said candidly. “But she didn’t disclose the real reason. I’m fully aware of who you are, you know. I’m confused as to why you felt the need to intimidate me into meeting with you.”
Rigby smiled at the unexpected boldness of Dr. Wyatt's response.
“Very good, Dr. Wyatt. I'm glad we can speak frankly with one another,” he said. “It's as simple as this. You're working on some very important research that could change the world as we know it with regard to the placement of solar power panels.”
Dr. Wyatt nodded impatiently. He did not need an introduction to his own research. Rigby was simply buttering him up.
“A brilliant scientist such as yourself shouldn't want to be bothered with the tedious work that lies ahead. Things like handling investors, obtaining patents, working with developers and energy companies and all that,” Rigby said, dismissively waving his hand as if he were describing boring and unimportant tasks.
“I'm a business man, Dr. Wyatt. That is my bread and butter. Just as your knowledge of science vastly surpasses mine, my knowledge of business tactics and financial prowess vastly exceeds yours.”
Dr. Wyatt politely smiled at the man’s “compliments” of him, but so far Rigby had not given him any new information that would change his mind. The man was simply wasting his time.
“I was disappointed in your refusal before, but I understand. You didn’t have enough information, and that was my mistake. Now that we know each other a little better, I'd like to propose a deal once more,” Rigby said.
Dr. Wyatt wondered if the “information” Rigby spoke of was not so much about his business prowess, but about what lengths he would go to in order to get what he wanted. Dr. Wyatt had, after all, been brought here without a choice. And that was just step one.
“The key is in your oil mixture—Jasper, is it?” Rigby continued.
At this, Dr. Wyatt's forced smile faded, and he cringed. That was not public knowledge. How did Rigby get that information? Dr. Wyatt felt a chill travel through his body. Now he was absolutely convinced that he had been right; they had been watching him.
“How did you—”
“Never mind the specifics,” Rigby interrupted. “I have my ways. Let's get back to this deal. Bottom line up front, I'd like to purchase the formula for Jasper from you. No patents, no crediting anyone for its creation, nothing like that. Just purely and simply purchasing the formula from you.”
Rigby opened a large drawer at the bottom of his mahogany desk and pulled out a locked briefcase. Dr. Wyatt glanced uncomfortably around the room, and gave a slight jump when he noticed that Axel had been standing in the corner behind him the whole time. That guy is not human, Dr. Wyatt thought as he turned back toward Rigby.
“I’m prepared to negotiate, but I think you’ll find my offer more than generous,” Rigby said as he fed a small brass key into the briefcase and opened it. He turned it around to face Dr. Wyatt, revealing thick stacks of crisp one-hundred dollar bills filling the entire briefcase.
Dr. Wyatt, a morally sound man, was still human. For a moment, his heart fluttered at the sight of that sum of money. Any sane person would consider it, if even for a brief moment. Or at least that's what he told himself.
“This is five-hundred-thousand dollars, in cash. Half a million. This is yours. All we need from you is to sign this contract,” Rigby said as he retrieved from a drawer a sheet of paper, covered in extremely fine print. He placed it before Dr. Wyatt.
“It’s simply an agreement that you will provide the formula for Jasper to us, but never to anyone else. You’ll be permitted to keep the formula for yourself, of course. But the agreement also states that any future advancements of the formula will be solely provided to me and my organization, and to none other.”
“But I don't know anything about you,” Dr. Wyatt said. “I don't know who you are, or what you or your 'organization' does. How can I be sure I would be selling this to a worthy party?”
“A valid concern, Dr. Wyatt,” Rigby said, smiling reassuringly. “My organization is simply here to help you handle the large exchanges of money, that is all.
“The same developers and power companies that would approach you directly about using your product would simply come to us instead. We’d be working on your behalf, buffering out all that business nonsense that I'm sure you would rather avoid, isn't that right?”
Dr. Wyatt sat and thought for a few moments. This simply wasn't right. He knew absolutely nothing about this man and his organization. Why would he entrust his critical research to them?
It was just absurd that they would even ask like this. Exchanges of this magnitude didn't just happen between two people in a private office with briefcases full of cash. Not if they were legitimate, or legal.
It did not take long for Dr. Wyatt to generate his answer. He took one last look at the money in the briefcase, knowing it was the last time he would ever see something like that in person, and then spoke.
“Dr. Rigby,” he began, no longer inclined to speak to him informally. “I thank you for your time and interest in my work, but I simply cannot accept your offer.”
“Fine, one million dollars.” Rigby responded so quickly it startled Dr. Wyatt.
“No, I don't think you understand me. It's nothing to do with the amount of money, I just simply can’t sell you the formula at all. I'm sorry,” Dr. Wyatt said as he stood from his chair, making it clear he was ready to leave.
Still, he wasn’t entirely sure they would allow him to. He got the feeling Rigby was not known to make time for games, to beg, and certainly not to take “no” for an answer.
As if he had expected it would come to this, Axel was standing directly behind Dr. Wyatt when he stood up. He reached out and placed a hand on Dr. Wyatt's shoulder in a passive-aggressive warning that he would not be going anywhere.
“Once again, I'm disappointed to hear this, Dr. Wyatt,” Rigby said, also standing.
“However, I was prepared for the possibility of this answer. I believe that after we spend some more time together, you’ll change your mind. So with that, I would like to say 'welcome' to our facility. I'm sure you’ll find your stay...enlightening, to say the least.”
“My...stay?” Dr. Wyatt said, his nervousness beginning to escalate into genuine fear.
“Yes, of course!” Rigby said, his face showing something like madness. “Axel, please show the doctor to his quarters.”
Axel did not ask Dr. Wyatt if he wanted the easy way or the hard way, but rather made the decision himself. After a fractured second of sharp pain on the back of his head, Dr. Wyatt's world went completely black.
Chapter 22
The Midnight Break–In

