There was a muffled boom, and then the whole house seemed to rise about half an inch before slamming down again. The lights flickered but stayed on.
Nick and Tesla Holt listened intently. After a moment, they could hear faint coughing coming from
“I’m all right!” their uncle said from the basement. “You don’t have to call the fire department this
time!” Uncle Newt was an inventor and a scientist, and he’d recently set aside his favorite project—a compost-powered vacuum cleaner—to begin work on something that he wouldn’t tell his niece and nephew about. “It’s a surprise!” Uncle Newt shouted, coughing a bit more. That was all he ever said about his new endeavor, no matter how many times Nick and Tesla asked him about it.
“It would really be a surprise,” Nick said to his sister, “if his ‘whatever-it-is’ didn’t blow up all the time.”
“He could be tinkering with a new flavor of ice cream, and there’d be a 99 percent chance it would go up in flames,” Tesla said to her twin brother. They’d known their uncle only since the beginning of the summer, when they’d been sent to stay with him in Half Moon Bay while their parents traveled abroad. But they’d soon realized that anything their inventor uncle happened to be working on was prone to exploding.
Nick was sitting on the floor of the bedroom he and Tesla shared, hunched over a battered but functional laptop (which they also shared). He shrugged at Tesla and then looked down again at the computer. When he clicked the mouse, a black-and-white image of a man with dark hair and a thick mustache, dressed in old-fashioned clothes, appeared on the screen. Tesla recognized the man instantly.
It was Tesla. Nikola
Tesla, that is. The brilliant, eccentric inventor after whom she and Nick (“Nikola,” according to his birth certificate) had been named by their parents. (Who were also scientists but, unlike Uncle Newt, had never blown anything up. At least as far as Nick and Tesla knew.)
Nick scrolled down and another image slid into place: a long, single-story brick building with, looming over it, a tower topped by a huge, bulbous dome. Tesla recognized this picture, too. It showed Wardenclyffe Tower, which was sometimes called Tesla Tower. Nikola Tesla had built it over a century ago. It was supposed to transmit electric power through the air like radio signals . . . except it had never worked properly.
Nick had been obsessively researching wireless power transmission for days. He was convinced it had something to do with their mom and dad’s disappearance. Supposedly their parents had left the twins with Uncle Newt so that they could fly to Uzbekistan to research soybean irrigation. Yet they had been out of touch ever since, and Nick and Tesla eventually found themselves being shadowed by spies and government agents. It was one of those agents who’d suggested that wireless energy transfer, the kind that Nikola Tesla tried to invent, had something to do with their parents’ vanishing.
“You know,” Nick said, without looking up from the laptop, “someone with a real, working Tesla
Tower could put every oil and gas company out of business overnight. Maybe that’s why it has to be such a big secret.”
“And someone with a real, working magic wand could turn the Great Lakes into chocolate syrup and put Hershey’s out of business, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” Tesla answered.
“Yeah, well, we’re a lot closer to having wireless power transmission than we are to magic wands.”
Now that he was getting excited, Nick looked up at his sister to continue the debate. “That solar power company Solanow has a prototype energy emitter, right? And the Japanese government wants to build a network of space-based solar power transmitters. And—”
“I’m just glad Uncle Newt’s not working on wireless power transmission,” Tesla said, interrupting
her brother. “If he were, every electrical appliance on the West Coast would’ve exploded already.”
“Ha,” Nick said mirthlessly, and then he went back to staring at the computer screen.
“Hey,” Tesla said, trying not to sound like she’d been planning to ask this question the whole time,
“why don’t you take a break and come help me? I need to build a stabilizer for Silas’s video camera. Something that’ll help him get cool, smooth shots. He’s at DeMarco’s house right now filming his superhero movie. You know, Bald Eagle: The Legend Takes Flight
. You should see DeMarco’s little sister Elesha in that green alien makeup we made for them.“
Tesla was talking about Silas Kuskie and DeMarco Davison, the only friends she and her brother had made (so far) during their stay in Half Moon Bay. Nick believed that no normal
kids would want the kind of trouble that he and his sister tended to get into. But DeMarco was an adrenaline junkie, always up for something exciting and a little dangerous. And Silas . . . well, let’s just say that thinking ahead about the kind of trouble he might get into—or thinking ahead about anything, for that matter—just wasn’t his style.
