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Chapter Three

The trip home had left a sour taste in Evie's mouth, and not just because she had eaten an entire bag of Super Lemons to make herself feel better. After her dad's arrest and the awful destruction of his cool inventions, it was clear Winterpole had gone too far. Their absurd regulations had caused her dad countless problems, scuttled a bunch of projects, and slowed down scientific progress. As her mother would say, it was UN-AC-CEPTABLE.

Once the Winterpole agents commandeered the Roost, Mister Snow escorted Evie, Rick, and Dad back home to Switzerland. It was cold and cramped in the Winterpole hovership, and Evie couldn't help but think that 2-Tor was lonely piloting the Roost, which limped along behind them like a stray animal looking for a new home.

The hoverships came in low over the Rhone—just a few meters above the river. A pair of fishermen stopped to watch the giant tree fly by. Evie usually thought it was fun to wave at people staring at the airborne Roost in disbelief, but with all that had happened, she wasn't in the mood.

As they followed the river, Lane Mansion appeared atop a distant hill overlooking the city of Geneva.

Mister Snow sighed at the sight of it. "Lane, I cannot fathom this avian obsession of yours. Even your house looks like the outstretched wing of a bird."

George Lane ignored the observation, but Evie squinted, trying to see what Mister Snow meant. Light danced across the outside of the glass-and-steel mansion. She supposed it did look a little like a bird's wing.

The hovership touched down on the rooftop landing pad next to the aviary, a jungle gym of covered alcoves and bathing pools that housed the family's impressive collection of birds. At the sound of the hover engines, the birds went nuts, squawking in a feather fury. The aviary was one of Evie's favorite places in the house. She had always loved the birds her parents had rescued on their journeys around the world.

But now the sight only made Evie grimace like a gorilla without any bananas. It was a painful reminder of her dad's crime and Winterpole's merciless punishment.

Evie hopped out of the hovership in time to see 2-Tor swing the Roost upright and plant its roots down in the front yard.

Rick followed his sister out of the hovership, his concern for their dad apparent on his face. Evie slung her arm over his shoulder, and he returned her embrace. It seemed like Rick was the only person who understood what she was going through. Seeing Dad in trouble was the worst feeling in the world.

Her father stumbled down the exit ramp, bickering with Mister Snow. The Winterpole agent carried a bucket of murky blue liquid. He reached his hand inside and pulled out what looked like a sleek, dripping octopus, tentacles slick with lubricant and dangling like sausages.

"Ewww!" Evie grimaced.

"Gross!" Rick exclaimed.

Their dad agreed. "Mister Snow, is this really necessary?"

"Company Order 12-72 dictates that it is, in fact, necessary," Mister Snow replied, savoring every nasty word. "Winterpole has placed you under house arrest. This squid-cuff will monitor your location at all times. Under no circumstances are you to leave the premises of this house."

"What if we ignore your stupid rules?" Evie said.

"Failure to comply with Winterpole restrictions inevitably results in harsher penalties. In some cases, we send violators to Winterpole labor programs. We're always looking for eager—or not so eager—recruits to assist with filing at our home office. We have a back order of over nine billion requests for everything from chewing gum factory purchases to armadillo skydiving instructor licenses to applications for permission to tie one's shoes. The shoe-tying requests alone fill the entire Reykjavik warehouse."

"Nine...billion?" Rick asked in disbelief.

Mister Snow had said he was just doing his job, but something about the smirk on his face told Evie that he relished this part of his work a little too much. "Our goal is to reach ten billion by Arbor Day! Now, of course, for a rule breaker as prolific as your father, a more serious punishment may be in order. If he violates the terms of his house arrest, Winterpole will take him to the Prison at the Pole."

Evie's insides felt as cold as the candy bars she sometimes put in the freezer. She'd only heard rumors about the Prison at the Pole, but she knew it was a place she never wanted to visit. Prisoners were supposedly kept in blocks of ice to ensure they wouldn't escape, with nothing to eat except frozen sardines. According to the stories, anyone who had ever attempted to find the prison had met with disappointment. It was said that the compound was carved out of an enormous iceberg that floated off the coast of Antarctica, and so it never stayed in one place, always eluding the attention of those who were desperate to find their imprisoned loved ones.

Worst of all, no one who had been sent to the Prison at the Pole had ever returned.

Her dad tried to reassure them. "Don't worry, kids. I'm not going to the pole. I'll just stay here for the time being."

At that, Mister Snow slapped the squid-cuff over Dad's leg. The tentacles wrapped around him like a snap bracelet, but with a loud, wet SLURRRRRP! The squishy texture of the tentacles hardened, and the color turned from silver to slate, forcing George's leg rigid. He grunted in pain.

