Cold Secrets: A SoNaR Adventure

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Later the next morning, the teens woke up from a sound sleep. They got ready for the day and sat together around the conference table. Chef made a delicious traditional Indonesian breakfast known as Nasi Goreng. It consisted of fried rice with fried egg.

“Happy Friday.” Corbyn smiled as he sat down. “How are you guys feeling?”

Aaden scowled. “You know I’m not a morning person.”

Corbyn gave his brother a funny look. “I for one am too excited about today to be grumpy. We get to hang out on the helicopter the whole time and solve a new clue. And we don’t have to worry about being chased by—”

Nearby in the kitchen, Chef’s ears pricked up. “Did you say chased?”

Corbyn offered a weak smile. “Just an inside joke is all.”

“Of course. My apologies.” Chef’s expression suggested he wasn’t buying it. He returned to his work.

“Careful,” Maddy mouthed silently.

Corbyn nodded and changed the subject. “TESLA. You there?”

“Of course I am.” The metallic reply came from the television screen. “You’re technically sitting in me right now, so where did you think I am?” The computer laughed at itself. “What’s up?”

“You said yesterday you need to know what our plans for today are.”

“And I just heard you say it! Does this mean I should be prepared to take off for our next destination tomorrow morning?”

“Maybe,” Corbyn replied. “If possible, I’d like to leave later today now that I think of it. We should have the next clue figured out quick enough to do so.”

“Pretty confident in yourselves, wouldn’t you say? By the way, you are officially twenty-four hours, thirteen minutes, and forty-two seconds into the quest!”

“Thanks for the update,” Maddy replied. “But there’s something I don’t get. Aren’t we going to get in trouble if we stay on the tarmac all day?”

“Of course not!” TESLA sounded offended. Team SoNaR couldn’t tell if the computer was joking around or not. “Nobody would ever think of messing with the all-powerful TESLA!”

Apparently TESLA was having fun.

“No, really.” Aaden wasn’t much in the mood for TESLA’s humor. “How’re we allowed to sit here so long? Aren’t there rules against it or something?”

“Well, if you must know—”

“Please,” Aaden said with a touch of annoyance.

“Hey, don’t get your boxers in a bunch! Anyway, Maddy’s grandfather has some pretty important contacts in the U.S. and Canadian governments. This gives us clearance to go anywhere we want, and stay as long as we please, for the duration of the summer. Pretty cool, eh?”

“Very,” Maddy said through a mouthful of food. “Especially in this day and age.”

“So we’re not under any pressure to move somewhere else in any certain amount of time?” Corbyn clarified.

“Not in the immediate sense, no. Of course, you do have the one-week time limit to finish the quest in its entirety, so don’t linger anywhere too long. I would get so bored looking at the same old scenery for more than a day or two!”

“Don’t tell me you can actually see,” Aaden replied.

“Not literally, silly…unless you count my radar as my eyes. I was just being facetious!”

“You? Facetious?” Maddy smirked. “Since when?”

“Now you’re getting it! What’s the point of being programmed to talk if I can’t have fun every now and then?”

Maddy could sense that the supercomputer was smiling at itself behind the television screen.

“As long as you can take it as willingly as you dish it out,” Corbyn jabbed back.

“Deal. But right now, I’m going to leave you alone so you can work on your next clue. If you need anything, just holler…or simply speak since I’ll be able to hear you either way! TESLA out!” The television went blank.

“Okay.” Maddy pulled the clue out. “You guys ready to get this thing figured out?”

“You know it.” Corbyn took a bite of his breakfast and turned to Chef. “The food’s great by the way.”

Chef smiled. “Glad to hear it. Little recipe I learned while traveling abroad.” He winked at Maddy. “Figured you’d appreciate a little home cookin’.”

Maddy smiled. “Thank you. And I agree; the food is wonderful.”

Chef bowed slightly then returned to his work.

“All right,” Maddy said. “The first thing I noticed about the clue—”

“You mean the part on top that’s in English?” Aaden asked.

“Yes. We’ll get to the puzzle below it later. Anyway, I noticed yesterday that the clue is written kind of strange.”

“How so?” Corbyn asked.

