The message was short.
Four sentences. Thirty-eight words. It took mere seconds to read.
Congratulations! You’ve passed The Test, and have proven yourself worthy of The Game. My challenge is simple: Do you have what it takes to play? Follow the clues and unlock the ultimate surprise.
“Hmm.” Hi scratched his chin. “Okay, that’s not normal.”
“What do you mean?” A scowl crimped Ben’s features. “I thought you understood this geocaching nonsense.”
“I do,” Hi said primly. “And this isn’t how it usually works.”
“Explain.” My arms folded across my chest.
“There are specific rules.” Hi returned to the computer and began punching keys. “This is Geocaching.com, one of the main websites.” A green and blue homepage appeared on-screen. “It lists the coordinates for all active caches, and any clues about how to find them.”
“How many caches are out there?” Shelton asked.
Hi glanced at the monitor. “Currently, over 1.5 million. With five million players, worldwide.”
“For real?” Shelton shook his head. “That’s crazy!”
“Soooo many dorks,” Ben muttered, his coal-black eyebrows forming a steep V. “A giant nerd army, digging up plastic boxes they hide for each other.”
“Like everything you do is cool,” Hi snorted. “Still have that ninja costume you wore to my twelfth birthday party?”
“Go back to what you said earlier,” I insisted. Their trash-talking was wearing thin. “What isn’t normal about this?”
“Let me show you.” Hi spun back to the keyboard. “I’ll record our discovery of the Loggerhead cache.”
With varying degrees of enthusiasm, we crowded around the workstation.
“Enter a place-name, address, whatever, and the site compiles a list.” Hi’s fingers flew as he spoke. “Nearby caches are mapped. Last week I searched our zip code, and found a surprise.”
A satellite image of Morris Island filled the screen. He pointed to a single red icon dotting the southwestern point.
“There. Someone planted a cache inside the Morris Lighthouse. I found it a few weeks ago, tucked under the spiral stairs.”
“That’s trespassing.” Ben sat back down at the table and began examining the decoded message. “The lighthouse is off limits to the public.”
“Never stopped us,” Shelton replied with a grin.
Hi shrugged. “Anyone can log a cache into the database. The site doesn’t police where a box is hidden, or if a player has permission to be there.”
“What led you to Loggerhead?” I asked. “It doesn’t even have a zip code.”
“I figured, why not check? Maybe some LIRI guys play among themselves.”
Using the cursor, Hi dragged the edge of the map eastward into the Atlantic until an outline of Loggerhead Island appeared. As on Morris, a lone red marker glowed, positioned near the base of Tern Point.
“This Gamemaster didn’t include much information.” Hi double-clicked the icon. “There’s no difficulty rating. No size info. Not even a user name, which I didn’t think was possible. Just an exact set of GPS coordinates and a clue: ‘Be sure to scratch the surface.’”
“Here’s how it should look.” Hi moved back to Morris Island and moused over the lighthouse box. “See? This one has complete info. ‘Danger Mouse’ buried his prize three months ago, and rated the difficulty, terrain, and cache size all as fours on a one-to-five scale. There’s also a page-long clue. That’s how it’s supposed to work.”
“What did Danger Mouse hide?” I was curious.
“Toy sailboat,” Hi said. “He didn’t want exchanges, so I signed the log and put the cache back where I found it. Later I logged on here, reported a successful find, and posted a comment.”
“Why bother?” Ben quipped. But I could tell he was paying attention.
“The website tracks your stats. How many you’ve found, how many times a cache has been located, stuff like that. It’s cool, noob. Get on board.”
“Anyone find the Loggerhead box before us?” I asked. “This letter could be old news.”
“Nobody,” Hi said. “At least, no one’s recorded it online, which almost every player does. It’s a pride point when you crack a new geocache.”
“So you had to find it.” Shelton wasn’t asking.
“Um, yeah. In fact…” Hi navigated back to the Loggerhead cache. “I’m claiming first blood right now.”
“How’d you know the cache would be buried?” I asked.
“The clue.” Hi grinned. “And I really just wanted to use my metal detector. The coordinates indicated that clearing, so it seemed likely the cache would be underground.”
“Wait a second.” Shelton’s brow furrowed. “You need a GPS device for this, right? To check the coordinates, make sure you’re on target?”
Ben leaned forward and gave Hi a hard look. “So when you’re out playing hide-and-seek, you’re being tracked the whole time. That program must know you’re here, right now. In our secret, hidden clubhouse.”
Excerpted from Code: A Virals Novel by Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs. Copyright © 2013. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA). All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
About the Author
Kathy Reichs, like her character Temperance Brennan, is a forensic anthropologist. Formerly for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in North Carolina, Reichs is now a professor in the department of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. A leader in her field, Reichs is one of only 79 forensic anthropologists ever certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, and the former Vice President of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Reichs is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Bones
series and the creator of Bones
, the hit FOX television show based on her novels. Virals
is her first series for young readers. Learn more at www.kathyreichs.com