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Tactical



Copyright 2017 J. R. Arthur

Published by J. R. Arthur at Smashwords







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Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1

Tactical – Opening Moves

Chapter 2

Not So Innocent

Chapter 3

Inside the Toolshed

Chapter 4

Dragon Glyph

Chapter 5

Lightning Strike

Chapter 6

Fleeting Insight

Chapter 7

Dragon Tech

Chapter 8

Didn’t See This Coming

Chapter 9

The Trick Shot

Chapter 10

A Close Call

Chapter 11

Close Friends

Chapter 12

Trapped

Chapter 13

Popsicle Stand

Chapter 14

Unconscious

Chapter 15

Ninja

Chapter 16

A Trail to Follow

Chapter 17

Stealth

Chapter 18

Waiting

Chapter 19

Something Was Wrong

Chapter 20

Trapped Again

Chapter 21

A Not-so-solid Wall

Chapter 22

Ninja

Chapter 23

Unscathed

Chapter 24

Fair Game

Chapter 25

Robots

Chapter 26

Portals

Chapter 27

Surprise Attack

Chapter 28

My AI Is Better

Chapter 29

AI Control

Chapter 30

Summoned

Chapter 31

Time Stream

Chapter 32

Small Adjustments

Chapter 33

Déjà Vu

Chapter 34

Low Tech

Chapter 35

Potawatomi

Chapter 36

Train Ride

Chapter 37

Pitch Black

Chapter 38

Dragon-Spell

Chapter 39

A Quiet Talk

Chapter 40

Colton

Chapter 41

A Bigger Threat

Chapter 42

Colton – Unexpected Changes

Chapter 43

Reality

Chapter 44

Kyli

Chapter 45

Untraceable

Chapter 46

Google’s AI

Chapter 47

Tracking

Chapter 48

Multiple Discoveries

Chapter 49

Captured

Chapter 50

Take No Prisoners

Chapter 51

Digging Deeper

Chapter 52

Out-hacked!

Chapter 53

Unexpected Help

Chapter 54

David and Joshua

Chapter 55

Kill Switch

Chapter 56

Who and How

Chapter 57

Why and How

Chapter 58

Chosen

Chapter 59

NASA’s Security

Chapter 60

The Rest of Summer

Chapter 61

AI Next Steps

Chapter 62

Real Friends, Real Girlfriends

Chapter 63

Captive, With an Audience

Chapter 64

Letting Go

Chapter 65

Insights

Chapter 66

AI Code

Chapter 67

Dragons

Chapter 68

Kyli’s Untold Story

Chapter 69

Death to All Dragons

Chapter 70

Dragon Mind

Chapter 71

Mind Controlled

Chapter 72

Tactical – Closing Moves

Chapter 73

Reset

Chapter 74

Answers

Chapter 75

Hidden Agenda

Chapter 76

Security Measures

Chapter 77

Trust

Chapter 78

A Calculated Risk

Chapter 79

Real Friends, Real Girlfriends, Revisited

Chapter 80

Worth a Shot

Chapter 81

Until We Meet Again

Epilogue

Prologue

On the other side of the train track, mountains loomed over us. Huge, dark mountains full of sharp stones. Jen stepped up beside me and grabbed my hand.

“Kyli, look” she whispered, her voice sounding both scared and excited. She pointed with her other hand toward one of the mountains.

Halfway up the mountain I saw something that looked like a hill. It was hard to tell at first, but the hill was moving, slowly at first, then it picked up speed.

“Ah,” I thought to myself, a wave of anticipation running through me. “So it begins.”

A moment later, I saw its eyes, then the neck. Its head was turning toward us and its eyes were looking right at us. Ms. K gasped in surprise.

“Don’t look into its eyes,” said Jen. “You never look at them in the eyes when they’re in full dragon form!”

As the dragon lifted its head and uncoiled its neck, I saw that it was a huge one.

“The mountain,” said Ms. K out of breath. “It’s a dragon!”

I could tell the dragon was having an effect on Ms. K. She was being seduced by it and would be overcome in a matter of seconds if we didn’t intervene.

“Are we here to talk to a dragon?” asked Ms. K stepping toward it. She was breathing heavily. Her chest was rising and falling in an all-too-sensual way, and she had a dreamy look in her eyes. I knew she’d stopped fighting the dragon-spell.

“No,” I told her, and with all my strength, I slapped the crap out of her. So satisfying!

Ms. K fell flat on her ass and her head bounced off the ground. She was still a little dazed, but I could tell the spell had been broken.

“David is here to talk to the dragon. We’re here to be very quiet and hope the dragon doesn’t notice us,” I said. “Stay down and keep your mouth shut!”

Chapter 1

Tactical – Opening Moves

“Hey Kyli, check this out” said Colton. “The toolshed door isn’t locked.”

“So?” I answered.

He pulled on the toolshed door, and it opened a crack.

“Stop screwing around with that,” I told him. “It’s supposed to be locked. You’re going to get in trouble if anyone sees you opening the door. And worse, you’re going to get me in trouble!”

“It’s not my fault the door is unlocked,” he answered. “Besides, why would anyone get in trouble just for looking inside the toolshed?”

