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By Eric Elfman
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Nick Slate, in order to protect his father and little brother, reluctantly must help the Accelerati complete Tesla's great device. Their power-mad leader wants nothing less than to control the world's energy — but there are still three missing objects to track down.
Nick's friends can't help him, as they are spread across the globe grappling with their own mysteries — with Vince in Scotland, Caitlin and Mitch on their way to New Jersey, and Petula's whereabouts unknown. On his own, Nick must locate Tesla's final inventions — which are the most powerful of all, capable of shattering time and collapsing space.
Read more in the Accelerati Trilogy:
THE ACCELERATI TRILOGY
Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.
The woman realized she was in trouble the moment she saw the boy at her front door. It was the kid from the garage sale. She screamed and slammed the door in his face.
She had never heard of Nikola Tesla, and had no idea who this boy was. All she knew was that he had sold her something that allowed her to travel in ways she never dreamed possible.
She’d found out quite by accident how the strange globe worked. On the silver arc that held the globe in place, there was a movable arrow. She had rotated the globe and lined up the arrow with Turkey—one of the many exotic places she wished she could visit, but never had. Then she pressed a button on the base that she thought was a light.
She found herself instantly transported to the Istanbul Grand Bazaar. Beside her was the table holding the globe, and beneath her a perfectly circular section of her parquet floor, about four feet in diameter, which had been shorn away by the teleportation field.
A Turkish salesman, unfazed by her sudden appearance, offered to sell her a teapot.
She screamed, hit a second button marked only with an exclamation point, and found herself back home where she’d started…except she, and the table, and the section of floor fell through a perfectly circular hole into her basement.
Rattled but unbroken, she quickly surmised what the globe could do. And her first order of business had been to go back for that teapot.
Since then, she had made jaunts to Spain, Switzerland, China, and even Antarctica, just so she could say she’d been.
She had been contemplating a long-overdue return to her native Scotland when the boy from the garage sale appeared.
Whether he was an angel, a demon, or just some laddie with a magic globe didn’t matter. All that mattered was not letting him take it back.
In her panic, she hit the globe’s button to escape his incessant knocking. She didn’t realize the teleportation field was set to its widest diameter.
For an instant, she didn’t think anything had happened. She was still standing in her house. Then water—very cold water—began to gush in from every window and doorway.
It didn’t take long for her to realize that she had transported her entire house to Scotland, and it had materialized on the surface of one of Scotland’s many infamous lochs.
The lochs of Scotland are known for being unusually deep, unusually murky, and unusual in general. And, as luck would have it, this particular loch was rumored to be home to a monster affectionately known to the locals as “Nessie.”
Unlike ships, which may take hours to sink, a randomly teleported house sinks with remarkable speed and single-minded determination. The house desired nothing more than to be at the bottom of the lake at its earliest possible convenience.
With her transplanted home foundering, the woman forgot anything unrelated to survival. She was not a strong swimmer, but adrenaline can turn even an elderly widow into Wonder Woman.
Fighting the surge of icy water, she climbed upon her floating sofa. There was no way to get out of the first-floor windows, because the lake was pouring in. Not even a salmon could fight that current.
Instead she paddled her way to the staircase, which was leaning at a fun-house angle. Then she made her way to the second floor, and hurled herself out of her bedroom window into the lake.
It was only when she surfaced and looked back that the terror of it all struck her. Her little suburban house, where she had spent the past twenty-some-odd years of her life, was bubbling out its last breath. In a moment, only the roof remained above water, then just the chimney, and finally that was gone in a churning of bubbling white.
And then she remembered. “The globe!”
She could bear the loss of everything else, but not that.
Just then she heard—or more accurately felt—something behind her, moving across the surface of the water. Struggling to stay afloat, she turned, fully expecting to see the dark, inscrutable eyes of a hungry plesiosaurus. Instead, she saw a small fishing boat.
“Hoy! What’s all this, then? You all right there, ma’am?” called an old fisherman.
She tried to answer, but with all her adrenaline spent, she felt herself going down. The fisherman reached out, and with strong arms, pulled her up and into his boat. He gave her his flannel jacket and offered her his thermos of tea.
“So what brings ye to Loch Ness?” the fisherman asked. “And in a house?”
Since the tale was a little tall for the moment, she let her chattering teeth be her only answer.
