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       Mutation, p.1

           Roland Smith


  cryp·to·zo·ol·o·gy (krip-ta-z-ä-la-j) noun The study of animals, such as the Sasquatch, the Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, the Chupacabra, kraken, and others, whose existence has not yet been proven scientifically. There are thought to be more than two hundred cryptids in existence today.

  — cryp·to·zo·o·log·i·cal (-z-a-´lä-ji-kal) adj.

  — cryp·to·zo·ol·o·gist (-´ä-la-jist) noun


  Marty O’Hara: Wolfe’s nephew. Grace’s cousin (formerly thought to be her twin). Thirteen years old. Brown hair, gray eyes, a foot taller than Grace. Talented artist. Master chef. Scuba diver. Mountain climber. Skydiver. Has an eidetic memory. He has spent most of his life at the Omega Opportunity Preparatory School (OOPS) in Switzerland. His parents, Timothy and Sylvia (the most famous photographer/journalist team in the world), are missing after a terrible helicopter crash in the Amazon rain forest.

  Grace Wolfe: Wolfe’s only daughter (although for most of her life she thought she was Timothy and Sylvia O’Hara’s daughter and Marty’s twin sister). Black hair, blue eyes the color of robin’s eggs like her mother Rose’s. Born at Lake Télé in the Congo. Thirteen years old. Small for her age, but a foot smarter than Marty. The best student to ever “grace” the halls of OOPS. Fluent in several languages. Habitual journal-writer (uses a Montblanc fountain pen and Moleskine notebooks). Lock-picker. Genius.

  Luther Percival Smyth IV: Marty’s best friend and former roommate at OOPS in Switzerland, where they managed to get into a tremendous amount of trouble. Coauthor/illustrator of Marty’s graphic novels. Sleeps like a vampire. Eats like a wolf. Gangly, with wild orange hair. His father (Luther Percival Smyth III) and mother are billionaires and often forget they even have a son. Expert computer hacker and video gamer.

  Dr. Travis Wolfe: Cryptozoologist. Veterinarian. Oceanographer. Cofounder and owner of eWolfe with Ted Bronson. Called Wolfe by his friends — and foes. Grace’s father. Marty’s uncle. Sylvia O’Hara’s older brother. Widower. Former son-in-law of Noah Blackwood. A giant of a man — just under seven feet tall. Unruly black hair, bushy black beard, brown eyes. Wears size-fifteen shoes. His right leg was bitten off by a Mokélé-mbembé as he tried to save his wife, Rose Blackwood, in the Congo. He now wears a high-tech prosthesis invented by Ted Bronson.

  Dr. Ted Bronson (a.k.a. Theo Sonborn): Wolfe’s closest friend and partner at eWolfe. Eccentric genius. Inventor. Recluse. Rumored to have not left the Quonset hut on Cryptos Island (where he develops his marvelous gadgets) in more than three years.

  Theo Sonborn (a.k.a. Dr. Ted Bronson): Has been with Wolfe since the beginning. Surly. Pugnacious. Obnoxious. Jack-of-all-trades, master of none.

  Dr. Noah Blackwood: Wealthy. Powerful. Owner of several animal theme parks around the world, all called Noah’s Ark. Environmental television superstar — but he is not what he appears to be. He hunts and breeds endangered animals and cryptids, and displays them at his parks. In their prime he kills the animals, has them stuffed, and displays them in his private diorama. Father of Wolfe’s deceased wife, Rose. Grace’s grandfather.

  Butch McCall: Noah Blackwood’s chief henchman. Dangerous. Tattooed. Tough. Expert field biologist. More comfortable in the woods than he is under a roof. Sworn enemy of Travis Wolfe, whom he despises for “stealing” Rose Blackwood away from him.

  Yvonne Zloblinavech: Freelance marine mammal trainer. Spy for Noah Blackwood aboard the Coelacanth, and now his operative. Ambitious, desperate to work her way to the top in Blackwood’s organization.

  Dr. Laurel Lee: Wolfe’s cultural anthropologist. Birdlike. Athletic. Former circus aerialist. Taught Grace to walk on a high wire to help her focus and overcome her many fears. Laurel and Wolfe are sweet on each other.