THE S3C MEMBERS WERE keenly aware of the urgency of our mission. Every hour that passed was another hour that Dr. Wyatt was missing. So we agreed to meet the following day after school, giving each of us some time to let everything marinate, but not too much time to waste.
Mr. Gregory met us as well, and gave us the rundown on our new watches. After everything was programmed in properly, they worked just as he had said they would.
The feature we drooled over the most was the video recording. Mr. Gregory demonstrated it by activating the cameras, wearing the watch like normal, and walking down the hall. He had set it to broadcast the video feed live to all of our watches, where we could see on our screens what his watch was picking up.
There was a micro camera lens on the face of the watch, as well as on the forward-facing and backward-facing edges. This meant there were three different vantage points being captured at once: in front, behind, and to one side of the wearer.
Our screens were divided into three sections, showing the feed from each of the camera lenses on Mr. Gregory's watch as he walked down the hall. Amazingly, we could see all around him.
“How did you even get these?” Chase asked when Mr. Gregory returned, as he continued to tinker with his watch.
“They were part of Rosalind's inventory before the new leadership took over. I took them from storage, then went into the records and changed the number it said we had on hand so no one would be the wiser,” Mr. Gregory answered.
“You mean...you stole them?!” Britta asked, wide-eyed in feigned shock, which drew a laugh from the group.
“Speaking of stealing,” I interrupted, deciding it was time to get down to business. “I was thinking about going back to Dr. Wyatt's lab. I can borrow my mom's key to the building, so I could easily go at night or some other time when no one else will likely be in the building.”
“And what exactly would you be doing there?” Alexandra asked.
“Well, like we already discussed, it seems Dr. Wyatt may have tweaked the Jasper Oil on purpose, hoping Kieran would find it. It might be important that he does find it. I'm not sure. But what I do know is that he won't, because we probably have the only bottle that Dr. Wyatt altered,” I reminded them.
“I think we should take some of the tweaked oil and leave it for him, but still keep some for ourselves in case we need to study it more,” I suggested. “Plus, it might be a good idea to take a look around for other clues, now that we have a different context.”
The group agreed that it was a good idea, and I offered to go that night.
“I have to go when Kieran's not around. My parents go to bed around ten. You guys know I live just a few minutes’ walk from the college. I'll plan to go around eleven, just to be sure they're asleep,” I said.
Mr. Gregory walked over to the cabinet, retrieved the bottle of Jasper Oil and handed it to me.
“I don't like the idea of you going at night,” he said. “Only if you're comfortable.”
“I'll be safe,” I promised.
“Jenna, please just be very, very careful. I wish I could go with you, but like I said, they've got eyes on me pretty much any time I'm not at school. Of that, I'm sure,” Mr. Gregory said, glancing around nervously as if he wondered whether he was even safe at school.
We agreed to meet again after school two days later, and parted ways for the night. I went to bed as usual around nine thirty, Parsley curled up next to me.
I waited to see the lights go out and listened for my parents' bedroom door to shut. It did around a quarter after ten, and I stayed in bed another twenty minutes until I heard the faint sound of my dad snoring.
I slipped out of bed, already dressed, and reached under the bed for a dog toy I had filled with peanut butter. I placed it in front of Parsley, who attacked it immediately.
Knowing he was now preoccupied enough not to follow me or whine for me, I grabbed a canvas bag that I had packed the boxed Jasper Oil into, and tip-toed down the stairs in my socks. By the door, I carefully worked mom's keys off of the hook on the wall, picked up my shoes, and slipped silently out onto the front porch.
The street was empty in front of me, and no lights were on in any windows of the shops and restaurants that lined it. I was clear to go.
I sat on the front step and began pulling on my boots, when I heard the chain of the porch swing to my right give a familiar squeak; the one it always gave when someone stood out of it. I jumped to my feet and nearly toppled off of the porch steps.
“Shhhh!” a hushed but familiar voice came from the shadowed figure heading toward me. “It's me!”
“....Wes?” I said, squinting in the darkness to see him.
“You didn't think I was going to let you go break into a laboratory in the middle of the night alone, did you? Hmm...guess you still have a lot to learn about me,” he said, and I could hear the teasing in his voice.
A wave of comfort and relief washed over me. As adventurous as I was, I actually had been a little nervous about going alone, but I hadn't wanted to ask any of the other kids because they lived so much farther away. Plus, I preferred to do things myself.
“How did you get out here?” I asked, careful not to let him hear the relief in my voice.
“I told my uncle I would work a shift washing dishes at his restaurant tonight. It was perfect timing; I finished up about half an hour ago,” he said.
“Jeez, how many businesses does your family own around here?” I said teasingly as we headed out onto the sidewalk.
“We basically own the town,” he joked.
We walked mostly in silence the rest of the way to the college. I was thinking through the plan of what we were about to do, but I kept getting distracted by random butterflies whenever Wes would accidentally brush against my arm.
I can NOT be crushing on Wes, I thought to myself. That’s a conflict of interest, and plus, it's just downright distracting. I'm supposed to be all about refocusing these days! I commanded myself to pull it together and to stop being so easily distracted and day-dreamy.
When we got to the science building on campus, I glanced around to be sure no one was watching, then pulled out the key and began unlocking the door.
For a brief moment, I worried there would be a security alarm inside that I would have no idea how to disarm. But the door opened without any beeping or blaring sirens, so we proceeded down the stairs toward Dr. Wyatt's lab.
The hall was mostly dark, except for the occasional light beam emitting from the frosted glass of the laboratory doors. I didn't hear any movement, so I assumed we were alone.
Some of the labs let off eerie beams of light in various colors, and I wondered what sort of equipment or experiments were running inside. The low hum of motors, or the bubbling of air stones in aquariums could be heard behind some doors.
When we got to Dr. Wyatt's lab, the door was closed. But, like several of the other labs, the light was on inside. I reached out to turn the door knob. Locked.
“Shoot!” I whispered to Wes, angry at myself. “What was I thinking? Of course the labs are locked at night!” I made a vain attempt to see if the key I had to the building would work, but of course it didn't.
“I didn't think of that either,” Wes whispered, but his voice was calm and reassuring, as if he didn't want me to beat myself up about it.
Just then, I heard what sounded like glass clanking together from inside the lab, and through the frosted glass I saw a figure moving around.
“Someone's in there!” I whispered through gritted teeth.
Wes stood next to me and peered into the window. The figure was starting to move toward the door. Panicked, we looked around in either direction and ran for the first object we saw: a wheeled cart full of text books with a sign that said “Free!”, pushed up against the opposite wall.
We ducked behind the cart, thankful that it wasn't in the path of any of the beams of strange light cascading across the hall. The doorknob rattled and began to turn. The light inside the lab flicked off, making the end of the hall we were in almost completely dark.
A man exited the lab and pulled the door closed quietly behind him. I couldn't see any of his features, but right away I knew it wasn't Kieran. He was too tall, and too solidly built, to be Kieran.
The man turned and walked down the hall away from us, passing through alternating beams of the unnatural light and dark shadows. He had a black duffel bag draped over his shoulder, but otherwise I couldn’t tell his hair color or the type of clothes he was wearing, except that they were all dark.
I looked at Wes. The look he returned told me he was thinking the same as me. That was no graduate student of Dr. Wyatt's, and that certainly wasn't Dr. Wyatt himself. Who would be in his lab this late at night, and how did they get in? It wasn't worth posing the question out loud. We already knew the answer. It was someone from Rosalind.
Once we heard the door close at the end of the hallway, followed by the echo of footsteps climbing the stairs, we came out from behind the cart and returned to the lab door.
I tried the handle again. Still locked. I shook my head in defeat, disappointed in myself for not thinking of this very obvious hurdle ahead of time.
“Don't worry about it,” Wes said. “We'll come back. We just have to be strategic enough to come when it's open, but also avoid Kieran.”
As we walked back to my house, we were mostly silent again, this time because I was pouting. But along the way, I hatched a new plan.
“Wes?” I said, looking up at him with pleading eyes. “Don't tell the others that this didn't work.”
He looked at me, confused.
“I don't know why you're so embarrassed by it. No one thought about the lab being locked. But okay, I won't tell them,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said, and I reached over to give his hand a little squeeze. This, I noticed with a quick glance, put a brief but unmistakable smile on his face.
Chapter 23
Dr. Wyatt Improvises