Nick didn’t even look up as his sister continued her pitch.
“Silas shot some footage of their stunt dummy dressed as the Bald Eagle, and the video was so jumpy and jerky that just watching it made Monique”—Monique was DeMarco’s even littler sister—“puke all over the yard.”
Nick kept typing. Tesla frowned. She was sure Nick would enjoy the idea of one of DeMarco’s nasty little sisters getting so sick that she vomited. The two girls had been tormenting DeMarco ever since they were old enough to throw things at his head.
“So, Silas needs something like a Steadicam,”
Tesla continued. “You’ve seen those, right?”
Nick still didn’t respond.
“It’s a frame that spreads out a movie camera’s center of gravity via a counterbalance, making it easy to smoothly manipulate the camera with a special kind of joint called a gimbal.” Tesla kept talking even though Nick continued to ignore her. “Like the ones gyroscopes have. So, your video camera stays level instead of bouncing and jerking around and you get nice, even shots.”
“I know what a Steadicam is,” Nick answered.
“Well, we can’t make the real thing, of course. But I have some ideas for a simpler version that would work with that little video camera Silas uses.” Then Tesla had an idea. “We’ll call it a Silascam,” she said. “No, a Teslacam. No, wait—a Nickandteslacam. It could probably work with a phone camera, too.”
“Great. Go make it without me.”
“I can, of course. But it’d be a lot easier with
you.” Usually, Nick and Tesla built all kinds of
things together: vinegar and liquid-soap “volcanoes,” homemade rock candy, robots, super-cyborg
gadget gloves. Last week, they’d created an animatronic arm, mostly out of ice-pop sticks, which Silas
used in his movie along with the alien makeup. They’d also helped Silas and DeMarco put together a
stunt dummy for the action scenes (even stuntmanwannabe DeMarco had no interest in falling down a flight of stairs, jumping from an attic window, or doing any of the other crazy tricks Silas came
up with). Tesla tried to distract herself from all the weirdness and worries about their parents by keeping busy with one project after another. Lately, however, Nick hadn’t been trying to distract himself from those concerns. On the contrary: he’d been wallowing in them, trying to find an answer by scouring the Internet for clues.
And now Tesla wanted to build something, anything, with her brother.
Nick clicked on a link, and a new webpage opened on-screen. The title was “The SHOCKING Truth behind Tesla’s Death Ray.”
“Sorry,” Nick said. “I’m busy.”
“No,” Tesla said, “you’re obsessed.”
Nick didn’t respond. So Tesla decided it was time to play dirty.
“You know, I found something really interesting online last night,” Tesla said. “Here, let me show
She plopped down next to her brother and shouldered him away from the keyboard.
“Hey!” he said in protest.
“This’ll just take a sec. Trust me, you’re going to be amazed.”
Tesla opened a folder on the desktop, found the icon she was looking for—a tiny traffic signal—and double-clicked it.
“There,” she said. “Done.”
Nick squinted at the screen.
“Nothing’s happening,” he said.
“Exactly. I just turned on Stoplite.”
“A program that automatically freezes your computer for six hours, so you won’t waste your whole
day on it.”
?” Nick shoved his sister aside and began jabbing at the keyboard. The screen remained frozen.
“I’ll just restart it,” he said.
He held down the power button but . . . nothing happened.
“Stoplite’s really good,” Tesla said.
“Oh, man! This is not
“It’s not supposed to be funny. It’s supposed to get you off your butt so you’ll come downstairs and help me.”
“Oh, yeah, right. Like I’m going to help you after you did this
Nick folded his arms across his chest and stared at the wall.
“Suit yourself,” Tesla said. “I’m going down to the lab to get the parts. If Silas never finishes his cinematic masterpiece and doesn’t become the world’s greatest twelve-year-old film director, it won’t be my fault.”
She got up and headed for the door.
Nick stayed put.
“Well, good luck building your little whatever,” he said with a growl. “Because you won’t be getting
any help from me.”
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