“The final sentence takes up three lines of text. Why would the person that wrote the clue split that last sentence up like that?”

The twins looked at the clue again.

Pat yourselves on the back for a job well-done! One clue down but how many left to go?

Looking forward, one must now travel to a “miniature Earth” for the next clue.

A seeker of the prize should look to the desert for the answer.

Nobody will reach the prize if they don’t begin their search in the “Clairvoyant” city, so

Trust your instincts and

Search for the next clue overlooking the “Ocean in the Desert”!

“You’re right,” Corbyn said. “The clue is six lines long. Lines one, two, and three are all complete sentences but lines four through six are all part of the same sentence.” Corbyn hadn’t noticed that before. He knew this had to be intentional.

Aaden turned to Maddy. “Did the first clue do the same thing?”

“I don’t remember. Let me get it out.”

Corbyn took both clues and laid them on the table side-by-side. “Let’s see what they have in common.”

Clue #1:

Following this clue will send you on a risky quest for a secret that will change the world!

One must begin by heading to an area of former twin cities—do you have your passport?

Right next to the “Greatest Great Lake” that exists,

Check out the area that used to be known for “William” and “Arthur.”
Every seeker of the prize should search for the next clue just before the

Second hill of Chippewa’s “potential-kinetic” track!

Clue #2:

Pat yourselves on the back for a job well-done! One clue down but how many left to go?

Looking forward, one must now travel to a “miniature Earth” for the next clue.

A seeker of the prize should look to the desert for the answer.

Nobody will reach the prize if they don’t begin their search in the “Clairvoyant” city, so

Trust your instincts and

Search for the next clue overlooking the “Ocean in the Desert”!

“Look here.” Maddy pointed to clue number one. “The first clue is four sentences long written into six lines of stanza.”

“Same with the second clue,” Aaden added.

Corbyn analyzed the clues further. “The first two sentences of each clue take up the first two lines of stanza.”

“Identical so far,” Maddy concluded. “What about the third sentence for each?”

“In the first clue, sentence three takes up lines three and four. In the second clue, it takes up only line three.”

Team SoNaR was stumped. Still, the teens knew something was going on they hadn’t yet figured out.

“What about the fourth sentence?” Maddy asked.

“It takes up the final two lines in clue one and the final three lines in clue two,” Corbyn replied.

“What does this all mean?” Aaden pondered.

“I’m not sure,” Maddy said slowly. “There doesn’t seem to be any logical reason why the sentences are split up the way they are.”

“Unless…,” Aaden said.

Corbyn and Maddy waited for Aaden to continue.

Aaden smiled and shook his head. “How did we miss something so obvious?”

“What?” Maddy asked impatiently.

“There’s something hidden in plain sight in both of the clues.” Aaden was taking full advantage of having figured out something before the other two. “Check out the first letter of each line and tell me what you see.”

Maddy looked quizzically at Aaden, but did as he suggested. “F, O, R, C, E, S. You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Forces?” Corbyn asked.

Aaden sat back triumphantly. “The entire time the clue was telling us that our first destination would be about physics and we didn’t even see it.”

“Because forces are central to physics,” Maddy concluded. “What about the second clue? Does it do the same thing?”

“P, L, A, N, T, S,” Corbyn read. He looked up. “Looks like biology is next.”

“Plants automatically mean biology?” Aaden asked. He was just trying to get under his brother’s skin.

Corbyn smiled. “You tell me. Biology literally means the study of life, right? Last time I remember, plants were considered living things.”

Maddy gave Corbyn an appreciative smile. “Biology it is. Looks like we’re in your strength area this time.”

Aaden frowned.

“And Aaden,” Maddy continued, “great job figuring out that the clues are really acrostics in disguise. I’m sure that’ll be really helpful this week.”

Aaden’s frown quickly became an embarrassed smile.

Back at EIS, Isaac couldn’t stop worrying about his granddaughter. He was particularly concerned about what she’d have to face in the coming days. In the middle of his reflection, his phone rang.

“Isaac Rutherford speaking.”

“Hi. It’s Sarah. I was just calling to update you on mom.”

“Oh, of course!” Isaac had forgotten he’d told Sarah to call and update him on her mother’s condition. “How’re you holding up?”