WHEN DR. WYATT REGAINED consciousness, he had no idea how much time had passed. He didn’t recognize his surroundings, and had a very hazy memory of what had even happened.
The back of his head throbbed, and when he touched his fingers to it the stinging sensation surprised him. He could feel dried blood matted into his hair.
Slowly the events leading up to his current state began to become clearer in his memory. He remembered being taken to the strange facility below the old museum, the extravagant ballroom with its many etched wall panels, the conversation with Dr. Rigby, the money, and—yes, the blow from Axel.
With his memory clear, he began to explore his surroundings. He could only assume he was still somewhere beneath the museum, probably in the labyrinth of the old archives. He had been laid out onto what seemed to be a small hospital bed.
The rest of the room was clearly set up to be a laboratory. It was small, but it was full of brand new lab equipment for a variety of scientific disciplines. Some of it Dr. Wyatt had never seen before, and had no idea of its purpose.
In the center of the lab was a large stainless steel table. The bottom shelf was full of unused glass beakers and Erlenmeyer flasks. In fact, nothing in the room appeared to have ever been used. The room was cold and lifeless.
At first Dr. Wyatt could not figure out why the lab existed. Was it built just for him? Was it a gift? A bribe? They would have to do better than this, if it was. He didn't want to spend another second in here.
But perhaps that wasn't it. Perhaps his comfort and pleasure were not of any concern. Perhaps he was expected to work here, and the uncomfortable settings were an incentive to complete his tasks as quickly as possible.
Suddenly the door behind him hissed, as if an air lock had just been released. A few loud clicks, and the door began to swing inward. Axel entered the lab. Seeing him caused Dr. Wyatt's head to throb again with the reminder of the blow.
“Dr. Rigby would like to see you in his office,” Axel said, dryly. Dr. Wyatt was almost surprised to hear that the man could indeed talk.
He followed Axel out of the lab door and entered a bright narrow hallway. There were wood panels etched with scientific images, just like the ones in the grand room, spaced every few feet along the hallway.
The hallway came to an intersection, but the hallway perpendicular to the current one was much darker. Just before the intersection, Dr. Wyatt looked to the left and saw the rusted metal door of a freight elevator tucked back into a nook.
They went left at the intersection into the dark hall, then right into another. More etched panels covered this hallway as well, and about halfway down Axel turned to the right to open one of them.
Dr. Wyatt was surprised when he stepped through the door, and found himself once again in the grand ballroom. It looked the same as it had earlier that day...or was it yesterday? A week ago? Dr. Wyatt had no idea how long he had been knocked out.
When the door closed behind him, he turned again to look out of curiosity. The panel they had just come through was etched with the likeness of Madame Marie Curie. The artist Rudolf Planck had captured every wrinkle and wisp of loose hair. Behind her portrait, the background was etched to look like an X-ray of a human skeleton, signifying the Polish scientist's pioneering work in radioactivity.
“Let's go,” Axel said, sounding irritated with Dr. Wyatt's delay.
They walked toward the opposite wall on the other side of the expansive ballroom, toward the Rosalind Franklin etching, which Dr. Wyatt remembered was the door to Dr. Rigby's office.
He found it interesting how one might never know these panels were doors at all, and wondered about the purpose of the disguise. He also wondered just how many of these panels were doors. There could be hundreds. One could easily get lost trying to navigate through this building.
Axel opened the door to Dr. Rigby's office and ushered Dr. Wyatt inside. Rigby was at his desk as before.
“Please, sit down Dr. Wyatt,” Rigby said, wearing the same smile he had when they first met.
Dr. Wyatt obliged. His head throbbed again at the association of this room with the pain.
“I’ll skip the pleasantries,” Rigby said, and Dr. Wyatt was relieved. “I'd like to take this opportunity to give you another chance to reconsider my offer to purchase your formula, Doctor.”
Dr. Wyatt made a few exaggerated 'thinking' gestures, stroking his chin and cocking his head to one side as he stared at the corner of the ceiling. “No,” he said, looking back at Rigby. The fear was still there, but he wasn't going to show it.
Rigby leaned back in his chair and linked his fingers behind his head; a posture of relaxed confidence and power.
“Very well,” he said, apparently not surprised. “There will be no exchange of money, then. What you will do instead is work in the lab I’ve had built for you, replicating your formula and producing enough for my requirements. When you’ve finished, you’ll be released. That’s the new deal.”
“That's too bad, Dr. Rigby,” Dr. Wyatt said. “As it turns out, I never did perfect the formula. I still don't have it right. I'm afraid I don't have anything good to replicate for you.”
“Not a problem,” Rigby said, shrugging indifferently. “Your job will be to continue your research, here, until the formula is perfect. Then you will work to replicate it to meet our needs.”
Dr. Wyatt was beginning to see that Rigby was not going to relent.
“And if I refuse?” he asked, testing the man.
“I’m afraid you don’t have the choice,” Rigby said, and his severe gaze clued Dr. Wyatt in to exactly what he meant by that. His choice was to cooperate, or disappear forever.
Rigby's response came as a surprise. Though Dr. Wyatt knew he was capable of many things, even physical harm as evidenced by his throbbing head, he did not think kidnapping, or possibly even murder, was in Rigby’s arsenal of attacks. Apparently he was wrong.
Dr. Wyatt swallowed hard. He tried to think of a way out. There was no chance of physically escaping. He was too old, Axel was too close, and the building was too much of a mystery. He began to think of something he could do to the formula to sabotage the operation. Make it corrosive? Explosive?
“Your life is not the only one at stake, Doctor,” Rigby interrupted Dr. Wyatt's plotting, as if he knew it was happening. Dr. Wyatt narrowed his eyes and waited for an explanation of the threat.
“You have a certain graduate student who is well-versed in this research, do you not?” Rigby asked. The question was rhetorical.
Kieran. Kieran was like a son to Dr. Wyatt. He began to panic. While he may have considered gambling with his own life, he was not willing to do the same with Kieran's.
“Without your cooperation, and particularly in the event of your death, we may have no choice but to go to the next best thing: your student,” Rigby said.
Dr. Wyatt's face was growing hot with rage. The protective instinct was causing a physiological reaction he was not used to experiencing. His pulse quickened, his fists clenched. He almost felt at that moment that he had the strength to take out both men in one swift move, but he knew better than to give in to the impulse.
“No,” he responded quickly. There was no need to think anymore. He was going to give them what they wanted. He would rather see his life's work used for immoral purposes than see Kieran's life threatened in any way, let alone his own.
“Leave my students alone. I’ll do what you want,” Dr. Wyatt said, willing himself to calm down.
“Good,” Rigby said with a smirk. “I knew you were a smart man. Sometimes we just need a little jog of the senses to bring us back, eh?”
Dr. Wyatt fumed. The threat towards Kieran had brought about an overwhelming wave of affection and concern for the young man. He thought fondly about Kieran sitting in the lab, taking breaks, reading all those mystery novels of his.
Suddenly an idea presented itself. Mystery books. Clues. Might Kieran be able to recognize a set of clues? Could I lead him here to find me without these people knowing what I'm up to?
“I have some conditions,” Dr. Wyatt said suddenly.
Rigby looked up and raised his eyebrows. “You're hardly in a position to set any conditions, Doctor. As we established, the conditions are simply that you work for us, and we leave your young protégé alone.”
Dr. Wyatt shook his head. “It's not a gambling piece I want. There's things I need from my lab that I simply can't create my formula without.”
Rigby tilted his head. “I'm listening. What sorts of things would you require?”
At this moment, Dr. Wyatt was hoping with all his might that Rigby had no knowledge of the ins and outs of his type of lab work. His plan hinged on the ignorance he hoped Rigby had, and his own ability to convince him of the critical importance of these “items” he needed.
“I can make a list. There's a few items in my lab I simply can't work without. I can't purchase new ones because they’re out of production. Believe me, I've checked. In addition, I need my oils and my notebook with the formulas. Otherwise I’ll be starting from square one, and that will only delay your own goals.”
As Dr. Wyatt spoke, he tried to keep his voice sounding natural and level. He wasn't going to win any Academy Awards, but in a matter of life or death, he could certainly try.
Rigby considered his request for a moment. He glanced at Axel. Finally, he sat forward again. “Very well,” he said. “Make your list, and I’ll have Axel go into your lab at night to get the items you need.”
Dr. Wyatt hadn't expected to be allowed to go and get the items himself, but that wasn’t what he had in mind anyway. He pulled his key ring from his pocket and handed Axel the keys to the science building and to his lab.
Rigby presented him with a piece of paper to make his list, and Dr. Wyatt jotted down a few random items that came to mind. None of them, of course, were actually needed for his work. But that wasn't the point. When he was finished with his list, he tapped the pen to his forehead as if he had just thought of something.
“There's only one problem with this,” he said. Rigby leaned forward.
“Like I said, these supplies are critical to our work,” Dr. Wyatt said. “When they’re gone, Kieran is going to be suspicious. He might start digging around. He might start thinking my absence is not a holiday. He might even go to the police.”
Rigby considered the possibility. “He has nothing to trace to us. What does it matter?”
“Actually, he does,” Dr. Wyatt stated. Rigby crinkled his forehead in suspicion.
“Well for one thing, he’s met Axel here, and Miss Pritchard as well,” Dr. Wyatt explained.
Rigby laughed. “I assure you they’re not in any 'wanted' databases anywhere. He would have no more luck tracing them based on their looks than he would finding a needle in a haystack.”
“That's not all,” Dr. Wyatt continued. Rigby stopped laughing, and was clearly growing impatient. Dr. Wyatt took a measured breath, and fabricated a simple lie on the spot.
“Kieran followed us here.”
Rigby shot a look at Axel, whose expression changed for the first time from one of stone to shock and even shame.
“He must have thought something was odd about these two,” Dr. Wyatt said, gesturing at Axel. “I saw him creep out of the building into his own car, and I could see him in the rearview mirror at a distance the whole way.”
Rigby was silent, but his face was growing red. Dr. Wyatt could only imagine what was going through his head. No doubt Rigby prided himself on keeping all loose ends tied, and on his ability to keep himself and his staff anonymous.
Dr. Wyatt realized this lie was a great risk too. It was possible that Rigby could have flipped and sent his goons to collect Kieran out of fear of being exposed. But he also knew that Rigby was smart. Two scientists missing from the same lab could bring unwanted attention quickly. Dr. Wyatt still felt he had the upper hand, but he had to get Rigby to simmer down first.
“Now, at this point, I'm guessing Kieran thinks I'm here working on a special project in the museum archives or something,” Dr. Wyatt lied, but still felt badly for insulting Kieran's intelligence.
“I wouldn't expect he’s ready to raise any alarms at this point. But, like I said, if important things go missing from the lab, you will have his attention,” he said.
“Why should I believe you? What motive would you have for making sure Kieran doesn't find us?” Rigby said suspiciously.
“Trust me, my motive isn't for your sake. It's for Kieran's. I think it's pretty obvious that I’ll take any measure to make sure he doesn’t get involved, and doesn't get hurt. The last thing I want is for him to get in the middle, only to get hurt by you...by your staff, I mean,” Dr. Wyatt said, trying to allow some desperation into his voice.
“So what are you suggesting, Doctor?” Rigby said, seeming to have calmed a bit.
“Let me send a note for Axel to leave for Kieran,” Dr. Wyatt said.
Rigby laughed. “And explain everything he needs to know to get us caught? Absolutely not.”
“No, nothing like that. Aren't you listening? I don't want Kieran to know anything. I simply want to explain the reason for the missing objects, so that he won't get suspicious and come looking for me,” Dr. Wyatt said. “You can even read the note. I’ll simply give reasons that would make sense to Kieran for the missing items.”
Rigby thought for several minutes, and eventually seemed to resign himself to the viability of Dr. Wyatt’s reasoning.
“All right,” he said, and he pushed another piece of paper toward Dr. Wyatt.
“Thank you,” Dr. Wyatt said. He picked up the pen and began to write slowly and neatly, in order to give himself time to think of what to say while he wrote it. He had never come up with so many well-crafted lies at once, and he hoped to keep his momentum through the writing of this letter.
Thinking about the mystery novels Kieran liked, Dr. Wyatt tried to imagine a simple way he could send a message embedded in clues that he hoped Kieran would understand. What he chose was simple, but he feared it was so simple that Rigby would figure it out before he could even send it.
He finished writing the letter, and sat back to examine it. The message was embedded in the first few sentences, which also served as clues. He wanted to make sure Kieran recognized where the message had ended, but he had a few more clues to give. He decided to add them in a post-script.
Finally, he slid the paper over to Rigby, hoping he wouldn't decipher the message or the clues, and also hoping he wouldn't notice the abrupt change in writing style between the body of the letter and the post-script.
Rigby put on a pair of glasses and scanned the letter. He turned it around and pointed to the line at the bottom of the page, and said, “What's this for?”
“The busier Kieran is, the less likely he'll try to look for me. Those are just some colleagues of mine that he can go to for help with his research, so he can keep working,” Dr. Wyatt lied.
Rigby considered the note for a few more minutes. Finally, he turned to Axel. “Go and get Olivia. I want her to look it over before I agree to it.”
Axel left the room and the two men sat in silence, staring at one another while he was gone. When he returned with Olivia a few minutes later, she immediately reached for the note, apparently having been briefed by Axel on the way.
“Good gracious, Doctor, your handwriting is atrocious,” was the first thing Olivia said after scanning the note. “But I don't see anything suspicious about the content. It's your call, Nigel.”
Rigby nodded and handed the letter back to Axel.
“Very well, we’ll make all the arrangements. Axel, please escort the doctor back to his laboratory. Then I want you and Miss Pritchard to come back here immediately. I’d like to speak with you.”
Dr. Wyatt couldn't help but smile to himself as he walked back toward the Marie Curie panel. He would have loved to be a fly on the wall during the reprimand of Olivia and Axel that was sure to follow.
Chapter 24
The Strange Note