He put his arm around her to stop her shivering. “There, there,” said the aging fisherman. “My cottage is right there on the shore. You’ll be safe and warm in no time.”
And it occurred to her that this was, in fact, her dream. Not the teleporting-in-a-house-and-almost-drowning part, but the being-in-the-arms-of-a-fisherman-in-the-wilds-of-Scotland part.
She was unaware that life on Earth was about to be threatened by an asteroid, followed by a massive electrical disaster.
All she knew was that she was where she wanted to be, and that the globe, whatever it was, now rested at the bottom of one of the world’s deepest lakes, lost forever.
Welcome to Loyal Order of the Accelerati,” Thomas Edison told Nick Slate. He extended a 170-year-old hand for Nick to shake.
Nick grimaced as his hand clutched Edison’s. It wasn’t just Nick’s burn wounds that made him wince. Even through Nick’s bandage, shaking hands with the man was like holding moist papier-mâché an hour short of drying.
Edison seemed amused by Nick’s response but said nothing of it. He grabbed a little bell from the antique rosewood end table in his antique Victorian home and rang for his housekeeper. She appeared quickly, as if she’d been waiting just outside the door, always at the old man’s beck and call, which, in fact, she was.
“Mrs. Higgenbotham, show Master Slate to his accommodations.”
“More than ’appy to,” she said in her thick cockney accent. “It’s been a long time since we’ve ’ad anyone in the guest room.”
Nick followed her up the stairs, relieved to be, at least for the moment, out of the ancient inventor’s presence.
The woman led him to a small bedroom filled with furniture that his grandmother’s grandmother might have liked, and wallpaper that seemed straight out of an old ice-cream parlor.
“’Ere we are,” said Mrs. Higgenbotham, and then she just stood there smiling at him, happy to let the moment become awkward.
“So,” said Nick, “how does it feel to be a robot working for an evil genius?”
“First of all,” said Mrs. Higgenbotham, “Mr. Edison isn’t evil, ’e’s morally ambiguous. All the greats in ’istory were. Charlemagne. Queen Elizabeth. Michael Jackson. And second, I don’t fancy being called a robot. It’s an oversimplification. I am an anthropomorphic servo-automaton. Although that is a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it? I’d call myself an android, but I don’t want to be confused with a phone. Although I am a phone. But you really don’t want to access that function, dearie. It’s not a pretty sight.”
She clasped her hands and smiled warmly. “Will there be anything else? Some tea, perhaps, or a raspberry scone?”
“No, thank you,” said Nick.
“’Ow about a nice, tall sarsaparilla?”
Since Nick had no idea what that was, he said, “Another time.”
“As you wish, dearie. As you wish. I’ll be back in about an hour to change the dressings on your poor hands.” And she left Nick to ponder his situation.
A secret society of scientists was blackmailing him into reconstructing Tesla’s greatest invention. If he succeeded, it would harness the limitless energy being generated by a copper asteroid that was now a natural satellite, orbiting the earth like the moon. But all that power would be in the hands of the Accelerati, to do with as they pleased.
Nick removed the little pin from his lapel and looked at the golden A crossed by a figure eight. He was Accelerati now. He’d had no choice but to join the organization in order to save his father and brother—Edison had made that clear. But that didn’t mean Nick had to like it. Yet his deepest fear, too deep perhaps for him to even be aware of, was that he would.
It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, but, sadly, she is often a mother who dies in childbirth. Instead, invention is usually raised by its wicked stepmother: greed.
Nick Slate was no more immune to greed than anyone else. He would take the last jelly bean in the jar before his brother could, for instance, and he would scoop out the last spoonful of Ben & Jerry’s while nobody was looking.
On the other hand, he was just as likely to offer half his sandwich to some random kid who’d left his lunch at home that day, or give his skateboard to a kid whose family, he happened to know, was living in a garage.
Human nature is a dance between self-interest and generosity of spirit. Now that Nick was in the bosom of the Accelerati, he was doing that dance on hot coals.
Bright and early the next morning, Nick was summoned to join Edison at the lab.
The fact that Edison was kept alive by a six-foot-tall wet-cell battery of Nikola Tesla’s design by no means meant that he was housebound. He had a travel coach, perhaps built by Henry Ford himself, that accommodated the huge battery and the wheelchair, allowing the “Wizard of Menlo Park” to ride in style.
