The television screen was talking to Team SoNaR. More to the point, it was interacting with Team SoNaR.
“Who said that?” Corbyn asked.
“Me, of course!” It was the television again. It had a blue line running horizontally across the middle of the otherwise black screen. Anytime the television said a word, the line turned into a vibrating sound wave with each syllable—almost as if the line represented the television’s mouth.
“And you are…?” Maddy asked. It felt odd to have a conversation with a television screen.
“TESLA. Who else?”
“And who might TESLA be?”
“I’m your pilot for your quest…well, your autopilot, to be more specific. I’m also your navigator, your radar, your compass, your GPS tracking system, and your timekeeper. That’s a circuit full!”
“Timekeeper? I have a watch for that,” Aaden said.
“That may be true, but I have been given the honor of being the official timekeeper for your quest. Isaac programmed me to start the one-week countdown as soon as I take off from this airport. Once we’re in the air, you have no more than one week, or 168 hours, or 10,080 minutes, to complete the quest…and I get to be the final word on this!” TESLA laughed.
“I see,” Corbyn replied. “And why are you called TESLA?”
“Because that’s what my programmers decided. Why else?”
“I mean, does TESLA stand for anything? Or are you named after Nikola Tesla, the physicist and electrical engineer?”
“Both! I am electronic, so it stands to reason I should be named after someone that doesn’t get enough credit for his contribution to electrical energy. Also, TESLA does stand for something, and let me tell you, it’s fascinating!”
Silence passed for the next few seconds.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” Corbyn said. “What does TESLA stand for?” He could tell the computer was going to be a handful.
TESLA made it sound like it was clearing its throat. “Trusty Electronic Steering and Locating Autopilot, of course.”
“Of course.” Aaden rolled his eyes.
“Well, Mr. TESLA,” Maddy said, “it’s very nice to meet you. Since you are our pilot, when will we be taking off?”
“According to my watch—”
“What watch?” Aaden whispered sarcastically.
“I heard that! Anyway, according to my internal watch, it is now 7:59:57. That means we’re taking off in 3…2…1…go!”
The helicopter lifted straight off the ground with more thrust than the members of Team SoNaR thought possible. Maddy, Corbyn, and Aaden steadied themselves and buckled in.
“You could’ve warned us first!” Aaden shouted above the spinning of the blades.
“I did! I counted down for three seconds! How much warning do you need? Oh, and by the way, your week has officially begun. This means you must have completed the quest in its entirety on or before eight o’clock a.m., Mountain Standard Time, next Thursday, and not a nanosecond later! Enjoy your trip!”
“Thanks,” Corbyn replied somewhat sarcastically.
“Do you suppose TESLA knows where to go?” Maddy asked.
“I heard that, too! Because of my exceptional programming, I can listen to you, navigate the helicopter, monitor the onboard electronics, and do all sorts of other things all at the same time. Talk about multi-tasking!” TESLA laughed.
“Great. So we’ll never have any privacy while we’re on the helicopter?” Aaden asked.
“Well, I suppose if you’re nice to me, I could shut off my electronic ears every once in a while…but only if you’re really, really nice to me!” Another laugh.
“Deal,” Corbyn replied. “In return, any chance you could tone down the sarcasm a bit?”
“Hmmm…my programming says no, but I’ll see what I can do to make the trip as boring for you as possible.”
Maddy laughed. “I kind of like it. I say don’t change.”
“And I could tell from the moment you boarded that you’d be my favorite passenger!”
Maddy laughed. “Do you know where we’re going?”
“How would I know? You think Isaac tells me everything?”
The inflection in Corbyn’s voice rose. “TESLA.”
“Oh, sorry. What can I say? Old habits die hard! What I meant to say was that, no, I don’t know where we need to go. It’s up to you three to figure that out for yourselves. Once you know, simply pass that information to me and I shall take it from there. And, considering I’ve already lifted off, you might want to let me know soon!”
“To Thunder Bay, Ontario,” Maddy said. “We need to get to Chippewa amusement park.”
“Let me compute that.” Zero point six seconds later, TESLA said, “I have the coordinates and am on my way.”
Maddy turned to the twins. “Are we really doing this? I mean, are we really starting the quest?”
