Cold Secrets: A SoNaR Adventure

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Avogadro's Room

Having solved much of the latest clue, Team SoNaR was on its way to its final destination: Grant, Nebraska. Along the way, the teens still had work to do to. They had to determine how Avogadro fit the clue and then solve the cipher.

“We should arrive in a couple of hours, tops,” Maddy said. “Let’s get everything figured out now so we can leave right after we land. Aaden, you’re the chemistry expert. Do you know what Avogadro means?”

Aaden thought for a moment. “I think I remember reading that Avogadro was an Italian scientist that lived around two hundred years ago.”

“And he’s credited with discovering something having to do with a room?”

“No.” Aaden sat back and crossed his arms. “If I remember right, he’s known for a number that’s named after him.”

“What number is it?” Corbyn asked.

“In layman’s terms, Avogadro’s number is a really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really—”

“Okay, we get it,” his twin said.

“Really large number. It basically gives chemists a way to count the exact number of atoms or molecules in a sample even though the atoms and molecules are way too small to see.” Aaden put his hands up. “But don’t ask me how someone knows how many atoms there are. I don’t know that much about it.”

“So what’s Avogadro’s number equal to?” Maddy asked.

Aaden had to look the number up online to refresh his memory. “6.02 x 1023. Also known as a mole.”

“I’m more confused than I was ten seconds ago,” Corbyn said.

“Think of it this way: Avogadro’s Number is basically a really, really big count.”

“You said that already.”

“Let him finish,” Maddy said patiently.

“Anyway, for comparison, if you have a pair of eggs, you have two eggs; if you have a dozen eggs, you have twelve eggs; if you have a mole of eggs, you have 6.02 x 1023 eggs. Or a whole heck of a lot of eggs.”

“So it’s a simpler way to deal with such a large number,” Maddy concluded.

“Just calling it a large number isn’t doing it justice. A guest speaker on Chemistry Day last year said that if you line up a mole of marbles—”

“6.02 x 1023 marbles,” Maddy clarified.

Aaden nodded. “If you line up that many marbles, the line would stretch further than approximately 500 million of our solar systems placed end-to-end.”

Maddy looked skeptical. “No way.”

“Hey, that’s just what we were told. Anyway, it’s easier to say one mole of marbles than it is to say 6.02 x 1023 marbles each time.”

“So how does that help us when we get to Nebraska?” Corbyn asked. “Obviously, EIS doesn’t have a mole of rooms in it.”

“No,” replied Aaden, “but I bet it has at least six floors. If I’m thinking about this the right way, we should head up to the sixth floor and look for room 602. Or room 23 maybe. Does that make sense?”

“I think so,” Maddy said slowly. “Corbyn?”

Corbyn agreed with the theory. “Good enough for now anyway. Should we work on the cipher now?”

“You know what I don’t get?” Aaden asked. “The point of the ciphers. We’ve solved three of them but they’ve done nothing for us. Are they just for fun or something?”

“I was wondering the same thing,” Maddy replied. “The solution to the first puzzle was energy—”

“It was the rollercoaster-like one,” Aaden said.

“Yeah. And the solution to the second puzzle was—”

Organism,” Corbyn interjected. “It was the Caesar Cipher I solved.”

“And the solution to the anagram cipher was rock. But you’re right. What was the point?”

“They’ve gotta be important for some reason,” Aaden replied. “But let’s worry about that later.” He studied the cipher. “It looks like the solution to this one is going to be six words long.”

20 5-12-18-1-26-3-16 12-7 1-13-16 7-12-14-13-1 2-10-22

Hint: Phoenix and Pegasus…One equals 5-16-14-20-2-26-2

“Right,” Maddy answered. “And if this cipher is what I think it is, it might be the easiest of the four.”

Corbyn and Aaden were thinking the same thing.

“We’ve sent ciphers like this to each other tons of times,” Corbyn said. “We just need to substitute letters for each of the numbers.”

Maddy nodded. “Let’s start by assuming one equals A, two equals B, three C, and so on.”

Corbyn wrote the solution based on that definition. He looked up and laughed. “T ELRAZCP LG AMQ GLNMA BJV.”

“Guess not,” Aaden said. “Might take a bit more work than we thought.”

TESLA jumped in. “You guys have been getting a little too confident in yourselves lately, don’t you think?”

“Hardly,” Corbyn replied. “We just need to figure out which number matches up to which letter. We’ll have this solved in no time.”

“And would you be willing to back up your confidence with a friendly triple-or-nothing wager?”

“Friendly? As in there’s nothing riding on the outcome?”

“All right,” the computer replied with a laugh. “Maybe not that friendly. I was thinking of giving you guys a chance to really nail me to the wall with one final challenge. If you solve this one in less than five minutes, I’m your helicopter forever. I’ll take you wherever you want to go, whenever you want. But if you fail, you have to keep up on my maintenance until I’m too broken down to ever fly again.”

Maddy, Corbyn, and Aaden looked at each other with interest.

“What d’ya think?” TESLA challenged. “I ain’t got all day! You’re not chicken, are ya’?”

“He’s nuts,” Maddy whispered. “What do you think? Should we do it?”

Corbyn’s confidence was unshaken. “Of course. We already know what we have to do to solve this. We can’t lose.”

“I’m in,” Aaden said. “Maddy?”

Maddy smirked and agreed.

“All right, TESLA,” Corbyn said. “You’ve got yourself a deal.”

“Great! Your time starts now!”

“All right,” Maddy said quickly, “we know the numbers don’t correspond to the alphabet the way we originally thought. That can only mean that another letter is equal to number one.”

“Look at the hint,” Aaden replied. “It says that either Phoenix or Pegasus equals 5-16-14-20-2-26-2. Since both words are seven letters long, the hint could be referring to either one.”

“But we do know that number five corresponds to letter P,” Corbyn realized. “Both words in the hint start with P, so that’s a given.”

“Good observation,” Maddy said. “So if P equals five and we count back four letters, wouldn’t letter L be equal to number one?”

“Only one way to find out.” Aaden wrote out a new possible solution. “L through Z would match up with numbers 1 through 15. A through K would be 16 through 26.”

“One minute down, four to go!” TESLA started playing the theme song to Jeopardy.

“See if that rule works to spell out either Phoenix or Pegasus.” Corbyn did his best to ignore the song.

Aaden tested the clue’s hint. “P, A, Y, E, M, K, M.” He sat back defeated. “Apparently not.”

“Any other ideas?” Maddy asked.

“I’m still sure number 5 equals letter P,” Corbyn stated. “We just need to figure out what the other letters—”

“Two minutes down, three to go! I’m giddy, I tell ya’…giddy!”

Team SoNaR sat in frustrated silence. TESLA continued to taunt the team.

“One minute left! Better get to work!”

“What do we do?” Maddy asked nervously. “This should be easy to solve!”

Aaden remained calm. “I agree with Corbyn about the letter P. We need to keep that as our starting point.”

“We know that already,” Corbyn said, frustrated.

“I know we know that. My point is that maybe we should count backwards through the alphabet instead.”

“Forty seconds left! I can’t wait! Mighty Team SoNaR is about to fall in battle!”

Ignoring TESLA’s onslaught, Aaden quickly began reassigning numbers to each letter in the alphabet. “If P is equal to 5,” he thought out loud, “and we want to count backwards instead, Q would be equal to 4, R equal to 3, S equal to 2, T equal to 1, U equal to 26, and so on and so forth.”

“Thirty seconds left! My circuits sense victory!”

Once Aaden was done reassigning numbers to all of the letters of the alphabet, he tried deciphering the puzzle for a third time.

“C’mon,” Maddy urged. “You can still make it….”

As fast as he could, Aaden worked through the clue. “20 equals A, 5 equals P, 12 equals I, 18 equals C, 1 equals T, 26 equals U, 3 equals R, 16 equals—”

“Twenty seconds left! Quit now!”

“…E, 12 equals I, 7 equals N, 1 equals T, 13 equals H, 16 equals E, 7 equals N, 12 equals I—”

“Ten seconds! Bummer for you!”

“…14 equals G, 13 equals H, 1 equals T, 2 equals S—”

“Five, four, three….”

“…10 equals K—”

“Two, one….”

“…and 22 equals—”

“Time!” TESLA yelled.

“…Y.” Aaden finished a split second too late. “A picture in the night sky.”

Aaden threw the pen down in disgust. TESLA thoroughly enjoyed the moment…maybe a little too much.

“Too bad it took you one nanosecond too long! Thank you! Thank you! If I could bow, I would…but my landing gear doesn’t bend like that!”

Maddy smiled. “Congratulations, TESLA. What would you like us to do first when we get home? Wash your propeller blades or something?”

“Actually,” the computer replied brightly, “I have a thought….”

“What?” Corbyn asked dryly.

TESLA’s voice changed to sound proper and distinguished. “I now consider the three of you close and personal friends. Therefore, I propose that we count ourselves even. I don’t have to transport you wherever you want to go, and you don’t have to maintain me. Let’s just say we had a little fun with one another with our challenges, and keep it at that. How’s that sound, old chaps?”

“But we lost fair and square,” Maddy replied. “You deserve to win.”

“Maybe it’s not always about winning and losing! I enjoyed the game. That’s so much better than winning some silly bet! You’ve made this week one to remember, and I’ll never forget you for it…unless my hard drive gets a virus and crashes some day!”

“Are you sure?” Aaden asked.

“Hey,” TESLA replied, “I know I can be a handful sometimes. I’m sure you’ll agree that my programming has made me slightly sarcastic from time to time.”

“Slightly?” Aaden joked.

“Fine. Maybe more than slightly. Regardless, I’ve enjoyed this week, and I don’t want to spoil it with hard feelings. Besides, since I won today’s bet, I have every right to make that decision! Not only that, but I also have bragging rights for the rest of eternity!” TESLA laughed.

“If that’s what you want,” Maddy replied carefully. “You know, you’ve really grown on me, too. I’m gonna miss you when the quest ends.”

“Well you’d better all make sure to come and visit me then! Maybe we can even arrange to go on another trip together someday. Deal?”

“Deal,” Team SoNaR replied in unison.

For the remainder of the trip, Team SoNaR checked their work on the cipher by confirming that the hint spelled Pegasus. They also figured out that the answer to the solution was constellation. They joked around with TESLA and generally enjoyed one another’s company. Because they were so focused on each other, they were unaware that Miss, Chef, and Goodwrench were nowhere to be found in the helicopter’s cabin.


For the final time, Mr. Zhang made his customary call. “Good afternoon. They’re headed right where they need to go. They should be landing within the hour.”

“Excellent. Do not stop following them. They don’t have the secret yet, so assume that something could still go wrong.”

“You got it. Hope to see you soon with good news.”

“You and me both.”

Once the helicopter reached the Grant Municipal Airport, Team SoNaR bade farewell to TESLA, grabbed the backpack, and walked onto the tarmac. Realizing there were no taxi cabs in such a small town, Maddy, Corbyn, and Aaden hitched a ride with an airport employee that happened by. Her shift had just ended, so she walked the team to her car and drove them into town.

“Name’s Denise,” the pretty young woman said. “What’re yours?”

“I’m Maddy.” She was riding shotgun. She gestured towards the twins in the rear. “That’s Corbyn and Aaden.”

“Welcome aboard,” Denise said. “And welcome to Grant. Not much out here to do. You visiting family or something?”

“Something like that,” Maddy replied. “I think my grandpa works somewhere here.”

“That so? What’s his name? I probably know him.”

“Isaac Rutherford. He works for EIS. You wouldn’t happen to know where that is by chance?”

Denise smiled. “’Course I know where that is. How many large energy factories do you think there are in a small town like this?”

“Good point,” Maddy acknowledged. “Any chance you could take us there? That is, if it’s not out of your way.”

Denise waved her off. “Not outta my way at all. I’ll have you there in no time.”

Just as she had promised, Denise pulled up to the front of EIS, Incorporated a few minutes later. “Here you go! Hope you all have a good afternoon. And tell your grandfather hi for me.”

“Will do,” Maddy replied. “Thanks for the ride.”

The team stepped out and looked up at their final stop. A simple building of brick, mortar, and glass, the structure had been designed with functionality more than aesthetics in mind. At six stories tall, it housed numerous research laboratories, plenty of office space, wide hallways for transporting large experimental machines, four separate elevators, and two sets of emergency stairwells.

A map of EIS that was posted near the team showed that each level had the same simple floor plan: a hallway encircling the perimeter of the floor. The hallway was intersected by five parallel hallways running east to west. Within the parallel hallways numerous doors led to labs, offices, work spaces, restrooms, and storage closets.

“We’re definitely in the right place,” Maddy noticed. “There’s the atomic symbol above the front door.”

“You know,” Aaden replied, “that makes me think. Why did we have to go through the entire quest if we just ended up at your grandfather’s company anyway? Couldn’t we have just come straight here instead?”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Corbyn added. “Not that I didn’t enjoy everything we’ve been through…for the most part, anyway…but what was the point of going to all those places if we could’ve just looked up your grandpa’s company online and come straight here?”

“Honestly, guys, I have no clue,” Maddy responded. “There’s gotta be a reason. Let’s worry about that later though. Come on.”

Team SoNaR walked into EIS and up to the security guard’s desk.

“Afternoon,” the surly looking guard said. “What can I do you for?”

“We’re, uh, here on business,” Maddy stammered.

“That so? What kinda business?”

“Um, well, we’re here to see my grandfather.”

“And that would be?”

“Isaac Rutherford.”

The security guard’s demeanor changed instantly. “You wouldn’t happen to be Maddy Rutherford?”

She was caught off-guard by the question. “Um, yeah.”

“Well, then.” The security guard straightened up. “Isaac told me yesterday to expect you any time. I’m Phil, by the way. Sorry I didn’t introduce myself right away.”

“That’s all right.”

“I’ve been given permission to grant you full access to our building, provided you can answer one simple question first. This is strictly for security purposes. I'm sure you understand.”

Maddy nodded. Phil pulled out a slip of paper and read verbatim what Isaac had written on it. “Exactly how many places did you visit on your quest, and what was the name and location of each?”

Maddy smiled. So that’s why we couldn’t just come straight here.

“We visited four locations,” Maddy answered. “The first was Chippewa Park in Thunder Bay, Ontario.”

Phil’s face remained unchanged. “Go on.”

“The second was Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona. The third was Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky. And the fourth was the Earl and Hazel Faulkner Planetarium in Twin Falls, Idaho.”

Phil said nothing at first. Maddy looked nervously at Corbyn and Aaden.

Phil’s face eventually lightened up. “You are correct. Congratulations. Come on in and welcome to EIS.”

Phil buzzed the door open, gave all three members of Team SoNaR visitor’s passes, and waved them through. “Good luck, folks.”

“Thanks,” Corbyn replied.

After entering, Maddy turned to her two best friends. “We finally made it,” she said with a smile. “Shall we finally go get the secret?”

Not long after Team SoNaR entered EIS, Sarah returned from her week-long visit with her ailing mother. She walked up to the security guard’s desk and flashed her I.D. card.

“Hey, Phil.”

Phil looked up. His eyes widened in surprise. “Well, I’ll be! How’s your mom?”

Sarah shrugged. “Finally home. Long recovery ahead but she should pull through.”

“Glad to hear it. I know Isaac can’t wait to have you back. Plus,” Phil added as an afterthought, “your timing’s perfect.”

“How so?”

“Maddy just got here. Quest might finally be over soon.”

Sarah smirked. “There’s a coincidence, huh? Anyway, if you could let me in, I’m gonna go say hi to a few people before I get back to work.”

Phil nodded. “Good to see you again. Have a good afternoon.” He buzzed her in.

Sarah smiled. “Oh, I will.”

Team SoNaR knew their next job was to locate “Avogadro’s room.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we need to find room 602,” Aaden reiterated. “We need to go up to the sixth floor.”

Team SoNaR quickly found a nearby elevator. Just as the elevator doors started to open, the teens heard a door slam shut down the hall. It was followed by anxious voices from two men and a woman. They sounded like they were in a hurry.

“Wonder what’s going on,” Corbyn said.

“None of our business,” Maddy replied. “Let’s go.”

The team walked into the elevator and waited to be taken to the sixth floor. Once the elevators doors had reopened, the teens exited and looked around. The hallway was nearly identical to the one on the first floor.

“Let’s find 602,” Corbyn said.

Team SoNaR easily found the correct room. Maddy tested the door handle. It was unlocked. The team stepped through into a small, plain waiting room that had a single secretary’s desk and two couches. Near the back of the room was another closed door.

Aaden looked around. “You think the safe is in here?”

“I doubt it,” Maddy replied. “It doesn’t seem secure enough. But let’s check anyway. If not, it might be through that door back there.”

The team searched around the waiting room but found nothing. Corbyn walked over to the door at the back of the room. It was also unlocked. The teens walked into a larger empty office and looked around.

“Are we even sure we’re in the right spot?” Aaden asked. “I mean, Avogadro’s number could’ve been—”

“Yes,” Maddy interrupted quietly. “We are.”

“How do you—”

Before he could finish, Maddy picked up a photograph that was propped up on top of the desk. A tear rolled down her cheek. “Because of this.” She handed the photograph to Aaden. It showed two men, a woman, and an infant posing happily in the mountains.

“It’s my parents and I.” Maddy wiped her eyes. “I assume Grandpa Isaac is the person standing behind us.”

“Which means this must be his office,” Aaden realized. “At least you know he hasn’t forgotten about you all these years.”

Maddy nodded and smiled. She wiped another tear from her face and composed herself. “But back to finding the safe.”

The team soon found the safe secured in the wall behind Isaac’s desk. Approximately one square meter in size, the silver safe included a keypad with all ten digits, all twenty-six letters, and an Enter button. There was also a screen that digitally displayed any characters punched into the keypad. A large steel handle was obviously meant to open the door once the combination had been correctly entered. In the upper-right corner was engraved the full EIS symbol.

“We made it,” Maddy said, relieved. “Crazy what we’ve been through this week just to get here, huh?”

Corbyn nodded. “But there’s a problem.”

“What?” Maddy asked.

“We still don’t know the combination. And since there are thirty-six buttons to choose from, there’s gotta be millions of possibilities.”

“Or more,” Aaden added pessimistically.

“Great,” Maddy replied. “I completely forgot about that. Now what?”

The team stared silently at the safe for over a minute.

“All right, time to think,” Maddy finally said. “There’s obviously something we’re missing here. For some reason, I feel like we should already know the combination. But we just don’t know we know it…if that makes any sense.”

Corbyn and Aaden considered what she’d said.

“If that’s the case,” Aaden replied, “when and where would we have gotten it?”

Maddy shook her head. “I’m not sure. Let’s review everything we’ve done all week and see if there’s something we’re missing.”

“Okay, so last week Monday, you received a letter in the mail inviting you on the quest,” Aaden said.


Aaden continued. “The letter included the first clue that told us to go to Chippewa Park. At Chippewa Park, we found the second clue that told us to go to Biosphere 2.”

“It also had the puzzle whose solution was energy,” Corbyn added.

Aaden nodded. “Then, at Biosphere 2, we found the third clue piece-by-piece. It told us to go to Mammoth Caves and it also had the second puzzle.”

Organism,” Maddy said.

“Right. At Mammoth Caves, we found the fourth clue. It told us to go to the planetarium in Twin Falls, Idaho. And it had the third puzzle.”

Rock,” Corbyn interjected.

“And at the planetarium, we got the final clue to come here along with the fourth puzzle, constellation.” Aaden looked up. “That didn’t help one bit, did it?”

After a short silence, Maddy’s eyes brightened. “Maybe it did.”

Corbyn didn’t understand what she was getting at.

“Think about it.” Maddy started to get excited. “We’ve known all along that we were going to have to find the combination to the safe, right? And that we were supposed to complete the quest to do so?”


“The problem is we’ve been thinking all along that the combination was only going to be numeric.”

Corbyn’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“When we hear about a combination to a safe, we automatically think it’s going to be made up of a sequence of numbers. But I don’t think that’s the case with this combination at all!”

Corbyn and Aaden instantly knew what she was getting at.

“You think the combination is the solutions to the four puzzles, don’t you?” Aaden asked.

Maddy smiled. “Not only that but I also think we have to enter them in the same order we figured them out: energy, organism, rock, constellation.”

Aaden nodded. “You may’ve just figured it out. Good job.”

“We don’t know that yet for sure,” Maddy cautioned. “Though if I’m right that’s another reason why we couldn’t have just come straight here.”

“So should we give it a try?” Corbyn asked a moment later. “Remember, we only have one shot to get it right.”

“Yes.” Aaden turned to Maddy. “You do it.”

With a nod, Maddy knelt down by the safe’s keypad. Her hands were shaky. She carefully punched in the letters to spell energy. The word showed up on the digital screen. Maddy leaned back and took a deep breath. “Last chance to back out if anybody has a better idea.”

“Do it,” Aaden urged her. “Press Enter.”

Maddy touched the button lightly. With eyes closed, she slowly pressed it in. The digital screen flashed green and played a tune that was unmistakable. Team SoNaR had gotten the first part of the combination correct. All three members of Team SoNaR sighed with enormous relief. It didn’t take long to type in the remainder of the combination: organism, Enter, rock, Enter, constellation, Enter. With the combination correctly figured out, Maddy grabbed the steel handle, turned, and pulled the door open.

After returning to EIS, Sarah got straight to work. Even though she told Phil she was going to visit with some coworkers first, that was a lie. Walking through the first floor perimeter hallway, she did all she could to avoid running into anybody. She went to a rarely used emergency exit near the back of the building and let Sam and J.J. in. The trio climbed the nearby emergency stairs in haste.

They had a secret to steal.

“One of the world’s greatest secrets,” Maddy said under her breath. She reached into the safe and pulled out two sealed catalog envelopes. “Here it is.”

Corbyn took one of the envelopes from Maddy and looked it over. “It says on this envelope to open it right away and follow the instructions inside. What does the other one say?”

Maddy looked at both sides of the second envelope. “It says to keep this one sealed for now.” Maddy tried to calm her nerves. “I’ll put this one in the backpack for now. Open yours up.”

Corbyn carefully opened the seal on the envelope. He removed a single piece of paper. “It’s another clue.”

Congratulations on successfully making it to the end of the quest!

Only the brightest problem solvers could have made it this far, so great job to all of you!

Now that you have opened the safe and located this letter, your next job will be to

Go to the room at the end of the hallway and speak to the one that sent you on the quest.

Remember, your future will soon be made clear to you,

And I hope you are as excited to meet with me as I am to meet with you!

Take a minute to congratulate yourselves on all your hard work, and I hope to

See you very soon!

Maddy looked at the twins. “We’re finally about done. Can you guys believe it?”

“No,” Corbyn stated. “After all we’ve been through, if your grandpa’s company doesn’t think you’ve earned the right to inherit the secret by now, I don’t know what else you could do.”

Maddy blushed. “It’s not just me that’s earned the right…it’s us. C’mon. Let’s go see who’s waiting for us.”

Team SoNaR made their way out of Isaac’s office and to a door at the end of the long hallway.

“I’m seriously shaking,” Maddy said.

Maddy took a deep breath and reached for the door handle. As Team SoNaR had expected, the door was unlocked. With apprehension on their faces, they stepped confidently into a large conference room and received the shock of their young lives.

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