He didn’t have to ride far, though, because his lab was just a few hundred yards away from his home. And just like his home, his workshop was a perfect replica of his original laboratory.
“Today begins a future brighter than you can possibly imagine,” Edison told Nick as they entered the building. “Hold your head high. You are Accelerati now. There is no pursuit in this world more noble than ours.”
Nick found that harder to swallow than Mrs. Higgenbotham’s raspberry scones, which were dry, crusty, and seemed to contain only virtual raspberries.
“And what pursuit is that?” Nick asked, not even trying to hide his bitterness.
“Excellence for the sake of excellence,” Edison answered. “And innovation for the benefit of all mankind.”
“Did they put that on your tombstone?” Nick asked.
Edison chuckled, not at all put off by Nick’s derision. “They might have. I’ve never visited. Call me superstitious.”
Edison’s wheelchair/wet-cell contraption rolled slowly down the wide hall of the building, with Nick by its side.
“Our outpost beneath the bowling alley in Colorado Springs is only our secondary facility. This is where our most important work is done.”
And as he spoke, Edison gestured his bony hand toward the various labs they passed. “In here, we’re developing glass that’s as strong as steel but will still shatter when we want it to.”
“Why would you want it to?” Nick asked.
“You never know when you’ll need your own technology to fail,” Edison said. He gestured toward another lab. “And here, in this room, we’re working on a membrane that will allow divers to breathe underwater.”
“When you want them to,” Nick added.
Edison looked up at Nick. “The wise inventor knows the importance of controlling his inventions. Even your beloved Mr. Tesla knew that, or he wouldn’t have gone to so much trouble to hide his greatest creation.”
Finally, they turned into a large laboratory in which objects from Nick’s attic were spread out. It gave Nick a sudden sense of déjà vu, because it looked eerily like the fateful day of his garage sale, when he had sold the antiques before knowing that they were parts of a bigger machine.
“The device you had constructed fell apart when your attic came crashing down,” Edison said. “We have all of the individual objects here, plus other pieces that you didn’t have.”
Nick walked among the items. It was true: they were all there. The reel-to-reel tape recorder that spoke your feelings. The cosmic-string harp. The brain-expanding hair dryer. The miniaturizing clothes dryer.
But as Edison said, there were also other things that Nick hadn’t seen since the day he had sold them. The rusted bicycle was there, and the object that looked like a chest of drawers but probably wasn’t, and the blender-ish thing.
Nick counted twenty-nine objects in all. He knew which three were still missing: the glass prism that he hadn’t been able to get from the old man’s strange family back home; the battery that kept Vince alive; and the globe, which, as far as Nick knew, could be anywhere on the planet. Or off, for that matter.
“The asteroid will build up a dangerous charge again in a few weeks, but between now and then we hope to reverse-engineer many of these individual objects.”
“Right,” said Nick. “Reverse-engineer….” He picked up the blender. It was heavy; the pitcher was made of copper instead of glass. “Where’s the lid?”
“Was there one?” Edison responded.
Clearly there were grooves for screwing on a lid. Had there been one when he sold the blender at the garage sale? He couldn’t quite remember. Either way, its absence troubled him.
“Maybe you should ask whoever found it for you,” Nick suggested.
“Well, in any event, we hope to figure out what each individual object does, and then adapt the technology. It is my wish that you help us.” Edison paused, studying Nick. “And ultimately, when the time comes, you will take these pieces and rebuild the larger machine.”
“It’s still missing some pretty important parts,” Nick said.
Edison rolled closer to him. “But can you put it together? Do you remember how?”
Nick was not a liar by nature, but he knew that if he told the truth, the Accelerati would own him completely. So he said, “There was something about my attic that made it easy. A kind of gravity in the center that made things clear.”
Edison furrowed his brow. “Jorgenson spoke of that. I told him it was his imagination.”
Nick shook his head. “No. It was real. I’m not sure if I can still put it together. You might have most of the pieces, but you left behind its soul.”
Edison waved his frail hand. “Poppycock. A machine is a machine. And we made a deal. I will protect your father and brother in exchange for your efforts here. Are you a man of honor, Master Slate?”
Nick shrugged. “I like to think so.”
“Then do me the honor of keeping your end of the bargain.”
Nick held up his hands, still covered in bandages. “Not much I can do with my hands like this,” he said.