“Not great,” she replied in a depressed tone. “Mom is still in bad shape. The doctors told me that the next couple of days are critical.”

“I’m sorry. Feel free to stay as long as you need. We’re holding up, albeit barely, without you here.”

“Thanks, boss. I’ll call again in a couple of days.”

“I look forward to it. You hang in there, you hear?”

“I’ll try. Talk to you soon.”

“Goodbye, Sarah.” Isaac hung up and soon found himself worrying about Maddy again.

After figuring out the clues were acrostics, Team SoNaR got to work figuring out the location the second clue was written about.

Maddy took the lead. “The second clue hints that biology will be the focus of our next stop. Beyond that we don’t know much. But I agree with Corbyn that we should try to leave today instead of tomorrow like we had originally planned. We can sleep on the way there if we need to. So let’s get this thing solved.”

“Like mom’s always said,” Corbyn replied, “problem-solvers change the world.”

Maddy smiled. She had always respected Corbyn and Aaden’s parents.

Aaden got back to the clue. “It’s obvious we’re heading to a desert. I take that to mean a desert somewhere in the southwest.”

“That’s what I was thinking,” Corbyn replied.

Of course you were, Aaden thought.

“Somewhere near California, New Mexico, Arizona, or southern Nevada.” Corbyn looked up. “But I didn’t know there were any oceans there. Isn’t it called a desert because it lacks water?”

“Welcome to problem-solving,” Maddy replied. “I’m with you though. I don’t think there’s any doubt we’re headed to the southwest. The only problem is that the rest of the clue doesn’t seem to match that very well.”

“Maybe we should get the North American map out and look at it,” Corbyn suggested. “See if there’s a body of water there we don’t know about.”

Aaden pulled the map out, unfolded it, and placed it on the table. The team studied it in silence.

“Okay, I see nothing on the map that could pass for an ocean,” Corbyn finally said, “unless you count the Pacific. You guys think we’re headed to the west coast?”

Maddy shook her head. “I don’t think the desert southwest extends all the way to the Pacific.”

“Why not?” Corbyn asked.

Maddy pointed to the middle of California. “Because there’re mountain ranges that separate the two. The Sierra Nevadas, the San Gabriels, and the San Bernardinos.” She ran her finger north and south along the mountain ranges on the map. “It looks like these mountains form the western border of the desert.”

“Preventing the desert from reaching the coast,” Corbyn concluded.

“Exactly. The Pacific Ocean and the desert southwest are geographically separated, so I don’t think we’re going anywhere near the coast.”

“What other oceans are there in the desert then?” Aaden asked.

“Maybe we shouldn’t worry about that part of the clue yet,” Maddy suggested. “Let’s see if we can find a city in the desert that fits the clairvoyant part and go from there instead.”

“What do you suggest?” Corbyn asked.

“Thinking in terms of synonyms. Since clairvoyant is in quotes, that might mean we need to find a city that’s a synonym of that word.”

Corbyn nodded.

“To the internet?” Aaden smirked. “I actually have a laptop I can fire up this time.”

“Pull up an online thesaurus,” Maddy said.

Aaden brought up the web browser and searched for synonyms of clairvoyant. “Fortune-teller, medium, oracle, palm reader, psychic, seer, telepath and visionary.” He looked at Corbyn. “Will you look on the map to see if there are any towns in the desert that match any of these?”

Corbyn nodded. “I’m curious where the desert supposedly has a mini-Earth and ocean in it anyway.”

It didn’t take long to find a match.

“Here it is.” Corbyn pointed to a town just northeast of Tucson. “Oracle, Arizona.”

“Are you sure that’s the only town in the region that fits the clue?” Maddy asked.

Corbyn scanned the map a second time to make sure. “It’s the only one I see.”

Okay. Let’s pull it up on the web and see if we can figure out if there’s an ocean or mini-Earth near there. Aaden, will you search for Oracle, Arizona ocean? Maybe we’ll get lucky.”

Sure enough, Team SoNaR found what they were looking for. Hit after hit mentioned a building near Oracle, Arizona that has an ocean built right into it: Biosphere 2.

