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The Blade of Shattered Hope 1r-3, Page 2

James Dashner

  Tick slumped back in his chair. He barely understood the question, much less knew the answer. Figuring his brain had finally gone to sleep, he murmured, “I give up. My head’s not working right now.”

  Mr. Chu laughed, and any remnant of his Alterant was wiped away in a flash. “I was just kidding. I’m not sure the question even made sense, actually.”

  Tick couldn’t help but feel relieved. He needed to understand quantum physics and all the sciences in order to figure out what was wrong with him. He had an extremely dangerous influence over Chi’karda, the force that ruled the world of quantum physics-or QP, as Mr. Chu liked to call it-and Tick had very nearly killed himself and countless others when his Chi’karda had gotten out of control just a few months ago.

  Since then, he’d been careful not to get too excited or too angry. So far nothing bad had happened-except for the time he’d sent his poor dad flying across the room and through an upstairs window. If it hadn’t been for that bush… Well, needless to say, the bush didn’t survive, but his dad-whose weight was classified somewhere between pudgy and ginormous-did. Though he had complained about a hurt back for weeks, sending Tick on countless runs to the kitchen to get him cookies and milk to enjoy during their videogame battles.

  “Tick?” Mr. Chu asked, snapping his fingers.

  Tick realized he’d been staring at the floor, completely lost in his thoughts. “Oh. Sorry. I was just thinking about something.”

  Mr. Chu yawned, then closed the science book with a loud thump. “Well, you’ve got a lot to think about. Any problems lately?”

  “No.” He looked into his teacher’s eyes, trying to see if he could read anything there. The man had been through just as much as Tick had, and Tick worried about him. “What about you? Have you… gotten over it?”

  “Gotten over what? Being imprisoned by a bunch of thugs, forced to torment you and your friends, almost killed? What’s there to get over?”

  Tick shook his head, trying not to look sad, but knowing he did. Thinking back to what had happened in the Fourth Reality, and everything that led up to it, always made him sad. He didn’t even really understand why-or at least he told himself that. After all, they’d escaped. They were safe. All seemed fine in the world.

  But deep down, he knew why he felt sad. He knew all too well.

  It was her. It was Mistress Jane. What he’d done to her.

  “Tick,” Mr. Chu repeated, snapping his fingers again. “What’s buzzing in that brain of yours?”

  “I didn’t mean to hurt her,” Tick said, almost whispering. His heart felt like a squishy pile of mud. “I don’t even know exactly what I did to her. For all we know, I killed her.”

  Mr. Chu stood up, shaking his head. “Enough of that.” He picked up the book and slid it inside Tick’s backpack, then held the pack out toward him. “Seriously. You shouldn’t feel one ounce of guilt for something that happened completely out of your control.”

  Tick didn’t respond, just reached out and took his backpack, slipping the straps over his shoulders.

  “I’m not even going to talk about it with you anymore,” Mr. Chu continued. “Maybe that’s making your subconscious mind think it’s something you should feel guilty about, something you should come to terms with, seek forgiveness for. Well, it’s not. As soon as blame the wood for killing with fire.”

  “Huh?” Tick asked.

  Mr. Chu shrugged. “Sorry. It was the best I could come up with.”

  For some reason, that made Tick feel better. “I’m fine, I guess. It’s just that… she seemed like maybe she was starting to feel bad about being so evil. I thought maybe she was going to change, maybe even help us.”

  Mr. Chu put two fingers together and swiped them across his lips like pulling a zipper.

  Tick rolled his eyes. “Fine. Well, thanks for helping me study. I’ll see ya next week.”

  “Sounds like a plan. Study the chapter on natural electricity’s role in physics carefully. A lot of things build off that information.”

  “I will. See ya.”

  “Take care.” Mr. Chu smiled then, and he looked nothing like his diabolical twin who had almost driven billions of people permanently insane.