  Ana Mika: Investigative journalist, world traveler, and Ted Bronson’s longtime girlfriend.

  Mr. and Mrs. Hickock: Caretakers on Cryptos. Wild “Bill” Hickock remains on the island; Melanie Hickock (Ph.D. in Egyptology) is currently curating an Egyptian exhibit at the University of Washington.

  Dylan Hickock: Sixteen years old. Caretakers’ son. Just got his driver’s license. He’s new to the Cryptos Island crew, but not new to cryptids.

  Dr. Robert “Doc” Lansa: World-renowned biologist. Hot-tempered and tireless. Runs a jaguar preserve in Brazil.

  Jacob “Jake” Lansa: Doc’s son, and a rain forest enthusiast in his own right.

  Flanna Brenna: A botanist at the jaguar preserve, and likely Jake’s future stepmother. The mastermind behind the web of zip lines they use to navigate the rain forest canopy.

  Special Agent Steven Crow: An FBI agent close to retirement. He’s been on the trail of hijacker D. B. Cooper (a.k.a. Buck Johnson) for years, and he thinks he’s coming to the end of the road.

  Buckley “Buck” Johnson: Hijacked a jet under the alias D. B. Cooper, hoping to use the ransom money to save the life of his son, but ultimately failing. After he returned the money, he disappeared.



















































  * * *

  Fraternal twins Marty and Grace O’Hara are attending the Omega Opportunity Preparatory School (OOPS) in Switzerland when they receive shocking and tragic news: Their parents, Sylvia and Timothy, have disappeared after a helicopter crash in the Brazilian rain forest. The twins have to leave OOPS to stay with Travis Wolfe, their mother’s mysterious older brother.

  Travis Wolfe lives off the coast of Washington State on a volcanic island called Cryptos. Together with his genius business partner, Ted Bronson, Wolfe runs a very profitable tech company, but his real interest is cryptozoology. He spends almost every dime he makes searching the world for mythical animals called cryptids. Now, though, his mission is finding Sylvia and Timothy.

  A few days into Marty and Grace’s stay on Cryptos, a cultural anthropologist named Laurel Lee shows up unannounced. While living in the Congo, Laurel came into possession of a large egg supposedly belonging to a dinosaur called Mokélé-mbembé. Back in the U.S., Laurel took the egg to be tested at the labs of Dr. Noah Blackwood, the famous wildlife conservationist and TV personality, and his people stole it from her.

  Travis Wolfe and Noah Blackwood have been archenemies for years. Noah is rich, famous, and respected, but Wolfe knows that Noah’s wildlife parks around the
world — his Arks — are fronts for his real purpose, which is to collect rare species and “harvest” them for his endangered taxidermy collection.

  Wolfe springs into action. He and Laurel plan to travel to Lake Télé in the Congo to save the last dinosaur on earth before Noah Blackwood and his chief henchman, Butch McCall, get their hands on it. Wolfe decides to send Marty and Grace back to OOPS, but they have to ride along on a supply drop over Lake Télé before returning to Switzerland. Things don’t go according to plan, and the twins land in the Congo clinging to a parachute, days before Wolfe and Laurel can get there.

  Alone in the treacherous jungle, with Butch McCall stalking them, Marty and Grace take up residence in a gigantic tree house built by Wolfe years earlier. While there, Marty and Grace discover that they are not twins after all, but cousins. They learn that Travis Wolfe, their guardian, was married to the late Rose Blackwood — Noah’s daughter. To escape her controlling father, Rose eloped with Wolfe and they hid out in the Congo. Grace, their daughter, was born there. Noah Blackwood is Grace’s grandfather.

  Marty and Grace find the Mokélé-mbembé nest. The last living dinosaur has died, leaving behind two eggs. The cousins take the eggs and escape by hijacking Noah Blackwood’s helicopter, leaving Butch and Noah to make their way out of the jungle on foot.