“Because they have tools in there. Sharp tools. It’s against school rules to have sharp anything. This is something really dumb to get in trouble about!” I answered. I didn’t really think there was a chance of getting in trouble, but I had the feeling the toolshed door wasn’t unlocked by accident.

I’d known Colton for about a year and we’d had an intense love-hate relationship since day one. He was always getting in trouble for the dumbest things and dragging me down with him. I hated how easily he pulled me into whatever he was doing, but somehow I just couldn’t help myself. We didn’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend thing going, not exactly, but I was sure he’d like it to get to that point.

A little back and forth flirting seemed ok if things didn’t go too far.

“Come on,” he said reaching out and grabbing my hand. “Just a quick look inside. It’ll be fun.”

I looked up at him and knew right away where this was going. He had his mischievous smile on and was putting down the charm full force. Ugh! This was not going to end well.

I looked around trying to find a way to get out of this without making a scene, but I couldn’t think of anything. He gave my hand a gentle pull, and I let myself take a step closer to him. Not helpful. I could feel his breath on me…and it felt nice. My body was reacting in the totally wrong way.

“Colton, I’m not…” I started to say but wasn’t sure what to say next.

Dammit, the line in the sand had moved a bit in the last few weeks, and I’d let it happen.

Chapter 2

Not So Innocent

My mind flashed back to New Year’s Eve, just over a month ago. I rarely go to parties but it was New Year’s, and my best friend Jen dragged me along to this one.

The party was full of teenagers, most of them half-drunk, hoping for an excuse to get in a good squeeze and maybe a bit more out of anyone standing nearby who looked nice when the New Year’s ball dropped in Times Square.

The unspoken rule was, if you were still there at midnight, you were fair game.

It was almost midnight and we were checking out guys, wondering who was hooking up with whom. A few guys had stopped by to check us out too but we weren’t really interested.

Colton was there with some of his friends and made his way to where we were standing. I could see him out of the corner of my eye and was doing my best to ignore him. I knew why he was hanging around, but there was no way I was going to let him kiss me. Jen and I were there to keep each other safe from any unwanted would-be kissers.

When the count-down to midnight started, Jen leaned in and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek.

“Happy New Year!” she said with a smile, just seconds before the clock struck midnight. I smiled back and wished her a Happy New Year as well. I turned toward the large television in the room hoping to see ball drop but was startled to see Colton standing in front of me, and so close. Then, it was midnight.

The moment the ball dropped, I felt Colton’s hand brush a strand of hair out of my face. I completely froze, knowing what was coming next.

“Sorry,” I heard Jen say beside me. She was standing only a foot or two away, but her words seemed to be coming from somewhere far away.

A moment later, Colton’s hand tipped my chin up toward his face and I felt his lips touch mine. I was still frozen in place but all thoughts of stopping him left the moment he kissed me. My mouth opened and I kissed him back before I realized what I was doing. It felt nice.

And then…it was over. He pulled back and smiled and wished me a Happy New Year. I stood there looking back with my mouth half open, a little drool on my lips and my eyes half closed. To my eternal embarrassment, I even leaned back in and tried to kiss him again before my mind kicked in. Ugh. There was no way to even pretend it hadn’t happened. A slow mischievous smile spread across his face, and I knew I hadn’t heard the end of this from him.

This was not exactly my idea of a first kiss, a romantic first kiss, but it was nice. Surprisingly nice. And that was how an innocent Happy New Year kiss turned our friendship into a not-so-innocent one.

Chapter 3

Inside the Toolshed

So, that was then and now here we were. The past few weeks had been filled with awkward moments between us. I told him, repeatedly, I was not interested in a boyfriend. And he told me, just as often, that he wasn’t interested in a girlfriend either. But the flirting between us was non-stop and more than once led to a stolen kiss or two. I could tell this is where we were headed right now, unless I put a stop to it!

“Not gonna happen,” I said and pushed him away. “Not today, at least,” I added to lighten the mood.

He was about to shut the toolshed door but after a quick glance inside, his eyes widened.

For a second, I hesitated. Colton was still looking inside the toolshed and I got caught up in the moment. I stepped around him to look, thinking vaguely this was just an attempt to get me alone with him in the toolshed, but the moment I looked inside, I froze.

A large plywood wall near the back of the shed had fallen off. Immediately behind it, I could see a huge metal door just barely hanging on from the top of the shed. There was a barely perceptible burnt smell inside the toolshed as well.

I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, but I could tell something was way off. Off in a dangerous way. I couldn’t pinpoint it right away, but every instinct I had was telling me to shut the door and run.

The night before it had rained a lot. This area had been hit with a huge thunderstorm. One of the lightning strikes must have hit the shed and caused the damage I was looking at. But there was more to it than just that. There had been just enough water falling through a hole in the roof, and falling in just the right spot to cause a small short.

A small control panel near the front of the room was giving out short bursts of energy, clearly affected by the rainwater still on it. It was the control panel that freaked me out. Without thinking, I grabbed a rag on a nearby wall and threw it on the panel. The rag soaked up most of the water but there was a sudden burst and the control panel went dead.