“Looks like it.” Corbyn smiled.
Aaden hoped that Corbyn and Maddy didn’t get flirtatious again. TESLA spoke before they could.
“We are now at our maximum flying altitude, fifteen miles out of Colorado Springs, and I am currently flying north-northeast towards Ontario. However, I must inform you that my radar has picked up on an unknown object in the sky. It seems to be flying at the exact same speed and direction as we are.”
“Great,” Maddy complained. “We’re already being followed.”
Later that day, TESLA landed at Thunder Bay International Airport. It was early Thursday afternoon.
“Welcome to Ontario,” TESLA announced proudly. “I got you here in record time! Course, it’s the only time I’ve ever flown this route, so there’s no baseline time to compare it to, but oh well!”
“Thanks, TESLA,” Maddy replied. “It was a great flight.”
“Would you expect anything less? Oh, and hey, I nearly forgot!”
“What’s up?” Corbyn asked.
“Once you’re done with this part of the quest, you’ll need to return to this airport. To avoid going through security, just use the phone in your backpack to call me up and I’ll send Chef out to meet you.”
“You have a phone number?” Aaden asked.
“Of course! All the cool kids do! My number is already programmed into the phone. Easy enough!”
“Thanks, TESLA. See you later.” Maddy grabbed the backpack and followed the twins off the helicopter.
The team made it through customs, got their passports verified, and were soon standing outside on taxi row.
Aaden looked around. “Any idea what we do now? Just making sure there’s not another guy with a sign standing somewhere waiting for us.”
“I don’t see anyone,” Maddy said. “Let’s hail a taxi and get to the park. Corbyn, grab some cash out of the backpack so we can pay for the taxi.”
While Corbyn rummaged through the backpack and Maddy tried to wave down a cab, Aaden looked around. Examining the windows of the airport, he thought he saw something odd.
“What?” Corbyn’s face was in the backpack.
“I think someone was just staring at us.” Aaden’s voice trembled.
Maddy looked back. “Are you sure?”
“The window is kind of tinted, but I’m pretty sure I saw a guy looking right at us.”
“So it was a he?” Corbyn asked.
“Um…I’m not really sure.” Aaden looked slightly confused. “With the tint it was hard to tell if it was a guy or girl.”
With an eye roll, Corbyn said, “Okay, Aaden. If you couldn’t tell the gender, how could you tell what the person’s eyes were even looking at?”
Aaden’s eyes narrowed. “TESLA did say we might’ve been followed.”
“For all we know, that could’ve been anybody,” Corbyn replied dismissively. “There’s aircraft all over the place.”
“And one of them could’ve been tailing us.”
Corbyn finally found some cash and pulled it out. “Fine. Assuming someone did follow us here, and was watching us through that window, can you tell me what they looked like?”
“I told you, the window was tinted! I have no idea what they looked like!”
“Then you must have been seeing things." Corbyn shrugged his brother off.
Maddy finally got a cab to stop. “Tell you what. If there is someone following us, maybe we’d better be getting away from them instead of standing here and bickering about it, don’t you think?”
Maddy got into the cab, with Corbyn and Aaden silently in tow.
“Welcome to Ontario,” the cab driver said cheerfully. “Where to?”
“To the Chippewa amusement park, please,” Maddy replied.
“Very good.” The cab driver was a pleasant older gentleman.
During the trip, Aaden began to second guess what he’d seen at the airport. Although it was difficult for him to admit, he couldn’t argue with Corbyn’s logic. If the window was too dark for him to make out any features of someone on the other side, how was he able to even tell that the person was staring at them? On top of that, was he just being paranoid because of what TESLA had said during the flight over?
Once the cab was at the amusement park, Maddy paid the driver. Team SoNaR stepped out and had a look around.
“Kind of windy out here,” Corbyn observed.
Maddy nodded and pushed her hair out of her face. “Let’s get our tickets and get into the park so we can find the rollercoaster.”
After purchasing their tickets, Team SoNaR walked around the park and familiarized themselves with the area.
“So this is where our quest begins, huh?” Corbyn asked. “Not a bad place to spend a day.”