AFTER I RETURNED HOME from the failed attempt to get into Dr. Wyatt's lab, I lay awake for a while, feeling disappointed in my failure. Wes had said we could try again the next night, but I knew it wouldn't work. How would we get our hands on a key? I was sure Mom didn’t have one.
Time was of the essence, so I decided I just had to risk going during the day and waiting for an opportunity to get in when Kieran was not around. I decided on a plan of action.
In the morning I pulled out all the stops for faking sick. Really, it was just one stop. My master trick. I woke up early and spent about fifteen minutes forcing myself to cry. That's all there is to it. It leaves my face red and puffy, my eyes watery, my nose stuffy and runny, and a weakness in my voice.
It's the perfect sick look, but it must be done in just the right amount. Not enough crying, and I simply look like I'm not awake yet. Too much crying, and it looks way too obvious that I was crying, which would of course lead to questions that I would have no answer to, and therefore more lies.
Forcing sad thoughts into my head to make me cry didn't make for a great start to my day emotionally, but it worked. Recalling the most heartbreaking of movie scenes, thinking about losing my first dog Basil, dwelling on the tension between me and Alma lately, and playing mournful music in my headphones to set the mood sure did the trick.
Mom was convinced my fall allergies had manifested into a wicked cold, so she ordered me to stay in bed and rest while she called the school. After she set me up with tissues, juice, and Netflix, she headed off to work and promised to come home and check on me at lunch. I couldn't very well protest that, but it did put a damper on my plans.
For one, it gave me a time constraint for getting into the lab and back before lunchtime. Since she sometimes brings home papers to grade, there was a good chance she wouldn't even go back to work if she came home at lunch.
Secondly, it meant I had to take a trip back to Sad Town before she got home to get my sick face back. At least I could ease off a bit this time, so it would look like I was feeling well enough to return to school the next day.
As soon as Mom left around seven-thirty, I pulled out my new spy watch. I hadn't used it yet, so I was excited to play around with it for the first time. I sent my first group message to the club members: “Home under the weather today, I’ll be back tomorrow for the meeting.”
I got a couple responses from the others. “10-4” from Chase, “Feel better” from Britta, “See you then” from Ethan. But I was surprised when my personal cell phone chirped. I looked to see a text message from Wes. It was just a question mark.
I typed back a quick response about my plan of faking sick and visiting the lab, for him not to worry, and that I didn't need rescuing this time. He never responded. I wondered if I had hurt his feelings about the rescuing part.
I spent another quarter of an hour playing with the watch settings, testing out different tones and display options. Then I snapped back into consciousness and looked at the clock. It was almost eight o'clock.
I had to decide on my method for getting into the lab. Should I just go and wander the hall discretely until I saw Kieran leave? Should I try to set up a diversion? Yell “fire” to clear the building?
Then something else occurred to me. Kieran was teaching all of Dr. Wyatt's classes in his absence, so I could be sure that he would be out of the lab during those times. I had no idea whether or not he would lock the lab behind him during the day, but I had to find out.
I knew I could look up the teaching schedule by professor on the college’s website; I had done it a time or two when I was trying to get in touch with Mom, but couldn’t remember her class schedule.
I grabbed my computer and navigated to the college's website, then through the department pages until I found the course schedule for physics classes. I typed “WYATT” in the search box, and was rewarded with Dr. Wyatt's entire teaching schedule for the fall semester. For Thursday, there was only one entry; a lecture at eight. In other words, right now.
I quickly jumped out of bed, threw on a pair of jeans and a hoodie, grabbed my boots and backpack, and dashed out the door. I half-jogged to the college, slipped inside the science building, and walked casually down the hall toward Dr. Wyatt's lab.
I felt a sense of relief when I got close enough to see that the door was open. I was sure Kieran wasn't there, but I carefully crept in anyway, looking around the corner into the lab before walking all the way in. As I suspected, no one was there.
I headed toward the counter where all the oils were kept, searching for an empty bottle to pour the Jasper Oil into. I opened a few drawers and cabinets until I found a box of clean, unused bottles. I pulled the Jasper Oil v. 5 out of my backpack, unscrewed the lid and carefully poured about half of the contents into the fresh bottle.
I figured it was best to leave the original bottle in the lab, so the labeling and handwriting was consistent. I kept the new unmarked bottle for us, tucking it back into the box and stuffing it in my backpack.
Having seen where Kieran had retrieved the keys for the locked oil cabinet before, I knew exactly where to find them. I unlocked the cabinet and reached up to place the Jasper Oil v. 5 bottle at the top, next to where I expected version six to be. But there was nothing. I scanned the rest of the bottles in the cabinet, but couldn't find anything labeled Jasper.
He must keep them somewhere else now, I thought. I decided I didn't have time to mess around and look, so I placed the v. 5 bottle on the top shelf anyway. I closed and locked the cabinet, and returned the keys to the drawer they came from.
When I opened the drawer, I saw something I hadn't noticed before when I retrieved the keys. There was a note in Dr. Wyatt's handwriting. Of course there were documents with his handwriting all over the lab, but something about this note caught my eye.
There were random words throughout the letter that were capitalized. Words that weren't proper nouns and shouldn't be capitalized were, and some words that should have been capitalized weren't. The message in the note seemed totally senseless, but perhaps I just didn't understand the context. The note was written for Kieran, after all.
kieran,
Hey sorry i had to borrow some items, but don't worry, they're all accounted for. Elizabeth from the museum has the Light. she says there's another one you can use in the office supply warehouse. Please while you're in there, look for some orange bulbs for Me. you will Eventually have to go downstairs.