“You’ll heal,” Edison told him. “We can’t heal you instantly, of course, but we’ve developed some microorganic salves that will speed up the process. Until then, you’ll have plenty of other hands to help you.”
Then he called in two engineers to assist: a man and a woman in lab coats who had all the eagerness that Nick lacked.
“I’ll leave you to it,” Edison said, and rolled out.
The engineers introduced themselves as Doctors Bickel and Dortch, but since that sounded more like a law firm than a pair of engineers, they told Nick to call them Mark and Cathy.
“So you’re the one who started this whole thing,” Cathy said with a rueful smile.
Nick didn’t answer.
“We’ve already captured the technology from the atmospheric kinesis stimulator,” Mark said, pointing at the tornado bellows.
“We thought we’d work on the toaster next,” said Cathy.
“Fine,” said Nick, resigned. “Just keep it away from my head.”
In truth, Nick wasn’t the one who had started all of this, as Cathy had suggested. It had been started by Tesla long before Nick was born.
But for Nick it had begun on what was, by far, the worst moment of his life: the fire at his home in Tampa that took his mother’s life. He had suppressed the raw pain of it for as long as he could, but was unable to do so anymore. Now it was never far from his mind. Every flame he saw reminded him; every time he flexed his fingers, the sting of his more recent electrical burns reminded him. Those burns were beginning to heal, but the scar from the fire that took his mother several months before never would.
Yet now there was a new twist to his recollection of that awful night. Something he had only realized the moment he shoved his hands into Tesla’s malfunctioning machine. The shock of the electrical jolt had sparked something in his mind—a single stray memory had leaped to a lonely synapse in his brain.
Someone else was there that night.
His father and brother had been just ahead of Nick, scrambling to the front door to escape the burning house—Mr. Slate had thought he was leading his family to safety. Nick remembered glancing back at his mom, his eyes stinging, barely able to see. She was there, urging him forward—then, for an instant in the billows of black acrid smoke, he thought he saw someone else, someone behind her.
Then he was out on the lawn and she wasn’t. She never made it out, and the porch exploded from the heat and the roof came crashing down, further feeding the flames, and his world had ended, and nothing else mattered.
Whatever he had seen must have been a false memory—or maybe a reflection off a picture frame. There was no one else in the house, so what else could it have been? And, in that desperate moment, how could he blame himself for seeing things that weren’t there?
Still, the image sat in his brain like a rusty old fishhook, waiting for Nick to reel it in.
For him, this breathless misadventure had begun on the night of the fire. As it would turn out, it would end on the night of a fire too.
Caitlin Westfield felt like smashing something, and not for her usual artistic purposes. This time she was just plain mad.
“Miss Westfield, this conversation is getting us nowhere,” Principal Watt said, leaning back in his comfortable chair.
Caitlin wondered how hard she would have to push before he would topple over, but knew she couldn’t do that, no matter how much she wanted to.
She took a deep breath and said, very slowly, her words evenly spaced to get through to him, “Nick. Slate. Goes. To. This. School!”
Principal Watt shrugged. “So many people left Colorado Springs after the last disaster, I’m having a hard enough time finding the students whose existence we can prove, much less the ones we can’t.”
“How could you not remember him?” Caitlin shouted.
“Whether I remember him or not is irrelevant. In fact, if I didn’t remember him, this would be much easier. But the fact is, there’s no record of him ever having existed, and since he never existed, he couldn’t have disappeared.”
“Well, obviously the records are wrong,” insisted Caitlin.
Principal Watt sighed. “I have learned in my many years as a school administrator, Miss Westfield, that it is pointless to stand against the crushing force of public record. Down that path madness lies.”
Principal Watt put up his hand to stop her. “We’re done here. I have students to discipline and teachers to reprimand. Your friend’s lack of being is not the problem of Rocky Point Middle School.”
Caitlin knew that Principal Watt’s attitude was less about his devotion to paperwork and more about the fact that he didn’t like Nick. Yes, weird things had begun happening as soon as Nick arrived at his school, but it was shortsighted of the man to assume that those things would stop now that Nick was gone. Pandora’s box could not be closed by merely pretending it had never been opened in the first place.
The truth was, Nick had disappeared in the blink of an eye. Caitlin had been talking to him in his hospital room after the disaster that had destroyed his house. She’d gone out to a vending machine, and when she’d returned the room was empty, all evidence of him gone. It had to be the work of the Accelerati.