Corbyn slammed his hand on the table. “I should’ve figured that out.”

Maddy jumped. “Why?”

“Because Earth is a biosphere.”

“What’s a biosphere?” Aaden mocked his brother with a smirk. “You know biology isn’t my thing.”

Corbyn didn’t catch the jab. “Think of the term: bio and sphere. It basically means life area. A biosphere is any area or region where conditions are suitable for life to exist.”

“Nerd alert,” Aaden muttered.

Corbyn continued with his explanation. “The clue didn’t want us to search for a miniature planet Earth in the literal sense. It just wanted us to find a miniature life area, or biosphere.”

“And Biosphere 2 has an ocean in it?” Maddy asked.

“Yes. Along with replicas of other biomes found on Earth. If I remember right, it has a rainforest, savannah, desert, ocean, and something else I can’t remember right now.” Corbyn knew for certain that Team SoNaR had just solved the second clue.

“And Biosphere 2 is full of plants?” Maddy questioned.

“It has to be in order to replicate Earth’s biomes,” Corbyn said. “This also confirms that biology really is our focus now. Let’s tell TESLA so we can get going.”

“Already heard ya’,” the computer replied, “and I’m on my way!”

Without warning, the helicopter lifted off.

While Team SoNaR was deciphering the second clue, Charles Douglas Bronson was in the middle of a phone call with K-1.

“What’s the update?” Charles growled.

K-1 hesitated.


“I tracked the helicopter to Thunder Bay, Ontario and followed them to Chippewa Park.”

“And? Did you take care of things?”

“I tried.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Charles replied slowly.

“I chased them into an empty building but…there were complications. They’re sitting on the airport’s tarmac right now. I can’t get to them.”

“I’m not paying you to fail,” Charles warned. “You better follow that helicopter and do your job.”

Before K-1 could respond, Charles threw his cordless phone across the room, shattering it into hundreds of pieces.

During the flight to Oracle, Arizona, the teens were treated to another fabulous Indonesian meal for lunch: a skewered marinated chicken dish known as Satay Ayam. It was served with Orak Arik, a traditional Indonesian stir-fried dish of shredded cabbage, carrots, herbs, and eggs.

Maddy admired the meal. “Amazing.”

Chef bowed. “And I’ll make you something special for breakfast tomorrow.”

“Thanks so much,” Maddy replied.

Once Team SoNaR was finished eating, they got to work deciphering the odd puzzle that was written beneath the second clue.

“You guys think we can solve this thing by the time we get to Arizona?” Aaden asked.

Corbyn laughed with confidence. “You think we’re going to let one puzzle get in our way?”

“I don’t know, are you?” TESLA chimed in. “How sad would it be if we had to go back home already because the great Team SoNaR got stumped on the second day! Ha! I double-dog dare you to give up and go home instead!”

Maddy rolled her eyes. “Right.”

“Tell you what.” Corbyn smiled mischievously. “You up for a friendly wager?”

“Any day!” TESLA replied. “What’re the terms?”

“I’ll bet you we have this puzzle figured out in less than fifteen minutes.”

“And if you do?”

“Once the quest is over, you have to take the three of us on a trip anywhere we want.”

“Not very friendly,” TESLA replied. “And if you don’t have the exact solution within the time limit?”

“We’ll be responsible for your maintenance for a year. What d’ya think?”

TESLA took zero point one three seconds to think it over. “Deal. I’d shake your hands, but I think my rotor blades might do them some damage!” With a laugh, TESLA showed 15:00:00 on the television screen. “Time begins now!”

“All right,” Corbyn said confidently. “Let’s do this.”

Maddy looked at the cipher again. She taunted TESLA. “We’re gonna win this bet no problem.”

“Hey now!” the supercomputer interrupted. “No cockiness allowed in the peanut gallery!” TESLA laughed again, thoroughly enjoying the new game.

“All right,” Maddy said. “The cipher reads T-B-T…C-E-N-H-A-I-I…Y-O…A-S-C-A-G…E-L-T-U-H-E. Obviously, that means nothing in its current form, so—”

“We need to put it in the correct form,” Aaden interrupted. “What does the hint say again?”

“6, 11, 6. Written in a diagonal down and to the right.”

