Frustration Boils Over
The ride back to the airport was quick and uneventful. Exhausted, Maddy paid and the team exited. Corbyn called TESLA to get someone to meet the team and walk them back to the helicopter. Once back onboard, they each took a seat around the conference table. Aaden rested his head in his arms on top of the table.
“That could have gone better.” Corbyn stretched and gave his brother a hard look.
TESLA welcomed the team back. “How’d it go today?”
Maddy sighed. “We got what we needed. But it didn’t come easy.”
“Uh-oh,” TESLA chastised. “Were the ittle-bitty clues too hard for the team?”
Corbyn scowled. “There was nothing wrong with the clues today, thank you very much.”
“Oh,” TESLA replied in the same tone of voice, “I’m so sorry! But hey, look at the bright side. You all made it back in one piece, the quest appears to be moving right along, and a little challenge here and there never hurt anybody!”
“Yeah?” Corbyn challenged. “What do you know? Aaden, who was obviously not thinking straight, nearly got himself killed. And then we got chased again by—”
Maddy put her finger to her lips and shook her head. Corbyn stopped midsentence and looked down.
Miss was standing not far from the team. Surprise and concern registered on her face. “What happened to Aaden?”
“He nearly drowned,” Maddy replied.
Miss’s eyes widened. “What? Is everybody okay?”
“No. We’re not!” Corbyn had reached his breaking point. He got out of his chair and walked over to his brother. He lifted Aaden’s head up off the table and confronted him. “If you hadn’t tried to play the hero this morning, things wouldn’t have gotten so out of hand!”
Aaden pushed Corbyn away and looked up, dumbfounded. “Are you actually suggesting I tried to drown myself on purpose? How dumb can you be?”
“Whether you planned it or not, it was a stupid thing to do! We could’ve gotten that canister just fine without having to fish you out of the ocean also!” Corbyn’s face was beet red. “Not to mention how sick I am of your attitude this week!”
“Guys! Stop!” Maddy jumped up and attempted to get between the feuding twins. “This isn’t helping!”
Aaden ignored Maddy’s plea and pushed her away. He stood up and stared his brother down. “I have been nothing but helpful this entire trip, so shut your mouth. Besides, let’s not forget that I saved your life also today! What do you think would’ve happened if I hadn’t come back to warn you about K-1?”
Corbyn flushed. “Oh, really? Funny thing about that is that you wouldn’t have been around to warn us if I hadn’t saved you from drowning in the first place! And if you hadn’t ditched us after that!” Corbyn got in his brother’s face and lowered his voice. “Tell you what. Why don’t you take your worthless butt back home and let us finish the quest without you? You’ve done nothing but get in the way this entire time.”
“Guys, please!” Maddy tried to separate the twins again.
Neither twin backed down.
“Tut-tut, kids!” TESLA interjected. “You might want to keep in mind that it is now Saturday evening at precisely 5:24:33 p.m.! You are now officially two days, nine hours, twenty-four minutes, thirty-three seconds into the quest. That leaves only four days, fourteen hours, thirty-five minutes, twenty-seven seconds to get everything done in time. Better resolve your issues now or else your hopes and dreams will come crashing down quicker than a helicopter with no blades!”
Even in the heat of the moment, TESLA’s joke had an immediate effect on the twins. They backed down from their confrontational postures, though their faces still registered extreme anger towards one another.
“Fine.” Corbyn sat back down. “Not that Aaden deserves to be on the team anymore,” he added under his breath.
Maddy shot Corbyn a look to shut him up.
Aaden also heard the comment. It hurt him deeply, but he refused to respond.
After some awkward silence, Maddy changed the subject. “I have an idea. Why don’t we have Chef cook us up some dinner, take a little break, and forget all about this? We still have work to do. We’ll all need to help if we want to continue with the quest.” Maddy’s eyebrows rose, waiting for a response.
Corbyn took a deep breath and nodded once.
“Aaden?” Maddy asked.
“Fine. But I’m going to go lie down until dinner’s ready.” Aaden walked back to his bed.