  Tick turned and headed out the door, deciding at the last second to swing by the city library to check his e-mail before going home. He was looking forward to the best weekend ever-his sisters Lisa and Kayla had gone to stay with their cousins in Seattle until Monday night. Uncle Ben and Aunt Holly had two daughters the same ages as Tick’s sisters, and the two families swapped weekends between Deer Park and Seattle about every five months.

  No girls for three whole days. Well, unless you counted his mom, which he really didn’t.

  Peace and quiet. Books, junk food, and video games. It was gonna be great.

  Mrs. Sears, the librarian, was in her usual good mood, greeting Tick with that lilting laugh of hers as the gray cleaning pad she called her hair wiggled back and forth on her head. She asked him about the pros and cons of homeschooling, the latest books he’d been reading, and how he’d been faring against his dad in the latest installment of his favorite video game, Football 4000. But every time he answered a question, he eyed the long line of computers, trying to give her a hint.

  Finally she nodded toward an empty chair and said, “Well, I know why you’re here. Go on, and I’ll find you a good book before you head out. Deal?”

  “Deal,” Tick responded, already moving away.

  He was logged into his e-mail in no time. Just as he’d hoped, there was a letter from Sofia and one from Paul. Jackpot. Paul’s had been sent first, addressed to both Tick and Sofia, as usual. Tick opened Paul’s e-mail and began reading.


  Okay, I’m bored. When the highlight of your day is getting an e-mail from some chick in Italy about how she hurt her pinky toe in a vicious spaghetti sauce can incident, you know it’s time to change things. Where in the world is Master George? Yeah, I know we almost died and all that in the Fourth, but better that than getting up at the crack of dawn for school and then sitting around all afternoon eating cheese puffs. I can’t watch TV anymore. Too boring.

  Tick, how’s that whole power thing of yours working out? Melted any bad guys recently? Dude, I was thinking we could present you to the world as the first human microwave oven. We’d be rich, and the ladies would swarm. Think about it. We’ll split it 50–50. You do the cooking, I’ll do the promoting.

  Sofia, when you gonna bring us out to Italy? Don’t give me any junk about money. Just ask ol’ Pops to slip you a few bones to buy us airplane tickets. I’ll even bring you some hot dogs. No, make that corn dogs. Yeah. Corn dogs and Italy. Now that’s living.

  I’m out. Any time you start mentioning corn dogs, you know it’s time to end the e-mail. Later. Call us in, Master George!


  Still snickering, Tick closed the e-mail and opened Sofia’s, which had been sent soon after Paul’s, despite the time difference.


  Did you really start that last e-mail with “Dudes”?!?!? Promise me you’ll call me a dude next time I see you. Oh, and “chick from Italy”? You’re getting awfully brave, Rogers, what with an entire ocean between us. Next time we meet, you might want to wear something made of metal.

  I’m kind of bored too. Things with my parents seem worse than ever. All my old friends just seem stupid now. I hate how clueless they are. They have no idea what kind of stuff is going on out there.

  I wish I had a funny joke. But once Paul says something that’s actually funny, I’ll try harder.

  Seriously, though, I do think you guys should come to Italy. I’ll ask Frupey about it. Maybe this summer. Of course, I hope we’re doing something as Realitants by then.

  See ya.


  Tick looked at his watch and realized he should probably get home. His mom worried her head off every time he left the house these days. Deciding he’d just write his friends from home later, he logged off
, checked out the book Mrs. Sears recommended, then headed out the door.

  Just a few minutes later, he was walking down the long road toward his neighborhood, surprised that he was already sweating.

  It was almost spring, but it was still too early to be hot in Deer Park, Washington. Since his escape from the Fourth Reality, Tick had seen his birthday come and go-he was a manly fourteen years old now. Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year, and most of the winter had passed as well; April was just a few days away. Tick had heard less and less from Master George in the last month or so. It gave him an uneasy feeling. He wondered if it was the calm before the storm.