Evie ran to his side. "Dad! Are you all right?!"

Under the squid-cuff's translucent skin, colored alert lights blinked their readings. Wires fed data from the tentacles' suction cups back to the microprocessor brain located in the big floppy part, which Evie thought she remembered was the technical term for a squid's head. If Evie's father made any attempt to leave Lane Mansion, the squid-cuff would constrict, cutting off all circulation to his leg.

"Who would invent such a horrible device?" Evie asked.

"Why, Lane Industries, of course," Mister Snow said proudly.

Dad winced and said, "We used to do some contract work for Winterpole, developing technology for their eco-protection unit. When I saw how inefficiently the place was run, we ended the contract. They've been hounding me ever since."

Mister Snow patted George on the head as if he were a small child. "Now, now, Mister Lane. It is you who insist on breaking the rules. We are merely the enforcers." And with that, Mister Snow reentered his hovership and blasted away.

Evie seethed. Winterpole had dealt a crushing blow to her family, and they didn't even care. There had to be something she could do to undo this injustice. Her family was good. They worked so hard to make the world a better place. Evie swore she would do everything in her power to right this wrong.

Rick adjusted his glasses and squinted at the squid-cuff. "Though cruel, the technology behind this incapacitator is fascinating."

Dad grunted in pain. "Thanks, Rick. I'll take that...unff...as a compliment."

Evie glared at Rick. "Why don't you think less about how fascinating it is and more about how to get it off of our dad?"

"Good idea, Evie. Let's head down to my workshop and find a solution together." Dad turned the wheel on the rooftop access hatch and opened it, revealing the spiral stairs that led down into Lane Mansion. The birds squawked loud goodbyes as he descended into the house, Evie and Rick following closely behind.

Lane Mansion was a long but oddly narrow building that stood ten stories tall. Spiral staircases and secret passageways led to the various floors, and Dad was always encouraging the kids to come up with new ways to get around the estate. For example, Evie's bedroom was directly above Rick's. They had installed a fireman's pole connecting the two, so Evie could quickly descend into Rick's room—usually to ask Rick about some homework problem or to borrow a video game.

Down the stairs the family went, passing by the master bedroom, the game room, Rick and Evie's rooms, the living room, the dining room, the front hall, and into the basement. When they reached the sub-basement, Evie's father pushed open a door, exiting the stairwell and entering his home workshop.

The walls were lined with broken computers, machine parts, and every imaginable tool from a micro-needle to a chainsaw. Wires were piled on the workbench like a giant collection of candy-colored worms. A few of the birds from the aviary had broken into the workshop and were perched on some of the equipment shelves. Bruce, their pink cockatoo, and Spruce, their cerulean warbler, were circling each other near the ceiling.

"Wark! Wark! Waaaaaaaark!" Bruce said, agitated. Evie reasoned that he probably didn't like how grumpy the humans were acting.

A scale model of one of the garbage chompers stood on two sawhorses in the middle of the workshop. Looking like he had eaten more bags of Super Lemons than Evie had in her whole life, Evie's dad grabbed an oil-stained sheet and threw it over the model. The weight of the sheet knocked one of the sawhorses aside, sending the mini–garbage chomper crashing to the floor.

"Dad! Are you okay?" Evie raced forward to help him.

"I'm fine," he slumped down in a heap. "Evie, Rick, would you do me a favor? I'm not going to be able to get this squid thing off of me, but down in the sub-sub-basement I have a bottle of high tech skin spray. It should help me conceal this tentacled monstrosity from your mother once she returns from her business trip. Can you fetch it for me? I'm going to try to figure out how to shower with this thing."

"Sure, Dad," Evie replied, then she and Rick ran down a flight of stairs to the sub-sub-basement.

"I don't like how Dad is hiding what happened from Mom," Rick told her once they were out of earshot. "She deserves to know."

"You know how she is—you can't tell her. We'll all get in trouble. Even you."

Their argument abruptly ended as they reached the sub-sub-basement, where their father conducted some of his more explosive experiments. Careful of their footing, Rick and Evie climbed over a barricade of shrapnel and mangled furniture to enter the room.

The chamber was dark, and the wooden floor groaned like a sick wombat when Evie stepped on it. In the center of the room was a large star of charred flooring, the shadow of some forgotten detonation. On the far side of the room, Evie spotted the bottle of skin spray on a shelf. She promptly forgot about the charred floor as she ran to get the spray for her father.

"Evie, wait!" Rick cried out. But it was too late.

As her foot touched the burnt flooring, the wood made a cracking sound like thin ice breaking, and then splinters flew and Evie tumbled into darkness.

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