Corbyn mocked his twin under his breath as he walked by. “What, is drowning from stupidity tiring?”
Maddy had had enough. She stood up and stared Corbyn down. “That wasn’t necessary.” Before he could say anything, she walked to her bedroom. The team remained separated from one another until Chef called them back for dinner.
Rubbing her eyes, Maddy sat down at the table. The twins were already there, avoiding eye contact with one another.
“Are we finally ready to be civil?” Maddy asked. “I know things have been difficult lately, but we may as well just give up now if we can’t find a way to get along.”
Aaden replied through a mouthful of casserole. “I’m over it. Let’s just get this next clue figured out so we can get to bed.”
Under the circumstances, that was the best Maddy could hope for. “Corbyn?”
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
Maddy raised her eyebrows.
“I’m fine. Get the voice recorders out so we can listen to them while we eat.”
Maddy relented. It wasn’t worth arguing over any longer. She pulled out all four recorders and laid them on the table. “Do you remember the first two lines of the clue?” she asked Corbyn.
“Yes.” Corbyn took a bite of his dinner and sat back.
“Will you write them down for us before we start working on the other three?”
Maddy gave Corbyn a pen and paper. She looked down at the recorders and realized there was a problem. “Guys, these are all identical. I don’t know which order they’re supposed to be played in.”
Aaden shrugged. “So? We know the clues are written as acrostics, right?”
Maddy nodded to herself. “Right. We’ll just listen to the last three lines and put them in order based on that. Shouldn’t be too hard.”
Corbyn wrote down the first two lines to the next clue and read them out loud. “Congratulations, you are doing very well! At this time, you must now travel to the longest underground grotto in the world. Lines one and two are letters C and A.”
“Okay.” Maddy pushed play on one of the remaining digital voice recorders.
Grandpa Isaac’s voice filled the cabin. “Every seeker of the prize will find the next clue where limestone flows like a waterfall. Good luck!”
Corbyn wrote down the line as the recorder recited it. “This line begins with an E. That makes C, A, E.”
“Any ideas what this clue might spell yet?” Aaden asked to no one in particular.
“Cadet? Cages? Carve?” Maddy offered.
“Why don’t we just listen to the other two recordings instead of guessing?” Corbyn said, irritated. “Play the next one.”
The recorder played its message. “Start your search in the room that sounds like it should have curtains decorating it! Y…J…G…T…G…L…E. R…F…G…L…E…Q. Hint: When in Rome, he took two steps to the right! Good luck!”
Aaden looked puzzled. “What’s that all supposed to mean?”
After writing down the recorder’s message, Corbyn said, “I think we just got the last line of the clue along with another cipher to solve. Kind of like that rollercoaster cipher we figured out two days ago.”
Maddy nodded. “After we get all the lines and figure them out we can look at the cipher. We know the last line begins with S anyway.”
“That gives us C, A, E, and S.” Looking things over, Corbyn admitted to himself that Maddy might be correct—the word cages was looking more and more plausible, though he couldn’t figure out how that could relate to Team SoNaR’s next destination. “Play the final line to see what the entire clue says.”
Maddy pushed play on the final recorder. “Very large and ancient mammals are the subject of this area’s namesake. Good luck!”
“V?” Corbyn was surprised.
“What does that leave us with?” Aaden asked.
“C, A, E, S, and V.”
“But we know the clue needs to start with the C and A,” Maddy said, “and end with S.”
Just to shake things up, TESLA offered its two cents. “C’mon, guys! What’s taking so long? You’re obviously looking for a word spelled c-a-e-v-s, right? Ha!”
Aaden smirked. “Nice try. Obviously, we’re looking for caves. Corbyn, will you put the lines in order for us so we can read the clue in full?”
Corbyn gave his brother a dirty look, unhappy that Aaden was telling him what to do. He wrote the clue out nonetheless. The team read the result.
Congratulations, you are doing very well!
At this time, you must now travel to the longest underground grotto in the world.
Very large and ancient mammals are the subject of this area’s namesake.
Every seeker of the prize will find the next clue where limestone flows like a waterfall.
Start your search in the room that sounds like it should have curtains decorating it.
“What’s a grotto?” Maddy looked over the clue that had cost the team a very difficult day to piece together.
“Nothing!” TESLA piped in. “What’s a grotto with you? Ha!”
Aaden shook his head and turned to Maddy. “A grotto’s a cave or cavern. Looks like we’re headed underground next.”
After suffering another setback, K-1 made the painful trip back to his airplane. He saw the helicopter parked not far away, but knew there was nothing he could do about it in full view of the airport.
Not that it mattered anyway: K-1 knew exactly where his targets were going next. Despite being made to look like an amateur buffoon so far, he was an experienced tracker that wasn’t going to give up. He planned to head the teens off and avenge himself. Failure was no longer an option. The kids would suffer for what they’d done, of that he was certain.
K-1 climbed into his plane, knowing he had to do the unthinkable. He pulled out his cell phone to get it over with. He dialed Charles’ number, expecting the worst.
“This had better be good,” Charles answered.
K-1 took a deep breath. “I didn’t get them.” Before Charles could interrupt, K-1 quickly added, “But I already know where they’re going next. I grew up within a few miles of their next stop. They won’t know I’ll be waiting for them already, and—”
Charles’ interruption was calm, yet menacing. “I’ll tell you what. I’m not going to sit around and listen to another worthless excuse from you. You know what they say about excuses. All I’m going to—”
“But I’m heading to—”
“All I’m going to say is that you had better know what you are doing this time…or else the hunter will become the hunted, if you catch my drift. Good day.”
“To a cave?” Maddy was surprised.
Aaden nodded and pointed to what Corbyn had written down. “And line two says we’re going to the longest one in the world, no less.”
“Which one is that?”
Aaden relished taking the lead. “Look at line three: very large and ancient mammals. That can only mean one thing.”
Corbyn’s annoyance with his brother continued. “Spare us the suspense. If you have the answer, just say so.”
Aaden thought about replying with something sarcastic, but Maddy spoke up before he could.
“Corbyn, stop. Let him continue.” She turned to Aaden. “What cave are we going to?”
“Mammoth Caves, of course.” Aaden smiled.
Maddy mulled Aaden’s conclusion over for a moment. She nodded. “The mammoth was a giant mammal that lived thousands of years ago. Makes sense to me. Now we need to figure out exactly where in the caves we need to go since they’re so huge.”
“Already on it.” Corbyn was looking at his laptop. He wasn’t about to let Aaden make the only contribution to figuring out the clue. “I’m searching the Mammoth Caves website for any tours that might fit.” Corbyn scanned the results. “There’s the Mammoth Passage tour, the Historic tour, the Frozen Niagara tour, the New Entrance tour, the—”
“Wait,” Maddy said. “What about the Frozen Niagara tour?”
Corbyn thought for a moment. “Could be. Where limestone flows like a waterfall. Let me find out for sure.” Corbyn clicked on the link to the tour and read the description. “The tour starts at the Frozen Niagara Entrance, then goes to the Rainbow Dome, Crystal Lake, the Frozen Niagara flowstone formation, and finishes up in the Drapery Room.”
Maddy considered what Corbyn read. “That has to be it. The last line says to start our search in a room that should have curtains decorating it.” She used air quotes for curtains. “I bet we’ll find something somewhere in the Drapery Room. What do you guys think?”
“Agreed,” Aaden replied.
Corbyn nodded. “Me, too. On our way there we can figure out the cipher that was on the last recorder before we go to bed.” He looked at the television screen at the front of the cabin. “TESLA?”
“Ready to get going are we?” TESLA asked.
“You have the location?” Maddy replied.
To show that the computer did, the helicopter suddenly lifted off and headed east.
K-1 grew up in Bowling Green, Kentucky, a small town approximately thirty miles from Mammoth Cave National Park. He was very familiar with the park and all of the caves inside. The moment he heard the line from the recorder in Biosphere 2, he knew precisely where to go. While Maddy, Corbyn, and Aaden were still busy figuring out the location, K-1 had already been in the air for over an hour. He smirked.
No more messing around this time. Those brats are dead.
“I wonder what happened to K-1,” Aaden said.
After the quest’s next stop had been figured out, the team took a short break. They were gathered back together around the conference table to tackle the cipher.
“Who cares?” Corbyn replied curtly. “We escaped again. That’s all that matters. Can we just get back to the cipher?” He pulled out a piece of paper. “I wrote the clue down already. If you guys want to write it down also, that’s up to you.”
Maddy and Aaden each decided to copy the cipher so they could study it easier.
Hint: When in Rome, he took two steps to the right!
“When in Rome,” Maddy said thoughtfully. “Any ideas?”
After a short silence, Corbyn said, “The only thing I can think of is that the answer has something to do with biology.”
“Why do you say that?” Maddy asked.
“Because the first cipher, which had a physics solution—”
“—was found at a place with physics as its focus.”
Maddy nodded. “So, because we found this cipher in Biosphere 2—”
“A place with a biology focus.”
“—the answer should have something to do with biology. That gives us a starting point, anyway.”
While they were in the middle of their exchange, Aaden feverishly attempted to figure out what the cipher’s hint meant before Corbyn could. He grabbed his laptop, typed Rome Cipher into the search engine, and instantly understood it. Unfortunately, before he could proudly announce what he’d just figured out, Corbyn beat him to the punch.
“Duh,” Corbyn suddenly said to himself. He shook his head. “That should’ve been obvious right away.”
“What?” Maddy asked.
“The hint mentions someone in Rome, right?”
“Yeah, and I—” Aaden tried.
But Corbyn waved his twin off midsentence. “What cipher is named after a famous Roman?” Before Maddy or Aaden could answer, Corbyn said, “A Caesar cipher, right? One of the most common ciphers there is.”
“Of course.” Maddy smiled. “How many times have we made these for each other during our SoNaR meetings?”
Aaden couldn’t believe what had just happened. Just when he was about to contribute, his brother got in the way again. Disgusted, he stood up, stretched his arms, faked a yawn, and said he was going to bed.
“You sure?” Maddy asked. “We still haven’t decoded the—”
“I’m sure you can take it from here,” Aaden responded tersely. “The hard part’s done now that you know what type of cipher it is. Good night.”
Aaden left without another word.
“What a surprise,” Corbyn mocked. “Aaden walked out on us again.”
While making fun of his twin, Corbyn didn’t realize Maddy was also standing up.
“Actually,” she said with anger in her eyes, “you can do it on your own. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really want to be around you either. I don’t care how Aaden has been acting. Your arrogance is just making everything worse and I want no part of it.”
Corbyn suddenly found himself sitting alone. Although he knew the right choice would be to apologize for his behavior, he simply could not justify doing so. Aaden had been such a problem lately that Corbyn figured his twin was getting what he deserved. Corbyn shrugged, put the drama of the day out of his mind, and focused on solving the cipher instead.
A Caesar cipher takes letters and shifts them up or down the alphabet a specific number of times, he thought. According to the hint, Caesar took two steps to the right. This must mean each letter needs to be shifted two to the right...so A = C, B = D, C = E, and so on.
Corbyn pulled out another piece of paper. Within minutes, he had the solution written down.
Y = A
J = L
G = I
T = V
G = I
E = G
R = T
F = H
G = I
L = N
E = G
Solution: A Living Thing
Too easy, Corbyn thought smugly. The answer is obviously organism.
The next morning, Maddy, Corbyn, and Aaden got ready for the day in silence. They downed their breakfast without speaking to one another. TESLA decided to break the ice.
“Morning, folks! You ready for another fun-filled, action-packed day of questing? We arrived in Bowling Green, Kentucky hours ago!”
Silence, along with a couple of well-aimed dirty looks from Corbyn and Aaden, followed.
“Oh, c’mon guys. I didn’t fly to the fabulous Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport for nothing! Where’s the excitement? Where’s the—”
“We’re not in the mood,” Maddy replied sourly. “Just leave us alone, please.”
“Really? That’s how you’re going to treat your wonderfully capable and supportive navigation system? Do I need to start telling dumb jokes to lighten the mood around here?”
“Please don’t.” Aaden scowled and stared at his brother. “Eating at the same table as him makes me want to puke enough as it is.”
Corbyn shrugged and pushed his food around his plate with his fork.
“Fine,” TESLA replied matter-of-factly. “You leave me no choice. Can anybody tell me what the biggest pencil ever is called?”
“Stop it,” Maddy replied.
“PENCIL-vania! Ha-ha!” TESLA’s metallic laugh was getting on Team SoNaR’s nerves. “Oh and here’s a favorite of mine! How did the rocket lose his job?”
“We don’t care.”
“He got fired! Thank you! I’ll be here all morning!”
“I wish I weren’t right now,” Aaden muttered to himself.
TESLA kept it up. “You’re gonna love this one. What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back?”
“A stick! Get it? A stick!”
“Fine,” TESLA stated. “You’ve forced me to pull out the big gun. Here’s my favorite joke of all. You ready for this?”
The silence continued.
“I’ll take that as a yes. Okay, here goes.” TELSA pretended to clear its throat. “Why did the helicopter crash while flying through a snowstorm?”
Not surprisingly, there was no response.
“Because it got cold and turned its fan off!” TESLA roared with laughter. “Get it? It turned its fan off! I slay myself!”
Maddy tried to hide a slight smile.
“Are you going to keep torturing us this morning?” Corbyn asked, not in the mood for jokes.
“Not if you guys start talking and make up with one another. If not…well, I have exactly 32,418,764 more jokes in my data base, and I can always download more! It’s up to you!”
“We’re going to have to talk again at some point,” Maddy admitted. “Unless we just want to give up and go home.”
“There’s no way we’re giving up,” Corbyn declared.
“What’s the point of continuing if we won’t even talk to one another right now?” Maddy wanted to make sure that Corbyn and Aaden continued with the quest because they wanted to, not because she made them do so.
After a few moments of awkward silence, Corbyn answered. “Fine. You’re right. I was a jerk last night, and I’m sorry. I let yesterday get the best of me, and…never mind. No excuses. I was a jerk, and I’m sorry.”
Maddy smiled. Aaden rolled his eyes.
“I’m sorry, too,” Maddy added. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you like I did.”
Corbyn shook his head. “I deserved it. I’ve gotta do a better job of focusing on the quest and ignoring all the other junk going on around me.”
“We all need to remember that.” She looked over at Aaden. “Right?”
Aaden nodded. It was difficult to tell if he was being genuine or not.
Maddy sighed. “Can we all just agree to move on and forget about yesterday? It’s doing nothing but holding us back. You two are no fun to be around when you’re fighting.”
Corbyn nodded. “Like I said, I’m done worrying about all that stuff.”
Maddy thanked him. “Did you get the cipher solved?”
“Yeah. The solution was a living thing, which means the answer is organism.”
Aaden rolled his eyes again.
“Good job,” Maddy said. “And TESLA?”
“Yes, my dear?”
Maddy smiled. “Not that your jokes were actually funny or anything. But thanks.”
“I do what I can! Now, how’s about you guys getting out there and kicking some quest booty, eh?”
“Let’s go,” Maddy replied. “And work together as a team.”
“Agreed!” TESLA added. “Go get what you came for and return back safe and sound! Au revoir! I’m practicing my French today. What d’ya think?”
“Not bad.” Maddy grabbed the backpack and stepped out of the helicopter. “C’mon. Let’s get to the caves.”
The teens hailed a taxi and were taken to the Mammoth Cave National Park visitor center. They made their way to the park’s ticket booth.
Maddy looked at the twins. “We decided we need to join the Frozen Niagara tour and look for something in the Drapery Room. Are we still all in agreement about that?”
“As far as I know,” Corbyn replied.
“Okay.” Maddy took some money out of the backpack. “After we get our tickets, let’s head over to the entrance. The next tour leaves in five minutes.”
While the team was busy purchasing their tickets, K-1 was hidden around the corner of the booth eavesdropping on everything they said.