I didn't know Dr. Wyatt at all. I had no idea what his personality was like, or what types of notes he might leave for anyone else, but the wording and handwriting in this letter seemed very strange to me. The random capitalizations were unexpected for a PhD, and the tone of the letter had a hint of distress.
Then I noticed a post-script at the bottom of the page. It was written differently. For one, the capitalizations were suddenly correct. For another, the handwriting was slightly different. Where the first part of the note was written neatly, as if it were well thought-out, this post-script seemed to be written in haste.
It reminded me of the post-script that was on the very first note I had seen from Dr. Wyatt; the one instructing Kieran to use coconut and shea oils in Jasper.

P.S. If you need me, go and find Mrs. Curie. She will take you to Pisum, where Mr. Planck can answer your question.

My heart leapt at the sound of someone walking into the lab. I turned to see Kieran entering, looking puzzled once he saw me. Without thinking, I reactively stuffed the note into my pocket.
“You're from the group that came to see me a couple weeks ago from the middle school, right?” he asked.
“That's right,” I said. I hoped my face didn't appear as red as it felt, and I hoped my voice hadn't sounded as shaky as my racing heart.
“Well, welcome back. What can I help you with this time?”
“Oh, I was only...just...” I stammered. “I really just came by to let you know how the project went.”
He stared at me, waiting for me to go on.
“Uh, it went fine,” I said, unremarkably. Kieran looked a little disappointed. “I mean, it went great. Our teacher was really impressed. We all passed.” He brightened a little at that.
“So, yeah, I just wanted to let you know that, and to thank you once again for your help,” I finished, feeling a little less nervous than when I started.
“It was my pleasure,” he said smiling.
“Well, I'd better be going. Thanks again!” I said, and bolted out the door.
Chapter 25
The Missing Oil

KIERAN SHOOK HIS HEAD and smiled at the young girl awkwardly rushing out of the lab. But he thought her visit odd; it was Thursday at nine in the morning. Why wasn't she in school? He shrugged off the thought. For all he knew, it was a teacher work day.
Kieran began setting up his workstation for the day, gathering the notes and equipment he needed and booting up the lab computer. He grabbed his keys from the desk drawer and headed over to the locked oil cabinet. He reached up and pulled down the bottle that was on the top shelf. It felt light. He glanced at the label, confused. It said Jasper Oil v. 5.
Weird, he thought. I must have been tired when I cleaned up the lab yesterday. Must have swapped five and six by accident. Only, he didn't remember using version five for anything yesterday.
He walked across the room to a large locked drawer where they had been keeping the bottles of older versions of Jasper, along with a logbook of the formulas that were used for each.
When he opened the drawer, his heart fell. The drawer was only about two-thirds as full as it usually was, with all the bottles toward the back still in place. They had labels reading 'Jasper Oil v. 1' up to and including version four. Those bottles were dusty, having not been opened for years.
There had been several bottles of version five, and two bottles of version six, in addition to the one he had been working with and keeping in the locked cabinet on the wall. They were all missing, as was the logbook.
Kieran tried not to panic as he wracked his brain for an explanation. He didn't remember even opening this drawer for several days, but he was quite certain he had replaced the version six bottle in the cabinet like he always did, every day. It just didn't make any sense.
Kieran looked back at the half-full bottle of Jasper Oil v. 5 in his hand; the one that he had just retrieved from the cabinet. He flipped it upside down to take a look at the bottom, where he always wrote the date that it was mixed.
“23 September,” he read. It was written in black marker, barely visible against the dark brown glass. “This was the last bottle of version five that we mixed. It's the one we were working with just before Dr. Wyatt left and before I started a new batch of version six,” he thought out loud.
Then he remembered what he had done with that bottle. “It's the one I used to demonstrate to the—Hey! That kid!” he said. He bolted out into the hall after the girl, but she was already gone.
Chapter 26
Mr. Gregory’s False Confession