“I think I’ve seen a cipher like this one before,” Aaden said. “How many letters are in it?”

Maddy counted and reported there were twenty-three.

“That’s what I figured.”

“Why?” Maddy asked.

“Because that’s what six plus eleven plus six equals.”

“Twenty-three,” Corbyn said. “Coincidence?”

“Not with ciphers. You know that.” Aaden looked at the puzzle again. “My guess is we have to create three rows of letters. Six of the letters need to go in the top row, eleven in the middle, and the remaining six in the bottom row. The only problem is that I don’t know which letters go in each row.”

“Write down what you mean,” Maddy requested. “I need to see it.”

Aaden grabbed a pen from the backpack and wrote everything down. He secretly hoped he could impress Maddy by leading the team to the solution.

“I’m going to ignore the spacing between the letters in the cipher for now and write the first six in the top row, the next eleven in the middle row, and the final six in the bottom row. That’ll give us a starting point anyway.”




Aaden was pleased with himself. “There.”

“Now what?” Maddy asked.

TESLA interrupted again. “Five minutes down, ten to go! You’ll never make it!”

Team SoNaR ignored the announcement.

“I think now we need to follow the hint to shift the second and third rows to the right and see if something pops up,” Aaden continued. “Like this.”




“Nothing that I can see,” Corbyn said after staring at the rearranged cipher for a few seconds. “The letters are still in the same order, just shifted to the right.”

Aaden smirked. “Don’t be so sure. I see a word in that mess now. Think of the hint.”

“The!” Maddy replied. “The first letter of each line spells the word the. Almost like what we saw with the first two clues.”

“Exactly. And if you look at the spacing between the letters in the original puzzle, it looks like the solution should be five words long. And the first word in the solution is—”

“Three letters,” Corbyn concluded. “The first word of the solution is the.”

“So,” Maddy thought out loud, “the solution is a five word sentence that begins with the. How many letters are in the second word?”

“Seven,” Corbyn replied. “But what do we need to do now to get the next word to show up?”

Aaden smiled. He enjoyed taking the lead. “Like I said, I think I’ve seen this type of cipher before. If I’m correct, we need to keep shifting letters to the right, but we need to go back up now. Like so.”




“Six minutes to go!” TESLA crowed. “I’m looking forward to watching you guys wash me from nose to tail!”

“That doesn’t spell anything,” Corbyn noted.

“No kidding,” Aaden replied. “We need a seven-letter word, so we need to keep shifting the cipher to the right…kind of like a—”

“Rollercoaster,” Maddy replied. “Of course. We need to make this cipher look like the hills of a rollercoaster, don’t we?”

“Exactly.” Aaden grinned. He was outshining his twin. “Just like the one we saw in the amusement park.” He finished shifting all the letters.




Aaden proudly showed off the result. “Written just like a rollercoaster’s hills, with six letters in each of the top and bottom rows and eleven in the middle. Now all we need to do is rewrite the letters from left to right and see what comes up.”

“Two minutes to go!” TESLA was putting the pressure on Team SoNaR.

Maddy rewrote the puzzle, making sure the correct number of letters ended up in each of the five words.


“The ability to cause change?” Corbyn asked. “What kind of a solution is that?”

“One minute and counting!” TESLA interrupted.

“It’s another physics puzzle,” Aaden realized. “We’ve got to figure out what this means. Any ideas, Maddy?”

Maddy was already lost in thought and didn’t respond.

Corbyn eventually broke the uncomfortable silence. “C’mon, Maddy. You know this.”

“Twenty seconds! I can hear Team SoNaR rotating my tires, changing my oil, and sharpening my blades as we speak! Fifteen…fourteen…thirteen…”

“C’mon, Maddy! What is needed to cause something to change?”


Maddy started thinking out loud. “If something needs changed, moved, or altered…”


“C’mon!” Corbyn urged.

“…it needs…”



“Time!” TESLA was a half-second too late.

High fives and congratulations rained down. After celebrating, Team SoNaR tried to figure what the solution meant to the quest. While they were busy contemplating possible ideas, TESLA spent the remainder of the trip to Oracle, Arizona pouting and grumbling about its recent defeat.

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