  He wondered about Mistress Jane, too. He’d give anything to know what had happened to her. Whether or not she was still alive. And if so, whether or not she was okay. He dreamed about her at night, reliving those terrible moments in Chu’s palace when he’d sent a world of chaos at her body and attacked her with thousands of flying shards of metal.

  For some reason, he’d lately had dreams where one of his sisters-sometimes Lisa, sometimes Kayla-replaced Jane and suffered the terrible onslaught instead, screaming in agony. He woke up in a sweat every time, and seeing it play out that way humanized the ordeal, made it more real. No matter what she’d done in the past, Jane was still a person, just like Lisa and Kayla.

  His actions haunted him, consumed him with guilt. He wished Womp!

  Tick stumbled to the ground, crying out as one of his elbows banged against the rock-hard dirt of the road’s shoulder. He twisted onto his back, fear ripping through his body. He searched around with his eyes, tried to figure out what had happened. It’d been like a wave of hardened air had slammed against him, knocking him down with a sound like the thump of a million bass drums…


  He braced himself as a massive surge of energy swept across the road and past him. He expected his hair and clothes to whip in the wind, but nothing stirred. He almost felt the energy… inside his body. As if someone had injected charges of lightning into his bloodstream.


  Tick squeezed his eyes shut. He felt a surge of heat in his chest, an intense pressure that enveloped his body, then it disappeared. Terrified, he scrambled to his feet, stumbling in a circle as he searched around him. There was nothing unusual in sight, nothing out of the ordinary.


  Tick took a step backward, wrapping his arms tightly around him, tensing as the wave of force hit again. With each surge of energy, he felt heat within his heart and veins, like a raging fever. Heat. Pressure. Squeezing. But only for an instant. Then it was gone again.

  Gasping for breath, he stood as still as possible, peeking through squinted eyes, waiting for it to happen again. His mind churned, trying to imagine what it could be. In some ways it felt like the attack of Chi’karda he’d had when everything had gone crazy in Reginald Chu’s research chamber.

  Similar, but different.

  This wasn’t coming from him. He was feeling it coming from somewhere else.

  A blast of panic shot through his nerves. From somewhere else..


  The wave hit again. Tick sprinted for home.

  Chapter 3

  A Strange Guest

  Lorena Higginbottom sat in the chair where she always waited for Atticus to come home from his visits with Mr. Chu at school. Her constant worrying over the boy had done strange things to her. She couldn’t sleep, couldn’t concentrate. She rarely laughed anymore. Sometimes-not often, but sometimes-the worry turned into utter misery, engulfing her like a horrible, eating cancer.

  Her boy. Her one and only boy. Mixed up with the Realitants and plagued with a burden of power that no one understood yet. Something was terribly, terribly wrong with him.

  She’d gone through all the usual phases. The denial, the blame, the guilt, the despair. She’d run the whole gamut of emotions over the last few months, and it had all come to a head this morning. When her husband, Edgar, had left for work, and Atticus had disappeared into his room to study, she’d sat in her room, crying, sobbing, a sorry sack of gloom and grief. It had taken every ounce of willpower in her body to pull her anguish back inside and hide it away. But she did, for Atticus’s sake.

  With a smile on her face, she’d seen him off to his appointment with his former and favorite teacher. She’d been sitting in her chair ever since, counting down the minutes until he returned. I should’ve gone with him, she thought, just as she did every single time Atticus left the house. But she couldn’t. She knew that. She and Edgar had long since agreed that they couldn’t exist in a constant state of terror and fear. Atticus needed time alone, time to grow, time to learn how to bear his burden. Still, he was only a child, only fourteen…

  A rattling sound from the back of the house snapped her mind alert.

  Like a shot of pure caffeine, adrenaline rushed through her body, and she jumped out of the chair before any thought had time to form. Wondering why Atticus would come home the back way-and feeling the slightest fear that it might not be him-she ran out of the room and down the hallway, into the kitchen, toward the door leading to the patio behind their home. The rattling noise continued. Someone was pulling at the knob, twisting it back and forth in vain because it was locked.

  The trickle of fear turned into a gush; she pulled up just short of the patio door.