  Back on Cryptos Island, Wolfe decides it’s best to leave the country for a while. He knows that Noah is going to come after both the eggs and Grace. Marty’s best friend from OOPS, Luther Percival Smyth IV, joins them aboard Wolfe’s research ship, the Coelacanth, and they all head to New Zealand to catch a giant squid for Northwest Zoo and Aquarium, the rival to Noah’s Seattle Ark. Butch McCall manages to get aboard the Coelacanth disguised as a researcher, with two co-conspirators to help him, Yvonne Zloblinavech and Mitch Merton.

  The Mokélé-mbembé eggs hatch, producing two baby dinosaurs. Meanwhile, Noah Blackwood pursues the Coelacanth aboard his own research ship, manned with mercenaries. As Marty and Ted maneuver the Coelacanth’s submersible to catch a giant squid, Noah and his hired hands attack the ship. The crew fends off the assault, but not before Blackwood’s scuba divers secretly place explosive charges on board. Below, Marty and Ted discover the explosives and frantically try to disarm them. On deck, Butch, Yvonne, and Noah’s mercenaries have bagged the Mokélé-mbembé hatchlings and are holding Laurel at gunpoint.

  Noah lands his chopper on the Coelacanth’s helipad. Butch threatens to shoot Laurel if Wolfe and his men don’t lay down their arms. To protect her father and friends, Grace agrees to go willingly with her grandfather. Marty and Ted disarm all the bombs, and the Cryptos crew heads back to Seattle with the first giant squid ever to be captured alive. But they’ve lost Grace and the dinosaur hatchlings.

  Wolfe heads to Washington, DC, leaving Marty and Luther with the new Cryptos caretakers, the Hickocks, and their son, Dylan. Together with Dylan, Marty and Luther set off for Noah’s Seattle Ark to find Grace themselves.

  Grace convinces Noah Blackwood that she is happy living in Seattle with him. But she’s truly after information about her late mother, Rose, and she’s curious about the contents of the sealed-off third level of Blackwood’s mansion.

  Marty, Luther, and Dylan manage to enter the Ark undetected, but their plans are thwarted by Blackwood’s facial recognition technology. Luther is drugged and kidnapped by Butch McCall, and locked away in a lower-level room below the Ark. Noah fears that Wolfe is planning to take back Grace and the dinosaur hatchlings and shuts down the Ark, trapping Marty and Dylan inside the grounds. He plans for the intruders to be killed by his genetically engineered and vicious chupacabra, controlled remotely by his henchwoman, Yvonne.

  Grace manages to enter the secret third floor of Blackwood’s mansion, where she discovers a horrifying diorama of stuffed endangered and extinct animals, as well as the green screen set where he fakes episodes of his nature TV show. Grace leaves the third floor via a laundry chute that reunites her with Marty and Dylan. Luther makes his own escape by crawling through the duct system of the Ark, disconnecting all of Blackwood’s surveillance cameras along the way. Then they capture Yvonne, take the remote that controls the chupacabra, and trick her into thinking she’s locked in a dark room with the vicious creature. They also rescue both hatchlings and three baby pandas from the Ark before being picked up by Ted Bronson in a helicopter he’s stolen from Blackwood.

  Noah is furious and wants Grace, the hatchlings, and his pandas back.

  Marty O’ Hara watched the three panda cubs wrestling in the aisle at thirty-five thousand feet. He was aboard his uncle Travis Wolfe’s converted bomber jet, winging his way south to the Amazon basin in Brazil with several other members of Wolfe’s Cryptos Island crew. Marty was exhausted and wanted to take a nap, but he couldn’t because he was holding Wolfe’s growling three-pound teacup poodle on his lap. It was all he could do to keep PD, as the tiny dog was known, from leaping into the fray and getting mauled by the adorable black-and-white bear cubs.

  “Panda-monium,” Marty quipped.

  His cousin, Grace, looked up at him from the aisle where she was supervising the wrestling match. “Punny,” she said. “I’m sure going to miss these cubs.”

  Marty had to admit that the cubs were cute, but he hadn’t been around them enough to know if he was going to miss them or not.