I took a step closer to it to get a better look, but I couldn’t see it anymore. It took me a moment to realize how cleverly concealed it was. Now that it had no power, I couldn’t even tell it was there. I would need a flashlight to find it again and even then, there wouldn’t be much to see. Without power, it would look like a small piece of black glass sunk a few inches into the wall.

“Colton, go get David,” I said in a loud whisper. “And Jen”, I added after a moment. “Tell them I found something unusual. Unusual tech. Hurry. And close the door behind you.”

Colton nodded and took off.

Chapter 4

Dragon Glyph

I used the rag to wipe off any other water around the control panel, which was a dumb thing to do in retrospect. I could’ve gotten myself shocked.

Using the flashlight app on my Android phone, I looked around for light switches, hoping to get some real light inside the toolshed. No luck. The only switch I found was dead.

David would be here in a moment, and he’d know what to do.

Ugh.

David was the other guy in my life. The guy I’d had a crush on since I started going to this school and the only reason I’d never officially hooked up with Colton. Not that I would ever tell him that. I couldn’t even admit it to myself.

I was still lost in my own thoughts when the door flew open. Colton stepped in, followed closely by David, and my heart skipped a beat. Then Jen stepped in after David. Jen was probably my only close girlfriend and a regular member of our small group.

David’s cousin, Joshua, stepped through the doorway as well. Joshua was a year or two younger than the rest of us, but we let him tag along with us anyway.

“I found something,” I said, trying to gather my thoughts. “It’s over there.” I pointed to the spot where the dead control panel was.

Everyone gathered around me and tried looking at the spot I was pointing at.

“It’s just a hole,” said Joshua, rolling his eyes.

“Is not,” I answered, glaring at him. “It was powered up a moment ago. It looks like a hole now, but only because it got zapped by rainwater.”

What the hell was Joshua doing here anyway? He was like having an annoying little brother around, and whenever I got caught up in a conversation with him, I felt like I reverted to my pre-teen years.

Jen leaned in to look. She reached in with her hand and moved it around the area where the panel was, trying to feel around it.

“I think I found something,” she said.

It was a thin piece of plastic and it looked like it was made to slide sideways in and out of the wall to cover the hole where the control panel was.

“Huh,” she said. “It’s just like those doors that slide out of a wall…but instead of a door, it’s covering the control panel hole.”

Jen slid the cover completely out of the way and shined a flashlight into the hole.

The control panel was completely dark, but we could see the outline of something—a symbol of some sort—showing through it.

The black material the control panel was made of was absorbing the beam from the flashlight. No light was reflected, making it very hard to decipher what the symbol was.

“It’s a dragon glyph,” said Jen after about a minute of staring at it.

Chapter 5

Lightning Strike

“What?” I said taking a step closer and trying to get a better look. “How?”

I was looking at David hoping for an answer. We all were.

“No idea” was all he said. He seemed just as baffled as the rest of us.

A moment later Jen pointed the flashlight towards the fallen plywood panel and the large metal door barely hanging from its hinge.

“Did lightning do all this?” she asked.

“Yeah, I guess” I answered. “This is what it looked like when we found it. The control panel had some odd symbols flashing on it before it went dead. They looked familiar, but I couldn’t put a finger on what they were. Dragon glyphs! I should have recognized them. Sorry guys, the whole thing freaked me out, and I asked Colton to go get you.”

There was a moment of silence where I could practically hear everyone thinking, What were you and Colton doing inside a dark toolshed together anyway?

Thank God no one said it out loud. I would’ve died of embarrassment!

“So, what were you and Colton doing inside a dark toolshed together anyway?” asked Joshua a moment later.

I could practically feel the ground open and swallow me.

I gave Colton a quick glance and saw he was wearing a very satisfied smile on his face. Ugh! Why did I let him pull me into situations like these?

At least David and Jen were polite enough to pretend they hadn’t heard the question. And that made it almost worse. I didn’t want David thinking I was getting romantically involved with Colton. God, I didn’t even know what the hell I was doing with Colton.

“Were you guys making-out?” whispered Joshua in Colton’s direction, in a way-too-loud voice.

“No,” I blurted out, trying to stop this from going any further.

“We were about to,” answered Colton, acting like I wasn’t even there.

“No, we were not about to,” I said a little louder than I should have.

“Were too,” said Joshua with a knowing smile.

“Were not!” I yelled back at him.

Oh, my God! How did I end up in a “were-to, were-not” yelling match with a fourteen-year-old kid about making out with a guy I wasn’t in love with, while the guy I was completely in love with was standing just a few feet away?

I tried to think of Joshua as a little brother because he was David’s younger cousin and David treated him like a little brother. But truth be told, he was a fourteen-year-old kid just learning about puberty, and he had a major crush on me. That meant I was the subject of almost everything that came out of his mouth, and in some form or other, his remarks were always about body parts (my body parts) or what my body parts were doing or about to do.

“Can we just focus on the issue at hand?” I said trying to sound mature and hoping my voice wouldn’t come out in a squeak.

“Fine,” said Colton. “And that would be…?”

“The mysterious control panel with the dragon glyphs on it. For all I know, it wasn’t made in this world. The fake plywood wall, the enormous metal door that’s about to fall off its hinges. All those things. Any of those things. Pick one.”

“Ok,” said David, holding the control panel in his hand. “We have a very interesting piece of tech here that we’re taking with us to examine later.”

While I’d engaged his cousin in a battle of wits, David had been busy removing the control panel from its hiding place. He put it inside his jacket and turned toward the metal door.

“That door won’t stay where it is for more than a day or so,” he said. “When it falls, it’s going to make a lot of noise. We can either walk away, wait for it to fall and see who shows up to investigate when it does, or we can repair it, make everything look the way it was before lightning hit the toolshed, and take the opportunity to explore whatever is being kept behind the metal door.”

“If we make repairs, we’ll have to return the control panel after we fix it,” said Jen. “Otherwise, they—whoever they are—will know someone was in here snooping around.”

After talking about it for a moment, we decided to go with the “repair and explore” option.

David laid out the plan for us. “We only have tonight to work on the control panel. We need to have it back in place tomorrow, whether it’s working or not. Fixing the door is going to be tricky. The hinges that tore off need to be replaced. We’ll need to punch new holes through it to make room for the new hinges. It’s going to be noisy, so we’ll need a distraction. And, the only time we have to do this is during tomorrow’s recess.”

“No,” interrupted Jen. “The school science fair starts tomorrow. We’ll have a full class period before recess and a full class period right after recess. Kids will be running around from booth to booth trying to win as many tickets as possible for the raffle. It’ll be noisy already. We just need to add our own little bit of noise to make sure no one hears what we’re doing in the toolshed.”

With a plan in place, we all left the toolshed and hurried back to class before the end-of-recess bell rang.

Chapter 6

Fleeting Insight

The rest of the school day seemed to drag. I couldn’t wait to be done and get out. When the last bell rang at the end of the day, I ran to the front door where I met up with the others. We made a quick list of things we were going to need and agreed to meet back at David’s house as soon as possible.

Mom wasn’t home from work when I stopped by my house after school, so I wrote a quick note telling her I was going over to David’s place with Jen and a few other friends. I spent a lot of time there, and Mom knew David’s parents. She was always ok with me heading over to their place, and leaving a quick note about it wasn’t out of the ordinary. I grabbed my list of “needed tools” and ran up to my room to look for them.

David and I were going to tackle the control panel. It was tech and tech was my thing. It was also David’s thing and the reason I spent most of my free time with him. I was loading up my backpack with the tools I thought I’d need to work on the control panel, but my mind started to wander.

When I stopped to think about it, I couldn’t believe how much I loved spending time with David. I was completely smitten. When he was with me, things just clicked. I could think better, I could laugh easier, I could be myself completely. I felt alive and real and overwhelmingly happy. I could tell it was the same for him.

Oh my God, what was I even thinking about stealing occasional kisses with Colton? I had to seriously review some of the decisions I’d been making lately.

David should be my only focus. Except, somehow, a distance had been growing between us. I could feel it, even if I couldn’t put a finger on how it was happening. Something had happened recently that had pushed him away. It wasn’t the thing with Colton; I was sure it wasn’t. Something else was going on.

For a while, I thought he and Jen were beginning to spend a little too much time together, but that wasn’t it either. At least, I hoped it wasn’t that.

Jen was gorgeous and smart and fun to be with. She also seemed to have a thing for David, but for some reason, it had never turned into a romantic thing. I was sure he didn’t have a thing for her. I would’ve known if there was more going on between them. I’m sure I would.

I reached over for my bottle of Tums and popped a couple of them in my mouth hoping they would calm my suddenly queasy stomach. Strangely, I got the feeling Jen knew what was going on with David, but whatever it was, she didn’t feel it was her place to talk about it. As much as I wanted to know, I didn’t feel it was my place to push Jen for the details.

Everything still seemed great on the surface with David, but somehow it wasn’t. For starters, we didn’t exactly flirt anymore.

The moment I thought about it, my mind did a mental flip.

Most of my time with David, up until recently, had been one big flirtatious marathon. When did that stop? Why did it stop? How hadn’t I noticed? I tried to focus on it and found that I couldn’t. Not because it was painful, but because I simply couldn’t. My mind just wouldn’t go there. What was going on?

I could feel a slight headache starting up, so I took a couple of aspirin to deal with it. A moment later, I finished packing, pulled out my cell phone and texted David to let him know I was on my way.

Chapter 7

Dragon Tech

Jen was already there when I arrived. David’s parents told me my friends were down in the basement. I wasn’t sure what David’s parents thought about our little group. We were obviously nerds and most of our conversations sounded like something you’d read in a sci-fi book, but they always seemed glad to see me and they made me feel right at home.

I grabbed a couple of bags of popcorn from their pantry, vaguely thinking they only stocked up on popcorn because of me, and ran down the stairs hoping I hadn’t missed anything.

Their basement was like a home away from home for me. Half of it looked like a robotics lab and the other half was designed for comfort. I made a beeline for the microwave and threw in one of the bags. While it popped, I sauntered over to see what Jen and David were doing.

David was sitting on a chair in the lab side of the basement, Jen was looking over his shoulder, leaning into him way too much in my opinion. They already had the control panel out on the table and were tinkering with it. I forgot all about the popcorn and joined in.

“Have you figured anything out about it yet?” I asked trying unsuccessfully to shoulder myself in between Jen and David.

“A few things,” answered Jen, playfully shoving me away. “But we’re still trying to figure out how it works.”

She casually tossed her hair over her shoulder when she looked back at me, smiled, then leaned over David’s shoulder again.

My stomach did a little flip and I paused trying to take in the situation. That was exactly the kind of casual hair toss and body language I used to get guys to check me out. Was there anything here for me to worry about?

David didn’t seem to notice, much. He kept his eyes on Jen the whole time but only because she’d been talking. He was just being polite.

Jen was naturally sultry…and tall, and slim, and athletic. She had a playful personality and a beautiful smile. It would be weird if David didn’t notice a little bit at least. The mini-skirt she was wearing would’ve made most guys stare, but he only gave her legs a casual glance. A casually lingering glance, but that was normal for any guy.

I was tall and slim and athletic too and I looked great in my short black skirt and tights. I wouldn’t exactly describe myself as sultry, but I was definitely hot. And had a great personality! Guys paid attention when I wanted them to. My long dark hair was just as striking as Jen’s long wavy blonde hair…

“You ok?” I heard Jen ask, interrupting my train of thought.

Both Jen and David were looking over at me, waiting for me to join them at the table. I was standing a few feet behind them looking in the wrong direction, lost in my own thoughts.

“I’m fine” I answered, giving them my best smile.

I walked around to David’s other side and leaned in from there. Casually, I tossed my hair over my shoulder trying to make eye contact with David, but he was already focused on the control panel.

Focus Kyli, I told myself, and zeroed in on the task at hand.

I didn’t get a chance to look at the device earlier but assumed it was electric. It had shorted-out on us back in the toolshed.

“It doesn’t have any connecting cables,” I said picking it up and turning it over. “Or jacks to plug into…”

“No, it doesn’t,” answered David.

“It seems to be completely enclosed, all in one piece.” I was baffled. How had it shorted-out? There were no cracks or anything for water to get into. I loved solving puzzles and was already psyched about this one.

For some time now, we’d been aware of the existence of dragons. That’s right, dragons! Learning as much about them as we could had become an obsession. The few things we knew so far boiled down to this: They were technically advanced, more so than almost anything we’d seen before. All of them wore a kind of jewelry—we called it dragon-tech—that either amplified their natural powers or provided the powers for them.

Oh, and they could somehow transform. Sometimes they looked like dragons, sometimes they looked like humans. Sometimes they even turned into animals, like birds, dogs, or cats. We had no idea why but it was a thing. We knew when a cat was a dragon because of the collar. Always the same spooky-black material with the faint dragon-glyphs on it. Oh yeah, and they talked. Even in their animal form. You think it’s weird having a strange cat follow you around for no reason? You’d be surprised how freaky it is if it starts talking.

We’d seen them use their tech on several occasions, but the few times we asked about it, we had been met with silence. Whatever secrets were hidden inside their gadgets were still a mystery to us.

Discreetly, we’d been taking pictures and recording video of their devices hoping to see them in action and maybe figure out how the tech worked. So far we’d learned very little. The biggest take-away were the dragon glyphs embedded in each device. Every necklace, bracelet, ring or earring they wore had very faint, very hard-to-see glyphs just below the surface. The glyphs lit up whenever the devices were active.

Their jewelry—every single piece—was made of the same black, light-absorbing material as the control panel we found. This was the first time we’d gotten our hands on a piece of dragon-tech and we were determined to learn as much about it as we could.

I started pulling things out of my backpack, ready to take a crack at this thing. Before I could even get started, Jen stopped me.

“I’ll give you a clue,” she told me. “It’s magnetic.”

“Oh?” I pulled out several screwdrivers and laid them out on the table. I grabbed one of them and moved it over and around the control panel hoping for a reaction, but nothing happened. I put the screwdriver back down, picked up the control panel and moved it over the screwdrivers. I made sure every bit of its surface was exposed to metal, but still no reaction.

I also pulled out a small magnet from my backpack and moved it around the control panel. Nothing.

“How can you tell?” I asked, puzzled.

“Watch this,” she answered. She stepped away from the table and walked to the other end of the basement. Then she started walking back toward us. She was wearing socks and doing a good job of shuffling her feet on her way over to us.

“Don’t touch me,” she said when she got close. “David, ready?”

He nodded and placed the control panel upside-down on the table. When Jen was close enough she leaned in. She was wearing a pair of long earrings that dangled just below her shoulders. Her face was barely an inch from the device and suddenly, I saw both her earrings snap onto it.

“Huh,” I said to no one in particular.

“Not done yet,” she added. “David, ready?”

“Yep,” he said and grabbed her hand. The moment he did, Jen lost her charge and the magnet stopped working. Her earrings went back to dangling below her ears.

“Huh,” I said again. “So it is electric. At least you need a power source, like electricity or maybe even the charge created by your own body, for it to activate.”

I was beginning to understand the mechanism, and it opened a world of possibilities. Did all dragon-tech work the same? Is that how they powered their jewelry?

“One last thing,” said David. “You couldn’t see it but when Jen’s earrings touched the control panel, the glyphs on the front lit up.”

Jen walked back to the other end of the room for her demonstration one more time. This time, the control panel was laid sideways on the table, with the front facing me. Jen made her way back, leaned in with her head closest to the bottom of the device, and I heard her earrings snap against it. The moment they did, the glyphs on the control panel lit up!

She held her position for a few more seconds, then said, “David?”

David grabbed her hand and as soon as he did, the control panel went dead again.

They were both smiling at me and I couldn’t help smiling back.

Chapter 8

Didn’t See This Coming

Colton arrived several hours later. When he did, we told him about the control panel and what we knew so far. The magnet that activated when there was a power source was only the beginning. We explained that part and went into the more exciting discovery.

“It uses Bluetooth technology,” I blurted out. I already had my Android phone in my hand and my BTScanner app running. “Check it out.”

Colton walked over for a closer look while I demonstrated. We’d rigged up a power source for the control panel and it was lit up.

“Let’s start with the device off,” I told him and flipped the switch on the power source to off. My Bluetooth scanner showed items we were already aware of: the Bluetooth speakers in the basement and a few other things.

“Now flip the power back on,” I told Jen. She reached over and flipped the switch for me. The panel lit up with all the glyphs coming to life. My Bluetooth scanner blipped showing us the new signal in the room.

“There’s more,” I said super-excited. “You can pair it up with anything.”

This part was tricky. We had no real idea how it worked, but we’d been pushing buttons for the last 2 hours and were getting results. I pulled a piece of paper off the table. It was full of glyph combinations: I’d written everything out; every combination we tried was spelled out on paper. I stepped up to the control panel and started punching away.

A few moments later, a self-test page started printing on the wireless printer across the room.

Surprise! I thought. I looked at Colton waiting for a reaction.

Nothing.

Maybe he missed the part where our secure, wireless printer printed out a page that was sent to it from a stolen dragon-made control panel.

“Are you paying attention?” I asked picking up the page that printed and handing it to him. “I just printed out a page on our wireless printer using the control panel. On our secure printer. On our secure, encrypted connection.”

“So it has glorified Bluetooth tech,” he answered. “What else does it do?”

“It hacked into our printer,” I told him. “It’s supposed to be a secure connection. If it can do that, what else can it hack into?”

“I was hoping it could open a doorway into some other dragon dimension. That would be cool,” he said, a tinge of excitement in his voice.

“Fine,” I told him. Secretly, I was hoping it could do something like that too, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. “Wanna look at all the combinations we’ve tried and which ones did stuff?” I said instead.

“I would love to,” he answered stepping between Jen and I and casually putting an arm around each of us. “Show me what you got.”

“Sure,” said Jen stepping away from him and leaning over the table to grab her notes. “We can start with this.”

She spun around to face him and at the same time, backed up, smoothly landing on David’s lap.

I stared at her like an idiot. What just happened? This had never happened before.

I watched while she laid her papers neatly in front of her on the table and started talking about different glyph combinations.

Any moment now, David is going to realize she’s on his lap and ask her to move, I thought. He just hasn’t noticed.

Horrified, I watched while David placed his arm around her. He was looking at her papers while she talked. I kept staring at them, not hearing a word Jen was saying. The only thing I could hear was my heart pounding in my ears.

This is not happening, I told myself.

I stepped toward them trying to get their attention. When I did, Jen looked up and shrugged. What did you expect? I could almost hear her say. He’s cute.

She smiled and leaned back into him.

“Kyli, relax,” I heard Colton saying. “You look like you’re about to spaz.”

Vaguely, I realized he had his hand on my neck and was rubbing it.

Not what I want David to see, I thought stepping away from him.

“I’m just tired,” I told him, not sure what else to say. I wasn’t ready to go home but I also didn’t want to stick around and watch Jen and David spending time with each other…like this.

How the hell did this happen? It’s supposed to be me on his lap, not her.

I looked over at Jen. She was stunning. Of course David would be interested. It was only a matter of time before this happened.

“You ready to go?” I heard Colton saying.

Yes, I thought already heart-broken. But not with you.

I gave Colton a nod and moved toward him. What else was I going to do?

Colton reached out and grabbed my hand, pulling me closer to him.

“You look nice” he whispered.

He used his other hand to tilt my head up toward his and I knew he was about to kiss me.

Not in front of David, I thought, feeling like my world was crumbling around me. Please, not in front of David.

Once again, I found myself frozen in place, eyes half closed, my mouth reaching out for his.

What is wrong with me? I wondered vaguely, but the thought seemed far away, too far to make a difference.

To my surprise, Jen jumped off David’s lap and stepped between me and Colton before I embarrassed myself too much. She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me toward the basement stairs.

“You’re a sloppy kisser” she whispered in my ear, while I wiped a bit of drool from my mouth. Jen turned toward the guys and a little louder added, “I’m ready to go too”.

“I am not a sloppy kisser” I whispered back, slightly irritated by the situation. “Colton’s a sloppy kisser!”

Why was I having this strange conversation with Jen?

Jen stood right in front of me and looked me right in the eyes for a moment. After a second or two I leaned in and bumped my forehead against hers. She smiled and bumped her nose against my nose.

I was still jealous but I could see she was trying to cheer me up. She knew what was up and probably felt guilty. I did my best to shake it off.

“Sorry,” I told her. “I’m being a grump.”

She didn’t answer. Instead, she looked over at the guys and announced we were taking off.

“Girls only,” she said when Colton tried to join in.

A moment later, we were running up the stairs together. I knew this was a turning point for us. If Jen and David hooked up…I couldn’t even think about it. But it would change things.

Chapter 9

The Trick Shot

The next day, right before English class ended, an announcement was made over the school intercom system. The school science fair was about to officially begin. Originally, it was going to be held in the gym, but thanks to the unusually warm weather, all the booths had been setup outdoors.

The science fair was also a fundraising opportunity for the school. There were challenges at each booth, and each successfully completed challenge earned you a ticket toward one of the two upcoming raffles.

First prize was a limo ride for the winner and three of his or her friends to the restaurant of their choice, all expenses paid. Last year’s winner asked the limo driver to take them to the Girl and Goat restaurant on the West side of the city, about a 2-hour ride from the school…and the driver took them! So cool! The tab ended up being close to $600 and the school paid it. The principal also made sure everyone knew about it. It was their way of promoting science-minded school events. Competition for raffle tickets would be intense this year. Second prize was a $200 Walmart gift certificate. Kind of lame, but still, $200 was $200.

To make things interesting, the science department had a weird-looking spherical container hovering about 30 feet in the air full of raffle tickets. There were hundreds of raffle tickets up for grabs to whoever solved their puzzle. They were calling it the Ultimate Science Challenge, and the goal was to explain how the locking mechanism that kept the sphere closed worked and how to disable it in order to get to the tickets inside. We had a plan to draw both students and teachers away from the toolshed, but if all else failed, we were going to use the floating globe as one of our distractions. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to that.

As soon as the bell rang, David grabbed his backpack and ran out the door. I grabbed my backpack and followed. Jen and Colton were right behind. When Joshua finally joined, we quickly reviewed the plan.

“Raffle tickets?” asked David.

“Got them!” I answered.

“Paper bags?” asked David.

“Got them!” said Jen.

“Marbles?” asked David.

“Got them!” said Joshua.

“String and fish hooks?” asked David.

“Got them!” said Colton.

“And I have the slingshots. We’re ready!” said David.

Each of us knew what to do. I took half the tickets and one of the paper bags. Jen took the rest of the tickets and the other paper bag. I put my tickets—hundreds of fake tickets, but good enough to create a distraction—right in the middle of the track, about 200 feet from the toolshed, and carefully covered them with the bag. I made sure the handles were sticking up in the air. The bottom of the paper bag was cut out so it could easily sit over the tickets.

David, Joshua and Colton walked over to the toolshed and pulled out the marbles. They used the string to tie the fishhooks to the marbles. When they were done, David and Joshua pulled out the slingshots, put a marble in each of them and waited for the signal.

A moment later, I saw Jen walking my way. I picked up my pace and casually gave her a high-five while she walked past me. That was the signal.

Joshua was the first one to shoot. He pulled back the slingshot and let go. A moment later, his marble was racing through the air, the fishhook hanging just below it. The marble went right over the bag I placed on the track and the fishhook caught the bag’s handle pulling it right off the ground. The fake raffle tickets spilled everywhere. It would only be a moment before students noticed and started running to get them! The plan was working! But a nearby teacher saw the pile of tickets and ran over to cover it up before any students noticed.

“It’s ok,” said Jen. “We only need one distraction and we still have the tickets from the other bag. Can you hit it with your slingshot from way over here David?” she asked.

We all looked over at the other bag. It was much farther away. David would have to be very lucky to hit it at all.

“I’ll try my best,” said David. He pulled back on his slingshot, aimed and was about to let go when a group of students walked right in the path of where the marble would have to go to hit the bag. There was no way David could make the shot now. And what was worse, more students were starting to pour into the yard. A few more seconds and the place would be too crowded to even try and make a shot. The opportunity would be lost!

“Just shoot!” I told him nervously.

“It’s now or never!” added Jen.

Colton and Joshua were already inside the toolshed, ready to punch holes through the metal door for the new hinges. They were just waiting for our distraction to happen; we needed to draw the crowd away from the shed for this to work.

“Here goes…” said David, and he shot the marble. The marble flew too far to the left of where the students were standing. It wouldn’t accidentally hit a student, but it also wouldn’t hit the bag.

I grabbed Jen’s hand as we both watched the marble fly. It seemed to be moving in slow motion.

“Wait for it,” said David. “It’s a trick shot.”

I had no idea what he meant, but a moment later, I was amazed to see the marble hit the tree behind the bag, bounce off and fly just over the bag. The fishhook that was hanging from the marble caught the bag’s handle.

“Look at all those raffle tickets!” someone shouted.

A moment later, students from all over the yard were rushing over to grab as many tickets as they could. Teachers started running too, to try and stop them.

“Good work,” said Jen.

“That was amazing,” I added, grabbing his hand and pulling him into the toolshed with me. Jen followed and closed the door behind us.

In a matter of moments, Joshua and Colton were done with the door. David pulled the control panel out of his backpack, and it took us only a few seconds to put it back in place. The night before we rigged up a power source to replace the one that had shorted out. When it was ready, I reached in and pushed one of the dragon glyphs on it. The metal door swung open without a sound. We all stepped through eager to see what was waiting on the other side. In the back of my mind I was thinking, Let there be dragons!

A moment later, the metal door swung shut and we were suddenly in the dark!

Chapter 10

A Close Call

Click. The first flashlight turned on. Click, click, click, click. The other four flashlights turned on, and we pointed them all over the tunnel. The narrow tunnel led into a spiraling staircase. We saw that the steps kept going down as far as the eye could see and decided to follow them very carefully and very quietly. After walking for about a minute, the steps ended and we stepped into an underground tunnel.

The tunnel was roughly 20 feet wide, 10 feet high, and seemed to go on forever. Oddly, the floor seemed to be made of tile. There was probably a light switch somewhere but we didn’t know where and didn’t want to risk turning it on anyway. Our flashlights would have to be enough for now.

“Hey,” I heard Jen whisper. “Check it out.”

We all stopped and looked over at her. She was standing in front of a huge metal door.

“Locked,” she whispered again, giving the door handle a try.

“There’s another one over here,” I said finding a door myself. This one was smaller and made of wood.

I grabbed the door handle and gave it a yank, hoping it would give.

No! I thought, as the door slipped out of my hand and flew open, slamming against the wall with a loud bang.

We all froze!

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, extremely embarrassed.

If there had been anyone else down here, they were sure to have heard the noise. A moment later, we heard footsteps coming our way.

“Everybody, through the door, quick. Find a place to hide,” said David in a whisper.

We all rushed in as quietly as we could and closed the door behind us. The room was an office…just an ordinary office. There was a desk in one corner and filing cabinets all over the place. Someone clearly visited down here often.

Dragons, I thought, but why all the secrecy? Why have something like this below the school?

I could hear the footsteps getting closer. High heels on a tile floor. Whoever she was, she was almost to the door. If we didn’t find somewhere to hide right away, we’d be in big trouble!

David ran behind the desk and hid underneath it. Jen hid under the desk with him. I knew things between them were a little…unclear at the moment. A sudden jolt of jealousy shot through me. They were going to be cramped up against each other under the desk while I hid…where?

It was almost too late. Whoever was coming was almost inside the office. I heard the door handle turn and the door begin to open. I took a running leap, jumped over the filing cabinets and landed right on top of Joshua. A second later, our mysterious visitor stepped into the room. I hoped like hell Colton had time to hide but couldn’t tell for sure if he had.

Chapter 11

Close Friends

A moment later, everything we’d been dealing with went completely out of my head.

I had jumped right on top of Joshua and was pressed up against him in a way-too-intimate way. My landing had knocked us both over into a horizontal position with me on top. It was completely my fault and I could just kick myself for getting into this horrifyingly awkward situation.

My body was at an odd angle against his, with all my weight on top of him and—ugh! The way his body was responding made me freeze.

It’s not his fault, I kept saying to myself. This is not intentional.

As quietly as I could, I tried to wiggle around so my body wasn’t so much on top of him and more to the side of him. Unfortunately, my wiggling around did not have the desired effect. I was still completely on top of him and the only thing I’d managed to do was rub myself against him in a shamefully inappropriate way. Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!

At least my chest wasn’t totally pressed up against his anymore. That was something. A moment later I felt him shift slightly. I was doing all I could to try not to think how this was going to go down. A fourteen-year-old kid barely in control of his hormones and here I was not only jumping him, but rubbing myself against him as well.

I tried to mentally sort out which of my body parts were touching his but pressed up the way we were it was too hard to tell. There wasn’t even enough light behind the cabinets to see each other clearly.

This is not intentional, I told myself again. He’s not reacting like this on purpose.

Oh my God, I thought suddenly, I hope he doesn’t think I was rubbing up against him on purpose.

I felt him shift slightly again, painfully aware how our bodies were touching. At least he seemed to be pinned down under me, giving him very little wiggle room to do more than shift around a little.

It’s fine, I told myself for like the hundredth time. Just two good friends pressed up against each other hiding behind some filing cabinets so they don’t get caught for breaking and entering. No biggie.

And just then, I felt the start of a gentle squeeze on my breast. Ugh!

Chapter 12

Trapped

From where they were hiding, David and Jen couldn’t see who the intruder was. They both got their heads as close as they could to the floor so they could peek under the desk, but all they saw were a pair of high-heeled dress shoes walking around the room. Then the shoes stopped moving and a familiar voice said, “There you are! I knew I’d find you here!”


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