That was about two weeks ago.
Colorado Springs was still licking its wounds from the massive electromagnetic pulse that had blown out everything for miles, frying computer hard drives, exploding streetlamps, and melting electrical towers.
The wreckage of Nick’s house was now surrounded by police tape, a tall fence, and TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT signs. The site was supposedly under investigation by government agencies, but Caitlin knew it was really the Accelerati. She could see them behind the fence, in their miserable pastel suits, sifting through the rubble. They had taken all the parts of Tesla’s machine, the F.R.E.E., which she and Nick had so painstakingly put together. They were also excavating the underground metallic ring that encircled the house, clearly another part of Tesla’s great invention.
In school, people had already stopped talking about the electric surge from the asteroid, which would have wiped out practically all life on Earth had not Tesla’s machine grounded all that electricity.
The massive chunk of celestial copper was still generating power with each orbit. The next deadly electrical discharge was only two weeks away, yet people acted as if nothing were going on, just like they had the first time.
“People never learn,” Mitch said to Caitlin as they waited in line for lunch in the cafeteria.
“Now that the Accelerati have Tesla’s machine,” Caitlin said, “it will be up to them to save the world next month. Somehow I don’t put much faith in that.”
“Oh, they’ll save the world, all right. And then take credit for it. And then make the world pay for having been saved.” Ever since the incident, Mitch hadn’t been himself. He’d been gloomy and fatalistic, as if he were channeling Vince.
Like Nick, Vince was also AWOL—although at least they knew where Vince was, off in Scotland with his mother. He had told them he was going there to get himself and his life-giving battery away from the Accelerati, but Caitlin suspected there was more to it than that.
Around them, students complained about the length and slowness of the food line. “New staff,” someone commented. Caitlin didn’t think anything of it at first.
“The Accelerati have Nick,” Caitlin told Mitch, “and we’re just sitting here, taking pop quizzes and doing homework. We should be out there finding him.”
“The only way to free him,” said Mitch, “is to bring down the Accelerati, once and for all.”
“And how do you propose we do that?”
“Grinthon,” Mitch said. “Brandon Gunther’s alligator.”
“You keep saying that,” Caitlin said, throwing up her hands. “What does it even mean?”
“I don’t know,” said Mitch. “But when I do, it’ll be the key to everything.”
Mitch had told her how he’d extracted that puzzling piece of information from a terrified Acceleratus by threatening to pump him up with the windstorm bellows.
Apparently, even under threat of death, the Accelerati still spoke in riddles.
With the line barely moving, and scores of hungry kids getting more and more disgruntled, Mitch abandoned his spot. “I’m not hungry anyway,” he said, and left, allowing Caitlin plenty of space to stew and simmer on her own.
The snaking lunch line finally reached the steam trays, filled with earth-toned glop that someone had convinced the Board of Education was nutritious.
And as she looked up above the trays, Caitlin stopped short.
“Hey!” the kid in front of her said to the new server. “What happened to our regular lunch lady?”
“Ms. Planck no longer works here. I’m the new lunchroom attendant,” said Dr. Alan Jorgenson.
Back in the Middle Ages, before science was even a thing, some very educated men sought to discover how the universe was put together. These men were alchemists, and they began with the flawed premise that there were only four basic elements in nature: earth, air, water, and fire. This threw them profoundly off track.
Praise for Tesla's Attic:
"Lively, intelligent prose elevates this story of teenagers versus mad scientists, the third-person point of view offering a stage to various players in their play of galactic consequence. A wild tale in the spirit of Back to the Future, with a hint of Malamud's The Natural tossed in."—Kirkus Reviews
- "This collaboration between Shusterman and Elfman tempers the scarier elements of Nick's quest with deft, humorous writing and plenty of the ordinary adventures of a new kid in school finding his niche. Hand this one to fans of Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles or Kenneth Oppel's Airborne."—Booklist
- * "Shusterman and Elfman have crafted a plot more devious, characters far quirkier, climaxes (yes, there are two) more breathless, and a narration much, much funnier than recent mad-science offerings. Sticking with a third-person narration frees the authors to be as wryly and sophisticatedly witty as they please without compromising the veracity of their middle-school cast, resulting in storytelling as delightful as the story being told."—BCCB, starred review
- On Sale
- Feb 9, 2016
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers