Outtabounds

It was just ten degrees when I took my dog cross-country skiing around the farm this morning. (I actually had to scrape ice off the bottom of my Karhus!) But the sun was bright and the skiing was great. I usually spend the time thinking through whatever book I’m working on, but this morning I kept going back to Outtabounds, my ski-patrol novel. (The tag line is, Not afraid of ski lifts? You will be . . .)

Anyway, this is the prologue. I hope you like it!

 

PROLOGUE

Twenty-four years earlier . . .

Ebook CoverTEN-YEAR-OLD Jeffrey Christopher crouched over his skis as he raced down the snowy hillside. A bump appeared on the side of the trail and he shot toward it, tucking his poles beneath his arms like an Olympic racer. He waited until the last instant, then pushed up with his knees and popped into the air, whooping with excitement. He landed in an explosion of snow, zigged and zagged to slow himself, then turned his skis and braked to a stop.

He turned and looked uphill.

“C’mon, Dad, hit it!” he shouted. “Hit it!”

James Christopher knew he’d be taking the jump the moment he saw Jeffrey heading for it. The boy loved watching his father fly through the air as much as he loved being airborne himself. James wasn’t really interested in bumps and jumps anymore—growing old sometimes did that to a man—but risking life and limb (and watching his father do the same) seemed hard-wired into his son’s DNA. It made the boy smile. And that was all the reason James Christopher needed to take the jump.

He was Jeffrey’s hero and he knew it. Jeffrey once told a friend his dad was “the best skier in the world!” After that, James would have taken an Olympic ski jump blindfolded rather than disappoint his son.

He bent his knees as he made his approach, then hopped and popped into the air. He splayed his arms and legs—a classic spread-eagle—and landed cleanly. He braked hard, spraying Jeffrey with an icy shower of fresh, frosty, sparkling powder.

“Yes!” Jeffrey exclaimed, grinning from ear to ear. “That was great!”

James smiled. He looked back up the hill for a moment, then turned back to his son. “So where do you want to go?”

“Loose Moose!” Jeffrey said without hesitation.

“Sounds good,” James agreed. “Let’s go.”

James took a moment to catch his breath as Jeffrey planted his poles and pushed off. He knew before asking that they’d be hitting choose Loose Moose. It was their signature run. Narrow monkey trails snaked through the pine forest on both sides of the creamy corduroy, and father and son both enjoyed darting between the trees, ducking beneath snow-laden branches, hopping fallen logs, and slicing through piles of loose powder before blazing back onto the groomed run again.

James breathed deeply—the air seemed unusually thin this morning—as he followed Jeffrey down the slope. Whenever they skied together, James insisted on Jeffrey taking the lead. He enjoyed watching the little firecracker, for one thing. But he also preferred being uphill in case the boy took a spill. It was much simpler to reach him that way than if—

James gasped, abruptly overcome by a wave of nausea and dizziness. He wedged his skis to slow himself, suddenly confused and out of breath. His chest began to burn, felt as if it were being crushed. He braked to a stop and bent over his skis as he tried to catch his breath. His head swam. His ears rang and his chest flamed. He could feel his heart pounding.

He had no way of knowing it, but an aneurysm—a weak spot in the aorta below his kidneys—had burst and begun spilling blood into his abdomen. The result of a genetic defect, the aneurysm had gone undetected for years. But now—weakened by a recent infection and aggravated by the stress of hard skiing—it had given way.

His heart began pumping faster to compensate for the diminishing volume of blood. The extra fluid in his abdomen created pressure against adjacent veins and arteries, further slowing the circulation of blood and depriving his body of oxygen.

Searing pain slashed through Christopher’s chest and he fell to the snow, gasping and clutching at his coat.

Jeffrey turned to look back uphill just as his father collapsed.

“Dad!”

The boy slammed to a stop, popped off his skis, and struggled to run back up the slope. He sank to the top of his ski boots with every step in the soft snow but didn’t quit. He clawed his way up the hill with all the speed he could muster.

“Dad!”

By the time Jeffrey reached him, his father was unconscious.

“Dad!”

Confused and frightened, Jeffrey shook his father, then shook him again, desperately trying to wake him. There was a shushing sound and he looked up to see a skier slicing down the hill. The boy stood and frantically waved down the passing skier.

“There’s something wrong with my dad!” the boy cried as tears coursed down his cheeks. “Please, you’ve got to help him!”

The skier took one look at the man lying crumpled on the snow. He could see blood trickling from the corners of the man’s mouth and knew the situation was more serious than a broken leg or a sprained ankle. Certainly beyond any help he could offer. He knew he could stop … but he didn’t know first aid.

But he knew where to find someone who did.

“Stay here,” he said. “I’ll get the ski patrol.”

Before the boy could respond the skier planted his poles and shot down the hill, relieved to have a task he could handle.

Jeffrey knelt beside his father feeling lost and alone and more frightened than he’d ever been in his young life.

Hot tears seared his eyes.

“Dad,” he whispered between sobs. “Oh, Dad …”

***

CHASE ROGERS slalomed through the fresh, creamy snow carrying a mongo—a steel bar used for driving holes into hard snow and ice. The bamboo poles and plastic ropes that marked closed and out-of-bounds areas were constantly working themselves loose, and keeping them buffed out was a never-ending chore.

He skied easily, enjoying the feeling of long skis on groomed snow. He stopped frequently to pull up the slack in a sagging rope or use the mongo to drive a new hole for a leaning pole. The sun was high in the sky—bright and warm—and it felt good on his face as he hopped over a rise and onto the face of a steep pitch.

There was a skier down on the snow near the bottom of the hill, someone kneeling beside him. Chase was a rookie ski patroller, but he’d skied long enough to recognize the scene of an accident. Forgetting the ropes, he turned his skis and within seconds reached the stricken skiers.

A young boy looked up with swollen eyes, instantly recognizing the red coat and white crosses. A look of overwhelming relief flooded the boy’s face.

“It’s my dad!” the boy cried, choking on his words. “Please help him! Hurry, please!”

Chase punched out of his skis, a million thoughts whirling through his mind. The man on the snow appeared unconscious, and there was no mistaking the blood trickling from his mouth. Chase knew he was facing a dire situation. Knew he needed help and knew he needed it fast.

He reached down to his chest harness and keyed his radio.

“Wrangler Patrol, Seven Forty-seven.”

A scratchy voice rumbled back. “Wrangler Patrol.”

“I need an Oh-two pack, backboard, and toboggan at the bottom of Powderkeg.” And then, though he knew it was unnecessary: “Please expedite.”

“Copy your Oh-two, backboard, and toboggan. Ten-four, patroller en route. Wrangler Patrol clear.”

Chase dropped beside the man on the snow. He took in the blood trickling from the man’s mouth, the clenched eyes—

He looks like he’s in pain.

—and the lack of discernible breathing. He shook the man roughly.

“Sir? Sir! Can you hear me?”

Nothing.

“He just fell!” the boy cried frantically. “He was grabbing his chest!”

“How long ago?” Chase asked.

“I … I don’t know! Five minutes? Ten? I don’t know!

“Okay,” Chase said. “Just relax.”

He placed his ear close to the man’s mouth and watched his chest. He heard no sound of breathing, felt no breath upon his cheek, saw no telltale movement of the chest.

Damn!

Chase quickly tilted the man’s head, pinched the nose shut, and blew two breaths into the mouth, ignoring the stubble of whiskers against his lips. The breaths went in and Chase saw the man’s chest rise.

Chase placed his fingers alongside the man’s neck and felt for a pulse: nothing.

He moved his fingers, felt again.

Nothing.

He ripped open the man’s coat, placed his hands in the center of the chest, and straightened his elbows: he shoved, compressing the man’s heart.

One, two, three

He winced as the man’s ribs cracked under the pressure, but forced himself to focus on his work.

four, five.

He repositioned himself alongside the man’s head and blew again into the whiskery mouth. He felt the breaths go in and saw the chest rise.

It’s working!

He quickly returned to the man’s side, positioned his hands and shoulders, began compressing the chest.

One, two, three

He knew help would be coming. Knew too that he couldn’t stop working. Couldn’t stop unless the man began breathing on his own or someone arrived to take over … or until he himself dropped from exhaustion.

He completed five compressions—the accepted protocol of the time—blew twice into the man’s mouth, began another cycle. He knew—he’d been warned—that cardiopulmonary resuscitation was a difficult, draining procedure. But he was surprised by how quickly he was tiring. His arms began to ache, his back already burning from the strain.

Five compressions, two breaths, five compressions, two breaths, the motions becoming automatic, his actions almost mindless. He couldn’t stop. He struggled to ignore his tiring muscles and focus upon his work.

Get oxygen into the lungs, into the blood.

Keep the blood circulating.

Breaths.

Compressions.

Breaths.

Compressions.

Breaths.

His shoulders burned, his aching elbows, knees, and back howling for relief. He began to worry that he’d become too tired to continue. The thin mountain air was insufficient to sustain him, the cold draining his strength as rapidly as the strain of performing CPR.

Focus! he ordered himself. I’m not stopping!

He’d seen the look in the kid’s eyes—the boy had looked at Chase with an expression of trust and confidence—and Chase was not going to fail him. Not for anything. No matter how tired he became.

Come on! he thought as he blew into the cold mouth. Breathe!

Breathe!

He continued compressing, breathing, compressing, breathing, compressing, breathing. He became dimly aware of movement around him.

People.

Activity.

Voices.

He wanted to look, to see what was happening, but couldn’t tear his eyes away. Was too tired, too numb, too exhausted to do anything but continue the rhythmic cycle of chest compressions and breaths.

One, two, three

More motion.

A hand gripping his shoulder.

A voice.

“Chase …”

“No,” he whispered numbly. “Can’t … stop …”

“Chase,” the voice repeated, a little more urgently. “It’s okay … we’ve got it. Stand down …”

“Can’t … stop …”

Hands gripped his shoulders, began pulling.

No!

“C’mon, Chase, it’s okay. C’mon, man, let go … let go, Chase … we’ve got it.”

Chase felt himself being pulled away. He resisted, struggled briefly, finally let go. He blinked, saw people in red coats kneeling over the stricken man as they continued administering CPR. More breaths, compressions, breaths. Someone feeling for a pulse. More breaths, more compressions. Other skiers had stopped to watch and a patroller had his hands out, shooing them away.

After several minutes a grizzled patroller—the patrol doctor—motioned the men performing CPR to stop. The doc placed a stethoscope against the unconscious man’s chest. He listened, repositioned his stethoscope, listened again. By now a rescue toboggan had arrived and a patroller was preparing it for transport … but without the urgency Chase expected. It was several moments before he realized why.

It was over.

He sat back on the snow as icy beads of sweat trickled down his back feeling … what?

Distress?

Failure?

Defeat?

None of the words seemed exactly right.

He was completely, utterly drained, both physically and emotionally. He looked to the side and saw the man’s son kneeling in the snow beside his father. Tears streaked the boy’s cheeks, the young face flushed and filled with anguish. The boy looked like he was on the verge of losing control.

After a moment the boy looked up and their eyes met. For a brief, horrifying moment Chase thought the boy might show some sign of anger that Chase had been unable to save his father. But despite his grief the boy managed to mouth the words, Thank you.

It was as if a dam suddenly burst within him. A flood of emotions overwhelmed him and Chase collapsed on the snow. He began to cry, sobbing like a baby.

He was twenty-two years old.

It was his second day on the job.

 

Wow . . . reading that always takes me back to the mountain. Anyway, I hope you like it! You can read more details here!

“Time Jam” Interview

When Time Snap first came out, my young friend Max interviewed me for his school paper. We talked again when I finished Time Crunch, and with Time Jam now available, Max asked for another visit.

 

SHANE: Well, here we are again.

MAX: Yeah, and thanks for the advanced copy. That makes things easier for me. So … I know you said Time Jam was harder to write than your Ebook Coverother books. How was that?

SHANE: Y’know, when I wrote Time Crunch, I hardly felt like I was working. I didn’t know in advance what was going to happen, and every day I got up excited to get to work to find out what was going to happen next. There were a lot of times I’d finished writing a scene and think, “Whoa … I can’t believe that just happened!” But the whole time, the scenes were just flowing together, almost like someone else was doing the writing, and I was just typing it into the computer.

MAX: So what was different this time?

SHANE: Well, I still didn’t know what was going to happen. But I had to work a lot harder for it.

MAX: Is that why it took so long to finish?

SHANE: Exactly. I had to think about it a lot more. I still don’t know where a lot of the ideas came from. Looking back, I can’t remember what prompted certain events and situations—and when I look at them, I even wonder how I ever thought of them—but I know they didn’t come as easily as they did in Time Crunch.

MAX: What was the hardest part?

SHANE: The editing. And rewriting. Ernest Hemingway said he rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms 39 times before he was satisfied. That’s sort of what I felt like. When I wrote the final draft, I went back to punch up the beginning—that’s the page most people read—and ended up going through the whole book again. And then I did that two more times.

MAX: So are you satisfied?

SHANE: Let me put it this way. One of my personal “curses” is that once I finish a book, I can’t go back and read it just for the enjoyment of it. No matter how much I’ve tried to polish it, I know I’ll find parts I’d like to rewrite.

MAX: So you really don’t ever read them again?

SHANE: No. And I’d really like to. But even when I’m just reading, I can’t help thinking like an editor. And it makes me miserable to find a sentence or paragraph that needs a little something and know I can’t do anything about it.

MAX: Not to change the subject, but I noticed this book is a lot different than the others.

SHANE: Yeah, I tried out a few new ideas.

MAX: Like the quotes from Zach’s science fair paper below the chapter titles …

SHANE: Right. And then the chapters from the tyrannosaur’s point of view. The quotes just seemed necessary. I didn’t want people to forget that this wasn’t just another walk in the woods; that something awful and terrible was about to happen. And I didn’t want the tyrannosaur to be just another nasty animal in the forest. I wanted her to be just as important as Chase and Zach and Tali.

MAX: Let’s talk about Tali …

SHANE: Well, you remember Klorel, in Time Snap? People are always asking when we’re going to see her again. I couldn’t get her into this story, but Tali fit right in. And I liked having her there to torment Chase and Zach a little.

MAX: So, are we going to see Klorel again?

SHANE: We might. But you know the way I work: I don’t like to plan that far ahead. If and when she shows up again, it’s going to surprise me as much as anyone.

MAX: Speaking of which, I can’t let you go without asking about the ending …

SHANE: Well, that surprised me, too. I don’t want to give anything away, but it just kind of happened. I was pounding away on my keyboard and BOOM! It happened. And I remember thinking, “Oh, oh. Now I’m in trouble …”

MAX: Sooooo, is it fair for me to ask—

SHANE: All I can tell you is, I don’t know either. But I’m excited to find out!

Sneak Peak at “Time Jam”

It’s almost here! Time Jam, the third book in the Chase McCord series (and the follow up to Time Crunch) is almost here! Just waiting for the cover to come back and it’ll be available. I’m so excited I can’t wait, so I’ve included a sneak peak here:

 

Prologue

“It’s called the Chicxulub Asteroid. It’s pronounced CHICK-shuh-loob, and it’s important because it killed the dinosaurs.”

—Zach Wolff’s Science Fair Paper

SHE WAS CALLED Tyrannosaurus rex, and she was hungry.

Standing still as a rock, she watched the meadow from inside the trees. A warm breeze blew in from the grass, strong with the scent of grazing animals, and Tyrannosaurus eagerly breathed it in. The smell of prey quickened her pulse and she bared her teeth in anticipation.

Depositphotos_133745638_xl-2015Across the meadow a pair of enormous alamosaurs were stretching their necks deep into the forest. Nearly a hundred feet long, the alamosaurs were able to pluck limbs and leaves from trees other animals were unable to reach, happily munching on greens available only to them.

Tyrannosaurus could have reached the alamosaurs easily, but she made no move toward them. Either animal would have provided her food for several days, but she was aware of more vulnerable prey.

The breeze shifted, bringing with it the scent of horned triceratops, stealthy albertosaurs, spike-headed chasmosaurs, and duck-billed segnosaurs. Tyrannosaurus didn’t know the animals by name, but she knew which were prey, which were hunters, and which—like the alamosaurs—were unimportant.

Along with the rich, earthy smells came a chorus of noisy honks, hoots, bawls, squeaks, and bleats as grazing animals rumbled about the meadow. Tyrannosaurus listened intently, recognizing the sounds as calm and unworried.

None of the animals had yet detected her.

Tyrannosaurus had the keen eyes, nose, and ears of a skilled hunter. But the soles of her feet were equally perceptive. She could detect the tremors of lumbering alamosaurs and stampeding triceratops from as far as twenty miles away, and she was often aware of prey long before she could see or smell it.

But there were no tremors of fright from the ground now: the surrounding forest was peaceful.

And so she waited.

***

A NEW SMELL drifted by, the scent of a male tyrannosaur. Tyrannosaurus lifted her head. There were times when she would welcome the male, but this was not one of them. This was her territory and she was not in season: if the male came close, she would drive it away.

Flies buzzed around her eyes and she blinked, but

other than that remained perfectly still.

Tyrannosaurus was a patient hunter.

A pack of feathered dromaeosaurs abruptly rushed through the clearing. Dromaeosaurs were sleek, agile predators that—like Tyrannosaurus—walked on two legs. They were fast enough to catch small animals and—hunting in a pack—could bring down a triceratops, or even a lumbering isisaur. But today they would feed upon whatever the tyrannosaur left behind.

Tyrannosaurus saw the dromaeosaurs, but paid them no mind. Like the huge alamosaurs, they were unimportant.

There was a rustle of grass and Tyrannosaurus turned her head, aware of movement outside the trees, just out of sight. Her ears flicked and her nostrils flared, testing the breeze. The approaching animals were anatosaurs, and there were several of them. Adult anatosaurs were almost as large as Tyrannosaurus, though slow and awkward. They had broad shovel-like bills filled with teeth, but the teeth were not meant for fighting, but foraging.

And they were prey.

Tyrannosaurus remained still. The anatosaurs plodded into view: green animals with purple heads and thick, muscular tails. Most of the animals were fully grown, forty feet long and eighteen feet tall at the hips. But there were several juveniles and even a few tottering infants, only recently hatched. Many of the animals were walking hunched on two legs, though a few rumbled along on all fours.

Tyrannosaurus watched patiently. She lacked the ability to plan an attack. Her actions were driven purely by instincts honed and sharpened over millions of years.

But those instincts were precise, powerful, and deadly.

And they guided her more effectively than any teacher.

***

MORE ANIMALS PASSED, the middle of herd now in front of her.

And Tyrannosaurus sensed it was time. She crouched, loading her powerful legs like springs, then exploded from the trees. With a terrible roar she rushed into the meadow, directly into the unsuspecting anatosaurs. The startled animals panicked, bleating and honking in terror, bolting in all directions. All of the animals were on all fours now, their heads low to the ground as they galloped for safety.

Tyrannosaurus ignored the confusion, focusing upon a single animal, a juvenile. The young anatosaur bleated in fear as the tyrannosaur thundered toward it, and at the last instant turned sharply, unexpectedly, and raced off in a new direction.

Tyrannosaurus rushed past, just missing the animal. She whirled around, but the young anatosaur was already several yards away, speeding for the trees. Tyrannosaurus was fast, but only for short distances, and the fleeing anatosaur was already out of range.

The tyrannosaur roared angrily—

Another animal abruptly rushed past, confused by fear and panic. Tyrannosaurus sprang forward, snapping at the anatosaur’s neck. The animal honked and tried to turn, but Tyrannosaurus was moving fast. She slammed into the anatosaur, knocking it to the ground. The animal rolled and struggled to regain its feet, but Tyrannosaurus was already slashing with her powerful jaws. Able to crunch through solid bone, her yellow teeth sank into the warm neck—

And that was that.

***

TYRANNOSAURUS FED GREEDILY. Her teeth were strong—able to hold tight a fighting, struggling animal—and she could tear off and swallow more than five hundred pounds of meat in a single bite.

Most of the other animals fled into the forest when Tyrannosaurus attacked. But the dromaeosaurs—along with several smaller scavengers—had gathered nearby, waiting patiently for the giant predator to finish her meal.

By nightfall, there would be little left of the unfortunate anatosaur.

***

IN TIME, TYRANNOSAURUS stepped away from her kill. Blood dripped from her jaws, but her belly was full. She looked around the meadow, growled at the dromaeosaurs, then turned and lumbered into the forest.

If she had looked into the sky—and if she’d cared about such things—she would have seen what appeared to be a bright spot like a small moon or a large star. She wouldn’t have understood, but the object was a rock—an asteroid eight miles across—hurtling toward the Earth.

In a matter of days, that asteroid would cause her death … even as it destroyed the world around her.

 

Wow! I hope you’re as excited as I am! The book will be available in just a few more days! Please watch for it! https://www.amazon.com/Shane-Barker/e/B005I6WGR6

“Time Jam” Update

People have been asking for an update on “Time Jam,” the follow-up to “Time Snap” and “Time Crunch.” It was scheduled for release this month (October, 2019), but even as I work on the final draft, I keep finding things I want to be “just a little bit better.” I was Silhouette of Brachiosaurus and Iguanodonreally happy with “Time Crunch,” and I want to be absolutely certain that “Time Jam” is just as fun. I’ll need just a little more time with it, but I hope to have it ready before Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, here’s a quick snippet to give you an idea what it’s all about:

CHASE TURNED, JOINING his teammates as they squeezed through the crowd toward the showers. He was almost to the locker room when a hand grabbed him by the arm and jerked him to the side.

“Hey–”

He turned–surprised–to see Zach Wolff standing there with wide eyes.

“Hey, Zach–”

“Chase!” Zach hissed through the noise of the boisterous crowd. “C’mere! We’ve gotta talk!”

“Give me a minute,” Chase said. “Coach wants to talk to the team, then I’ve gotta take a shower–”

“Chase, listen,” Zach insisted. “We’ve gotta chance to see The Asteroid!”

“An asteroid?” Chase glanced toward the showers before turning back to Zach. His friend was flushed with excitement, but not because of the ballgame. “So what?”

“Not ‘an’ asteroid!” Zach whispered, his voice urgent. “Thee Asteroid!”

A knot of rowdy kids collided with Chase, nearly knocking him over. He shot them an irritated glare before turning back to Zach.

“What are you talking about?” Chase asked impatiently, anxious to rejoin the team. “What asteroid?”

“The Asteroid,” Zach said for the third time. “We have a chance to see the Chicxulub Asteroid–the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs!”

 

WOW! I’m so excited about this book! It’s different in a lot of ways from anything I’ve done before, and I can’t wait to share. If you haven’t yet checked out “Time Snap” or “Time Crunch,” give them a look. And be watching for “Time Jam!”

 

Sneak Peak at “Time Crunch” (Part III)

This is an excerpt from my latest young adult thriller, Time Crunch. (Be sure to check out Parts I and II if you haven’t read them yet!) 

Chapter One: The Jet

Mr. Scherrer–the eighth-grade math teacher–grinned smugly.

“Okay, here’s a good one . . . Steve is going to paint the city’s cylindrical water tank. If the tank is ten feet tall with a radius of fifteen feet–and if one gallon of paint covers ten square feet–how many gallons of paint does Steve need to buy?”

Time Crunch Ebook CoverKids around the room instantly bent over their desks, punching at calculators and scribbling on scraps of paper. Near the back of the room, Chase McCord scrunched his nose. He’d seen a peculiar gleam in his teacher’s eyes and knew the problem couldn’t be as straightforward as it seemed.

Trick question, he thought. But what . . .

He quickly sketched a cylinder to represent the water tank.

Looking for the surface area, he thought, visualizing the formula.

He frowned.

But there has to be more to it than that.

Several students had already finished their calculations and were waving their hands, hoping to be called. Students able to solve the teacher’s notorious challenges were excused from the day’s assignment, which would be at least an hour’s work at home.

Surface area, Chase thought again. Not of a cylinder … but of a water tank!

He grinned, knowing he’d nailed it. Surface area described the “skin” of the cylinder. But a water tank would be sitting on the ground … so you wouldn’t have to paint the bottom!

He began punching his calculator, figuring the surface area without the bottom of the tank. He then figured out the amount of paint he’d need, coming up with 164.85 gallons.

He began to raise his hand, but quickly stopped himself.

Point 85 gallons?

Really?

No one was going to buy .85 gallons of paint.

He quickly rounded the number up and raised his hand.

“Max,” the teacher finally said to a boy in the front row. “You had your hand up first. What’ve you got?”

“He needs 235.5 gallons.”

Mr. Scherrer sucked in his breath and scrunched his nose. “Oooh! So close!”

Max’s face fell, and half the hands in the room dropped as students with the same answer checked their notes, wondering where they’d gone wrong.

The teacher took another few answers—none of them right—then turned to Chase.

“Mr. McCord, you’re smiling at me. Like to tell your classmates where they slipped up?”

Chase felt a rumble of appreciation for his teacher. Mr. Scherrer hadn’t asked for Chase’s answer: guessing he’d figured out the trick, he was asking for Chase to explain it.

“Good one, Mr. S.,” Chase said. “It’s a double trick question. The first thing is that since the tank’s sitting on the ground, you don’t have to paint the bottom”—

There were moans from students who’d fallen for the trap, and Max actually slapped himself on the forehead.

—“and when you calculate the amount of paint you get a decimal, so you have to round up to the nearest gallon.”

There were more groans as frustrated students realized they’d been fooled again (and most of them now realizing—like Chase—the question had been way too easy).

“Well done—”

The teacher stopped as a sullen-looking man strode into the room.

“Excuse me for interrupting,” the principal said. The man looked around the room, spotted Chase, and crooked his finger. “Mr. McCord, would you come with me, please? Bring your backpack.”

Surprised and a little worried (being pulled out of class by the principal was rarely a good thing), Chase stuffed his books and papers into his pack, then followed the gloomy man from the room.

“What’s going on?”

“You’re not in trouble,” the principal said. “But your father’s called and excused you for the rest of the day. Someone’s coming to pick you up.”

“Really? Why?”

“Don’t really know,” the principal said, though his voice suggested he didn’t approve, whatever the reason.

The man turned down a hallway … and not the one leading to the office.

“Where are we going?”

The principal used the same brooding voice. “Apparently, you’re not being picked up by car.”

Huh?

Chase didn’t know how to process that, but heard a rumble like approaching thunder before he could respond. The noise increased, becoming so loud it began shaking the building. The principal opened a door leading outside, motioning for Chase to lead the way.

The thunderous noise was coming from the sky, and Chase looked up to see a jet aircraft approaching the school football field. Rather than streaking through the sky, the strange plane was actually slowing as it dropped toward the grass. Chase saw the engines rotate, pointing down to allow the craft to land vertically.

Ah, he thought. One of Mr. Wolff’s new toys.

Mr. Wolff—the father of Chase’s best friend Zach—was CEO of a company that built exotic airplanes. Mr. Wolff often took Zach on business trips, and Zach—in turn—sometimes invited Chase along.

“Gotta have someone to hang out with,” Zach once explained. “You know, when dad’s in meetings.”

As a result, Chase had often flown on the company’s unique airplanes, though never on one able to take off and land vertically.

Haven’t even seen one of those!

The jet kicked up wind like a hurricane—dust and leaves and frenzied bits of paper whirling across the field—then settled softly to the grass. The whine of the engines subsided as a startled gym class gawked from behind a fence.

“Zach came to get me?” Chase asked, raising his voice to be heard over the engines.

“Don’t really know,” the principal said in the same glum voice.

After a moment a clamshell door opened behind the flight deck, dropping a set of steps to the grass. Chase expected to see Zach come bounding out of the plane, but instead a tall, thin man in a white shirt appeared. The man looked around, spotted Chase, and began waving.

Chase looked up at the principal—

“Sorry ’bout this!”

—then sprinted across the grass toward the jet.

The man in the door was the pilot, a man Chase met during an adventure a few months earlier. Chase raced across the field and up the steps.

“Captain King! Hi!”

“Hello, Chase,” the pilot said, shaking Chase’s hand. “It’s good to see you again.”

“You, too.” Chase glanced past the pilot into the flight deck: the copilot—a man Chase didn’t know—was adjusting knobs and flicking switches. A skinny birdlike man sat just behind him, pecking away on a laptop. “Where’s Captain Carter?”

“On another assignment today—”

Chase had already turned away, looking back into the cabin. Eight tough-looking men in jungle-camouflage fatigues were sorting through some kind of supplies. But—

“Where’s Zach?”

“Zach’s not here,” one of the men called. He was a gruff-sounding man with a face that could have been made from an old football. He gestured to Captain King, who gave Chase a clap on the shoulder before closing the door and returning to the flight deck.

The brusque man dropped into a seat and motioned for Chase to join him.

“What’s going on?” Chase asked as the engines began spooling up.

“We’re not actually joining Zach and his father, as you probably thought,” the man said in a voice like broken gravel.

“Then where are we going?”

The man nodded toward the other men before turning back to Chase.

“This,” he said, “is a rescue mission.”

I hope you’re liking this! I’m already working on the third book to the series, and I hope you’ll take a look at Time Snap and Time Crunch!