LATER THAT SAME DAY, Mr. Gregory made his way to the front office to collect his mail and turn in his grades for the end of the nine-week period. While he stood shuffling through envelopes in the small nook that held the teachers' mailboxes, a young man walked into the office. The receptionist greeted him, and he greeted her back with a crisp Irish accent.
Curious, Mr. Gregory thought. He decided, based on the man's age, that he must be an international student at the college. When the receptionist asked what she could do for him, the young man's response was very surprising to Mr. Gregory, prompting him to hang back and listen.
“I'd like to speak with the principal right away. It's urgent. It's regarding a theft that I strongly suspect was committed by some of the students here,” the young man said, clearly upset.
The receptionist raised her eyebrows in surprise.
“Yes, wait right here, I'll go and get him,” she said, and she scurried to the back toward the principal's office. An instant later she returned with the principal, Mr. Meyer, who looked very concerned.
Mr. Meyer shook the man's hand and introduced himself, to which the young man responded, “I'm Kieran McGowan, a PhD student of physics at Bradbury College. I really hate to be accusing children of this, but I have good reason to believe it's true.”
Kieran then began to explain the visit from the six Brisby Middle School students, the oil he gave them, and the return of one of the students to his lab that morning. He then explained how he knew the bottle he’d found was the same one he had given the students, and how only moments after the girl left he discovered the missing oils.
Mr. Meyer and the receptionist listened intently with furrowed brows, giving a look of mixed concern and apology.
Mr. Gregory's pulse was quickening. He knew exactly which six students the man was referring to, and the girl that visited today had to be Jenna. She was supposed to go last night! What was she thinking going during the day?
He was beginning to feel nauseated with worry. It wasn't the school's punishment of the kids he was worried about; it was the fact that now they would be linked to Dr. Wyatt's lab, and he knew it was just a matter of time until the Rosalind leaders found out about them.
“I’m terribly shocked and sorry to hear this, Mr. McGowan,” Mr. Meyer said once Kieran was finished with his explanation.
“As am I. I promise you, I don't take this lightly, accusing these kids of this. I searched very hard for another explanation, but I simply can't ignore what seems obvious to me, as disappointing as it is,” Kieran said with a shrug.
Mr. Meyer nodded, stroking his chin in apparent deep thought. After a few moments, he spoke up. “Would you be able to describe the students?”
Mr. Gregory felt his anxiety rising. The student body was only so large. The S3C would be easy enough to identify, as long as Kieran’s memory was clear. He knew he had to do something before Kieran gave any descriptions.
He tossed the envelopes aside and marched into the office before anything else could be said. The other three turned in surprise when they saw him, clearly not realizing anyone else had been in the room. Mr. Gregory stood and looked from Mr. Meyer to Kieran.
“It was me,” he said. “I took it”.
Chapter 27
The Reprimand

MR. GREGORY DID HIS best to come up with an explanation on the spot. He fabricated a story about wanting to enter the group of students into a state-wide science fair. He told them how impressed he was with their demonstration of the Jasper Oil, and that he decided to 'borrow' some more oil so they could win the contest.
He told them it was entirely his doing and that the students had no idea it even happened. Mr. Meyer took on a look of shock, while the receptionist appeared angry that he had dragged the poor angelic children into this.
“Seth!” Mr. Meyer said after a moment. “I'm honestly in disbelief. This is so unlike you. Why in the world would you even think of doing something like this? You were once a graduate student yourself, working hard on your own research. Can you imagine someone stealing yours?”
Mr. Gregory tried to look shameful, even though what he felt was relief that they had apparently bought the story, and that the kids were off the hook. But he also felt something else. He knew that this wasn't going to be without repercussions; he could only hope that they came from the school only, and that Rosalind didn't find out about this.
He felt disappointed that he was letting down the students. He knew that, whatever the degree of punishment he was about to receive, they were going to have to do this on their own now.
Mr. Meyer shook his head and looked down at the floor, then back up to Mr. Gregory, sorrow on his face.
“Seth, I'm sorry, but I don't think I have a choice but to call the police,” Mr. Meyer said. Mr. Gregory nodded slowly, trying to wrap his mind around how much his life was about to change.

-----

Kieran watched the face of the young teacher who had just admitted his crime. He could sense the man's disappointment in himself. He wondered if Seth Gregory was asking himself how he even got to this point in his life.
According to what the principal just said, Mr. Gregory had once been a graduate student himself. Perhaps he had dreamt of a prestigious career in academia, completing ground-breaking research and making a name for himself in the scientific community.
But Kieran had never heard of him. And it was because he was here, teaching middle school science instead. Seeing pieces of his own fears in Mr. Gregory's acceptance of his failure, Kieran took pity on the man.
“No, that's not necessary. I don't want to take it to that level,” Kieran said, to looks of surprise from the other three. “He's made a mistake. He's not a criminal. To be honest, I can make more oils. I've kept the formulas in a few different places.”
Mr. Gregory was speechless. And Kieran understood. He was surprising even himself by his reaction. Finally, Mr. Gregory spoke.
“Thank you…so much. I'm so sorry about all of this. I don't know what came over me,” he said. “I'll get the oils returned to you right away.”
Kieran waved his suggestion away. “Ah, do your project first. I'm not in any hurry. I'll look forward to seeing them returned after.”

-----

Mr. Meyer was stunned by how this had been resolved. He was extremely relieved, but was also confused over why Kieran had so quickly changed his tune. Must be a scientist thing, he thought. The receptionist, however, still appeared angry with Mr. Gregory. Mr. Meyer knew she wouldn’t be satisfied with him getting off scot-free.
Kieran left after a few final awkward exchanges with the principal and Mr. Gregory. After he left, Mr. Meyer gave a heavy sigh once Mr. Gregory turned to face him again.
“Well, Seth. I'm still baffled by this behavior. But it seems you two have worked it out somehow, even if I don't understand it.”
He was prepared to dismiss Mr. Gregory without any further discussion or punishment, but then the receptionist cleared her throat. Mr. Meyer turned to see her glaring at him.
He sighed again. “Still, what you did is a poor representation of our school, and the fact that it was almost pinned on the students is extremely...dishonorable.” Mr. Gregory appeared crushed by the word. “I'm glad that it's not being taken to a higher level, but I'm afraid I must still take some action as your boss.”
Mr. Meyer thought for a moment about what that action would be. “I’m going to ask you take an unpaid leave of absence...for” —he looked at the receptionist for guidance, who gave him another sharp look— “one week?” he suggested, gauging her reaction.
The receptionist looked cheated, and her glare intensified. Mr. Meyer, fearing another long period of cold silence from his assistant as he’d endured many times before, made a provision to Mr. Gregory's sentence.
“The suspension will have to begin now, though. Now through next Friday,” he said. At that, the receptionist looked back to her own work, indicating that it was a satisfactory compromise.
“Oh,” Mr. Gregory said. “I understand. Could I just quickly go and talk with—”
“No, Seth, we’ll notify your students and your colleagues. Don't worry, we’ll tell them it’s personal leave. No one will know the reason. I think you should go on home, now. We will, of course, arrange for substitutes for your classes.”