  Marty’s best friend, Luther Percival Smyth IV, and their new friend, Dylan Hickock, were in the back of the jet behind a hermetically sealed bulkhead, to everyone’s olfactory relief, feeding the Mokélé-mbembé hatchlings. The two not-so-little dinosaurs were voracious eaters, and they always smelled worse — if that was even possible — after a meal. Travis Wolfe and Ted Bronson were three rows in front of Marty, staring at their laptops and crunching the treasure trove of data that Grace had stolen from Noah Blackwood’s computer. It had only been a day since Ted, Marty, Luther, and Dylan had rescued Grace from Blackwood’s mansion, where the renowned naturalist had held Grace, his own granddaughter, since kidnapping her several weeks earlier.

  “Blackwood,” Ted said, pointing to the television screen above his head.

  Marty was out of his seat like a shot, clutching PD.

  “A rerun from last night,” Wolfe said.

  A smiling Dr. Noah Blackwood was being interviewed inside the Squidarium at Northwest Zoo and Aquarium. A giant squid was swimming in the background. Standing next to Blackwood was Dr. Michael Loch, the zoo’s director. He looked as if he would rather be in the clutches of the giant squid, with its beak piercing his skull, than standing next to Noah Blackwood.

  “So, what do you think, Dr. Blackwood?” the eager reporter asked.

  Noah amped up his smile to 250 watts. “It’s magnificent!” he said, putting a congratulatory hand on Loch’s shoulder.

  Loch looked like he was going to be sick.

  “We will learn a great deal about these mysterious denizens of the deep by having this specimen in captivity,” Noah continued. “I couldn’t be prouder of Dr. Loch and the NZA staff.”

  Marty rolled his eyes. Noah was making it sound like Loch and the NZA staff worked for him.

  “Doesn’t having the giant squid here at NZA affect the bottom line at your wildlife park, the Seattle Ark?” the reporter asked.

  Noah’s smile dimmed, but only slightly. “A rather crude way to put it,” he said. “And the answer is no. I am not interested in the bottom line. My sole purpose in life is the conservation of wildlife. I am not concerned with how many people come through the gates of the Seattle Ark versus Northwest Zoo and Aquarium. My mission can be summed up in two words, ‘Wildlife first.’ ”

  My sole purpose, Marty thought. My mission. My, my, my … Lie, lie, lie … Liar, liar, pants on fire.

  “I didn’t mean any offense,” the reporter said, then continued undeterred. “I was interviewing some zoo visitors here at NZA, and they said they’d been planning to visit the Ark today but changed their minds when they found out the panda cubs wouldn’t be on di
splay. I was just thinking that the —”

  Noah cut him off. “I’m glad you brought up the panda cubs,” he said. “They are a perfect example of what I was just saying. We determined that they were becoming slightly stressed by all of the attention they were receiving. We decided to take the cubs off display for their own well-being, knowing full well that it might affect our so-called bottom line, as you put it.”

  Marty glanced behind him. Grace had stepped forward in order to better see the interview. The cubs were pulling on her shoelaces. If anyone was stressed, it was Grace. She was hanging on to the seats on either side of the aisle, trying not to topple over.

  “How long do you think the cubs will remain off display?” the reporter persisted.

  “Until we deem it appropriate to put them back on display,” Noah said.

  Or until Butch has a chance to pop over to China and poach three more cubs for Blackwood to showcase, Marty thought.

  Among the files that Grace had “liberated” from Blackwood’s computer was a report about how his henchman Butch McCall had “harvested” the cubs from their mothers in the Gansu province of China.

  Noah made a big deal out of looking at his watch. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to cut this short,” he said. “I have animals to tend to back at the Ark.”

  “Five less than you did two days ago,” Marty said.

  Grace laughed. They watched Noah walk out of camera view. A look of relief passed across Dr. Loch’s face. The camera panned back to get a view of the crowd watching the giant squid.

  “Is that Al Ikes?” Grace asked.

  Marty stepped closer to the screen. Grace was right: It was Al Ikes, but he wasn’t dressed like the Al Ikes they knew. His typical three-piece suit had been replaced by a black hoodie, jeans, and high-top sneakers.

  “That’s Al,” Wolfe confirmed. “He and his crew are keeping an eye on Blackwood while we’re away.”

  Al must have realized he was being filmed because he quickly stepped out of the camera shot. He was ex-CIA, and he didn’t like to be photographed. He and his “crew” were in charge of security on Cryptos Island, Wolfe’s headquarters.

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