  “Atticus?” she called out.

  No answer. But whoever was out there quit trying to open the door.

  “Atticus?” she repeated, louder.

  Still no answer.

  The door had a large window, currently covered by the drawn yellow curtain. Alarmed, she grabbed the side of the stiff material and pulled it back an inch, peeking outside.

  The thing standing on her back patio wasn’t her son.


  When his house finally came into view, Tick somehow found another burst of energy and ran faster. The loud thumps and waves of energy had stopped, but he couldn’t rest until he made sure everything was okay at home. A fresh spurt of panic squeezed his insides, and he picked up the pace yet again.

  He was only two houses away when he noticed a car coming down the road from the other direction. His heart skipped a beat when he saw that it was his dad’s.

  Then his heart almost stopped beating altogether when the car suddenly accelerated, the engine screaming, the tires squealing. The car swerved off the road, over the curb, and onto his front lawn. It shot across the grass until it reached the driveway, picking up speed instead of slowing down.

  Tick watched in horror as the car slammed into the garage door with a thunderous crunch, then disappeared in a pile of shredded wood and dust.


  In her head, Lorena couldn’t reconcile the thing she saw through the door’s window with any semblance of reality she knew or felt. It looked like something out of a science fiction movie-a man-shaped, shimmering ghost made out of clear liquid, its rippled surface glistening. The face had no features, but it seemed to be looking at her all the same.

  For a bare instant, she actually considered unlocking and opening the door. The creature seemed so harmless, so peaceful, the water rippling like the gentle, lapping waves of a Caribbean beach. But her hand froze halfway to the latch, and a shudder of fear snapped her out of her hypnotized state. Her mind kicked into gear, reminding her that creatures made out of water were not normal, that although she’d lived a life believing only in things that were normal, not supernatural, seeing this creature probably changed things forever.

  The sparkling water creature she saw through the window could not be a good thing. And most likely, it had something to do with her son.

  She stepped back, her hand rising involuntarily to her mouth as the shock of her visitor hit home. Somehow she knew that something terrible was about to happen.

  The creature’s watery hand reached out and grabbed the outside door handle, rattling it again. Lorena couldn’t actually see the knob from her angle, and she wondered how the thing grasped o
bjects if it was made only out of liquid. Then better sense told her that now probably wasn’t the best time to figure out the physics of the situation, and that she’d better run.

  But just as she took a step away from the door, the creature melted right in front of her, the water crashing to the pavement outside with a loud splash. It was as if a force field or an invisible membrane had been holding the thing together, and it had been abruptly taken away, leaving nothing to hold the body together. She realized she’d been holding her breath and sucked in a huge gulp of air in relief. Whatever it had been, whatever purpose…

  Her thoughts were cut short when movement down by her feet caught her vision.

  In the thin space between the door’s lower edge and the short strip of wood that kept out the wind and bugs, a three-foot wide sheet of water began pouring through and onto the kitchen floor. A puddle formed in a matter of seconds, somehow deepening into a narrow pool on the flat linoleum surface.

  Before Lorena could react, a horrendous crash rocked the house, the sounds of crunched metal and shredded wood thundering through the air like a sonic boom.

  Even as her hands rose to cover her ears, even as the beginnings of a scream formed somewhere in the back of her throat, Lorena saw the puddle at her feet bubble and churn, swirling, coalescing into a bulbous glob, like a huge see-through water balloon about to burst.

  And then the glob rose toward the ceiling, slowly reforming its human shape.

  The scream finally escaped Lorena’s mouth.


  Tick had faltered when the car hit the house. He was too stunned to move. Of all the things he’d expected to see when he came home, it wasn’t this.

  He shook himself out of his daze and ran for the mangled mess of the garage. A hissing sound came from within, the engine letting out its last, dying breath. Smoke and dust billowed out, attacking Tick’s lungs with a vengeance. Coughing, he kicked at the loose metal and broken boards, digging his way in to see if his dad was okay.