-----

Mr. Gregory thanked him, apologized again, and began to leave the office. He could go right, toward his classroom, and track down Ethan or Alexandra or someone. But he was expected to go left, out the front entrance of the school and to his car.
He began to panic; not being able to visit his classroom meant he wouldn’t be able to retrieve his files, with all his students’ contact information.
Why didn’t I borrow an extra watch for myself, he thought, irritated at his lack of foresight.
He glanced over his shoulder and, to his disappointment, saw both the receptionist and Mr. Meyer watching him, making sure he made the right move.
Seth Gregory had no choice, so he reluctantly turned left and walked out of Brisby Middle School. He didn’t know it then, but it would be a long time before he ever walked through that door again.
Chapter 28
Got a Bad Feeling About This

ON FRIDAY MORNING, I was miraculously all better, and well enough to go back to school. Mom checked my temperature just to be sure, then gave me the green light.
When I walked into science class that morning, I was surprised to see a substitute teacher at the front instead of Mr. Gregory. The S3C members exchanged concerned and confused glances. As we were all taking our seats, the principal walked in. I felt sick to my stomach. Mr. Meyer only came into classrooms when there was something big going on.
“Class, I want you to meet Ms. Roth. She’ll be your substitute teacher today and next week. Mr. Gregory is on personal leave until next Friday, but he'll be back the Monday after.
“I just wanted to assure you he’s fine; there’s no need to worry about anything. I also want to make sure you treat Ms. Roth with the utmost respect, follow all of her instructions and complete all of your work. Agreed?”
We all mumbled our confirmations. Everyone loved Mr. Gregory, so while many classes rejoiced at the sight of a substitute teacher, we were all bummed by it. Especially S3C, who suspected something was not right. Why would he go on leave and not tell us? Was it vacation or medical leave? Either way, it was deeply concerning.
Once Mr. Meyer left, while Ms. Roth was writing down her rules for the week on the white board, I scribbled a quick note and passed it up to Chase.

Got a bad feeling about this. Meet after class.
— Jenna
P.S. Pass on to the closest S3C member

The note made it around the room unnoticed, and each kid gave some subtle signal of agreement once they had read it. I tracked the note as it made its way around, and when I turned to look over my right shoulder to make sure Wes had received it, we made eye contact. Once again, the butterflies flew, which left me feeling annoyed with myself. This was no time for a crush.
A few minutes later, I felt a tap on my right shoulder. Lindsey, who sat behind me, held the folded note over my shoulder, so I grabbed it and opened it in my lap. Underneath my note, Wes had written:

Are you okay? Did you drop off the oil yesterday? Thumbs up for 'yes’.

P.S. I've been worried sick since you texted yesterday morning. I'm glad you're back.

A girlish smile took over my face, and I made an effort to wipe it off. I flashed two thumbs up signs over my right shoulder to answer his questions, then tried to pay attention to Ms. Roth's dull lecture. All I could think about was Mr. Gregory, though.
After class, the six of us took our time packing our bags until the room cleared. Ms. Roth, however, stayed behind. We couldn't have a conversation in front of her, and we didn’t have time to wait around to see if she would leave.
I headed for the door and whispered “vending machines” as I walked by the others. It was the only semi-secretive spot I could think of where no adult would confront us if they found us there during lunchtime. A few moments after I arrived in the little vending machine nook, the others walked in. We didn't waste any time.
“He wouldn't just leave without telling us first,” Alexandra said. It’s what we all had been thinking.
“It's an emergency, whatever it is. Either something medical, or something happened with Rosalind and he didn't want to bring us into it. Either way, I don't see this turning out well,” I said.
“I doubt it would be medical. How would he have known he would be able to return to work next Monday? Unless it was a surgery or something, but still…he would have told us about something like that,” Britta pondered.
Chase chuckled. “You girls, you're such worrywarts. Take a deep breath, and let's think about what some of the explanations could be that don't involve a hospital or the evil-doings of Rosalind,” he said.
We all stood in silence, even Chase. Anything that came to mind might have been reasonable, except for the fact that there was no way he wouldn't have told us about it ahead of time. We came up with nothing.
“Well, let's take comfort in the fact that he’ll be back next Monday, apparently. Whether this was planned or not, I'm sure he knows what he’s doing and has his reasons. In the meantime, we should just keep working on Dr. Wyatt's case as best as we can alone,” Wes suggested.
We all nodded in agreement.
“On that note, has anyone come up with any new leads? Jenna, did you get into the lab the other night?” Ethan asked. Everyone seemed to have temporarily forgotten about that plan, and now they looked at me expectantly.
I glanced at Wes. I was so weary of telling lies. But I was too embarrassed to let the others find out that I hadn't considered the lab being locked in my plan; something that should have been obvious to even the most beginner spy.
I also didn't want them to know how much I had put myself, and therefore the whole mission, at risk by going during the day yesterday.
I took a breath, resigned to the fact that I didn’t have a choice. I looked at Wes while I spoke, hoping he would keep his promise not to tell the others.
“Yeah, I dropped off the oil. It was a piece of cake,” I said. Wes looked off into a corner of the ceiling, playing ignorant.
With that lie out of the way, I could move on to more exciting news, like the man with the bag we saw sneaking out of Dr. Wyatt’s lab.
The others were wide-eyed as I described the suspicious intruder, and we all agreed that it had to be Rosalind. We decided it was time to dive in, with or without the support of Mr. Gregory. He had brought us into this for a reason, and he wasn’t going to hold our hands through it all. It was time to prove him right for selecting us.
Just as we were wrapping up our discussion, Alma walked by the vending machine nook. She stopped as soon as she saw me, probably out of habit. But once she saw who was in my company, her face fell into what looked like betrayal, and she quickly marched off toward the cafeteria.
Chapter 29
Alma’s Confrontation

AT LUNCH, I BARELY touched my sandwich. I had so many things clouding my mind. Dr. Wyatt's disappearance, the rift in my friendship with Alma, and the unexpected butterflies I couldn't help but feeling every time Wes was around. But what plagued me the most was Mr. Gregory’s unexplained absence.
Alma, who had been very good about avoiding speaking to me whenever possible for the past few weeks, stared at me from across the table. As upset as she was with me, and rightfully so, she couldn't shake her big-sisterly instincts over me.
“What's wrong, Jenna?” she asked. Not compassionately, but almost as if she thought I had been waiting for someone to ask, and she had decided to take the bait. It was the first indication she had given that our friendship was salvageable.
I looked up from my fixed gaze on my lunch bag and thought about how to answer the question. Then I realized that I couldn't talk to Alma, my best friend, about any of it. She knew the science project was over, so I couldn't explain to her why I was still hanging around Wes. I couldn't tell her anything about Dr. Wyatt's case, because I was sworn to secrecy.
There was only one of the things bothering me that I could have, and should have, talked to her about; the problems in our own friendship. The eyes of all the AJ's were on me, waiting for an answer. I could have told Alma that we should talk later. I could have just laid it out on the table right then and there, even in front of the other girls.
But I did neither. Instead, I took to what was apparently my favorite pastime of late; I lied.
“Oh I'm just still not feeling great from being sick yesterday. Maybe I should have stayed home today too,” I said, trying to make my voice sound weak and tired.
“What kind of sick are you?” Alma asked suspiciously. She was on to me. “Doesn't sound like you have a cold. Is it a stomach thing?”
“No, no, I just…generally feel sick,” I said, knowing how unconvincing that sounded.
The rest of lunch was spent in silence between Alma and me. After the bell rang and I started making my way to English, I felt someone grab my arm. I turned to see Alma, who looked furious.
“All right, cut the act, Jenna. What is going on with you? Everything is such a big secret with you lately, I feel like I don't even know you! We both know you're not really sick. And not to mention the stunt you pulled that weekend, lying to me about what you were doing Sunday.
“I've been waiting for weeks for you to come talk to me about it, to apologize, and tell me what the heck is going on. And yet here I am being the one to bring it up, when it should be you!”
She was totally right. I had been putting off the apology, not knowing how to explain myself without revealing what I was really doing with S3C. Even at this moment I still didn't know what to say. How were the others getting around this? Or did they just not have a friend watching them as closely as Alma was?
I considered my options. I could lie again, and likely ruin my friendship with her once and for all. I could tell her it was none of her business, which would certainly ruin our friendship. Or, I could tell her the truth, against the advice of Mr. Gregory and the trust of the members of the club.
The fact that I was struggling over the decision is actually what helped me make it. If it had been Julianne or Ashton or Audrey interrogating me, I wouldn't have thought twice about it. I would have made up something and been on my way. I wouldn't have even considered telling them the sensitive truth.
But because it was Alma, I knew the reason I was considering it was because I knew, with all my heart, that I could trust her, and that she deserved to know the truth for all that I had put her through over the last few weeks.
“Meet me after school at our spot. I'll tell you everything,” I said, hoping she would accept the offer.
Her face softened. I don't think she had expected that answer. She didn't quite smile, but I could tell she was satisfied to finally get through to me.
“Okay,” she said. “But if you bail...I'm not sure I'll get over it this time.”
“I swear I’ll be there, Alma,” I reassured her.
Chapter 30
Jenna’s Secret Sidekick