The amusement park was beautiful at this time of year. Boasting a wildlife park, a pavilion for weddings and other celebrations, a beach for swimming and volleyball, picnicking areas and a small midway, it appeared to be a perfect getaway for families. Chippewa Park also featured a small amusement park which included a Merry-Go-Round built in the 1920s, a tilt-a-whirl, bumper cars, and of course, the rollercoaster.
“Wow.” Maddy loved the atmosphere of the park. “This place is awesome. I love the rustic-looking cabins over there.”
Aaden looked up at the cloudless sky. “It’s bright out. I need a pair of the sunglasses from the backpack.”
Maddy found a pair of the sunglasses and handed them over. Aaden put them on but immediately took them back off. In disgust, he threw them into the backpack.
“These are completely worthless,” he said. “All they do is make everything blue. They don’t even block out the sun.”
Corbyn shrugged his shoulders. He looked ahead and had an idea. “What do you guys think about trying out a couple of the rides first?”
“No way,” Maddy said quickly. “You know we’re on a time limit to finish the quest. We don’t even know how long it’s going to take us to finish here.”
“C’mon, Maddy,” Corbyn said. “We’re at an amusement park. Your grandpa couldn’t honestly think we wouldn’t want to have a little fun while we’re here.”
“No. We need to find the rollercoaster and leave.”
“I promise we’ll be quick. C’mon, let’s celebrate being on summer break for at least a little bit. You know you want to….”
Maddy finally gave in. “Fine. But don’t say I didn’t warn you if something goes wrong.”
Aaden agreed with his brother. “A little fun won’t hurt anything.”
Team SoNaR purchased tickets for some games and a few rides. Maddy finally lightened up a little. She figured she might as well have a good time instead of fighting it. The team played a few carnival games before discussing which ride they would go on first.
“I vote we ride the bumper cars first, then the tilt-a-whirl, and then find the rollercoaster,” Aaden suggested.
Maddy acquiesced. She was growing ever more annoyed at her hair because it wouldn’t stop blowing over her eyes.
After waiting in line at the bumper car ride, the teens made their way to separate cars. Once buckled in, Aaden looked at Corbyn. His twin was saying something to Maddy while she was pointing towards Aaden and giggling.
Great, he thought.
As soon as the operator started the ride, Maddy and Corbyn made a beeline straight for Aaden. Before he knew what was happening, he was sandwiched between Maddy and Corbyn’s cars.
“What was that for?” Aaden screamed.
Corbyn laughed and drove away.
For the entire ride, Corbyn and Maddy continued their double team on Aaden. Aaden felt he was being targeted. As they exited the ride, he questioned Corbyn and Maddy.
“What was that all about?”
“What was what all about?” Corbyn feigned ignorance.
“You and Maddy doubled up on me!”
Frustrated, Maddy broke in. “We didn’t mean to get you mad. We were just having fun.”
“Let’s just go to the tilt-a-whirl.” Sulking, Aaden walked away.
Maddy sighed. "Didn't expect that."
“Me either,” Corbyn replied. “We’ll just have to be more careful around him right now.”
At the line for the tilt-a-whirl, Aaden was still pouting.
“Hey,” Maddy said when she got in line. “We’re sorry. We didn’t mean to make you mad.”
Aaden shrugged his shoulders. “Knowing me, I'm just overreacting. It's fine.”
Maddy noticed Aaden’s body language suggested he felt otherwise but decided to let it be. As the line started moving, Corbyn suggested it would be more fun to share a car together. The teens climbed in and waited for the ride to begin.
“I love when this thing gets going,” Corbyn said excitedly. “Make sure you guys lean really hard so we spin as fast as possible.”
The ride slowly picked up speed until it was going as fast as its motor would allow.
“Lean left!” Corbyn shouted. “Now right!”
Though Corbyn and Maddy were enjoying themselves, Aaden was still sulking and didn’t play along. He sat still, focused more on all the people walking by. He was also trying to ignore the fact that Corbyn and Maddy’s connection seemed to be strengthening.
That was when he saw the strange person again.
The same person Aaden had spotted through the window of the airport was staring straight at him from behind a distant tree. Aaden now knew that what TESLA had reported and what he’d seen at the airport were both true: someone, a male, was following Team SoNaR. And judging by the scowl on his face, he didn’t look like he wanted to be friends.