AFTER SCHOOL, I RUSHED to Alma's and my spot. It was a hill behind the school, overlooking the baseball field. There was a single bleacher up there, but no one ever used it. In fact, the bleacher was practically collapsing. But we loved to sit up there in the summer and watch the baseball games below while we gossiped and spied on the activities of the spectators.
I got to the top of the hill, panting, to find Alma sitting on the bleacher shivering. It was November, and she had probably been waiting up there for twenty minutes already. I’d gotten distracted after my last class, falling into more discussion about Mr. Gregory with Britta, who I’d run into in the hall. Now, I felt bad.
“I was about to leave,” she said when she saw me come over the crest of the hill.
“I'm glad you stayed. And I'm sorry I'm late,” I said. “I think after what I'm about to tell you, you'll understand.”
I then spent the next twenty minutes or so explaining everything to her. And I mean everything. The science project, our plan to crack Ethan, the friendships we'd developed. I told her about Mr. Gregory's involvement with Rosalind, about Dr. Wyatt, about my lies to my mother and to her.
I told her about the missing oil and the note I had found. I even told her about my feelings for Wes, as much as I was trying to ignore them myself.
Finally, I told her that Mr. Gregory was gone, and why we suspected it wasn't just personal leave like Mr. Meyer had said. Alma had been listening wide-eyed to my entire story.
It was a good reaction, I thought. It showed she believed me, even though it sounded totally made up. A secret spy group of seventh graders? Come on. But the trust I felt for her that made me decide to tell her the truth in the first place was mutual, and she didn't question my story's authenticity at all.
The first thing she did when I finished talking was pull me into a bear hug. It surprised me. Alma was not an affectionate person. She showed love in other ways, such as with her protectiveness over me.
“Thank you for telling the truth, and for trusting me with it,” she said as she held me at arm's length.
“Thank you for being patient with me, and for forgiving me even though I don't deserve it,” I said, finding myself becoming emotional and trying to fight it.
Coming out with the truth and having my best friend back was a relief like no other. I instantly felt my body relax, my heart rate slow, and the sweat was no longer beading on my forehead. My hoodie string, which I had nervously tied into a million knots while explaining things to Alma, was now a short little lumpy stump, and we laughed together as Alma pointed it out to me.
The laughter triggered the last rush of relief that I needed in order to know that everything was finally okay with Alma and me. Out of nowhere, I began to cry. A mix of relief and fear and confusion; I was letting it all out.
Alma snapped right back into her old role as my protector and patted my back, saying, “Shh, don't cry, we're going to take care of it all. All the stressors in your life, we're going to get rid of them,” she said determinedly. “We're going to figure out what's going on with Mr. Gregory and this doctor, and we're going to fix it all.”
I looked up and wiped my tears. She was saying “we”. “We” are going to fix it. How was I going to address this?
“Um, listen,” I said hesitantly, nervous about undoing what I had just repaired. “I can't let you be involved in the club...I wasn't supposed to tell you any of that, but for the sake of our friendship, I did. The others can't know that you know.”
I searched her face to see how she took it, but it was emotionless again. The last time I had seen that expression was after I had hurt her when she came to my house the Sunday that the S3C visited Dr. Wyatt’s lab. Not again, I thought. Not after the progress we just made!
But after a few moments, she straightened up in her seat and gave a sly smile.
“Got it,” she said with a wink. “No one will know that I know.”
I sighed in relief and thanked her. We hopped off of the bleachers, and had started walking back down the hill when she turned back at me, still smiling.
“But that doesn't mean I'm not going to help you anyway!” she said.
I was about to protest, but instead I started laughing. When Alma gets determined to do something, she's going to do it. There's no stopping her. Plus, I was not at all disappointed to have the coolest secret sidekick ever.
Now that things were back to normal with Alma and me, I felt a new surge of determination. Something wasn’t quite right about Mr. Gregory’s absence, and I wasn’t convinced he would be back the following Monday like Mr. Meyer had said.
Would Rosalind go so far as to kidnap another person?
You know they would, I thought.
I felt the first sparks of anger at the thought of it. If it was true, Rosalind had just messed with the wrong seventh-graders.
This Rigby guy was toast.
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The mission continues…
“The Secrets of Rosalind”

BOOK TWO in the Super-Secret Science Club Series is available now in paperback and digital download. Don’t miss the adventure! Visit scdavisauthor.com today to find out where to buy!
You Try It!
A Day in the Life of Dr. Wyatt
Curious about refraction? You can easily replicate the experiment that Wes found online, and make glass disappear yourself!

Items needed:
1.A Pyrex beaker
2.Wesson Vegetable Oil, regular
3.A Pyrex stirring rod or other small, clear glass object (marbles, lenses, or test tubes will also work)

Instructions:
1.Fill the Pyrex beaker with oil.
2.Place the Pyrex rods or other small glass object into the oil.
3.View the beaker from the side, and be amazed: the glass inside is totally invisible!


About the Author


S.C. Davis is a biologist-turned-writer, who now writes from her home in the San Francisco Bay Area where she lives with her husband and pets. The Super-Secret Science Club is her debut series. Visit her on the web at scdavisauthor.com.
Note from the Author
Hi Reader!

I want to thank you personally for reading "Case of the Disappearing Glass”.

Did you know that books with reviews and ratings are more likely to be discovered by eager readers? You can help more people find and enjoy the books, simply by leaving a review!

If you enjoyed "Case of the Disappearing Glass", you could make my day by leaving a review on your favorite book retailer’s website.

Your honest review not only helps other readers find the book, but it helps me create and deliver books in the future that you’ll LOVE!
Happy Reading!

~S.C. Davis

Connect with Me!

Like my page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/scdavisauthor/
Visit my website and sign up for my email list: http://www.scdavisauthor.com/
Follow me on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7671139.S_C_Davis
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