An extraordinary event is predicted on a dark world called Earth, a planet still ignorant of the thriving galaxy around it. A rare being of nearly unlimited power called a quiznot will arise on its surface. The powerful take notice and prepare, for if you control the quiznot, you control the galaxy.
Which means nothing to thirteen-year-old Timothy Starr—his life is in free fall. After a chance encounter with a beautiful girl, he’s developed psychokinetic abilities driven by his emotions. When his outbursts nearly kill two classmates, he’s banished to the Smithson School, a place that can help him, he’s told.
But the teachers don’t seem interested in helping him get better and the few other students he meets with unusual powers are sullen and reclusive. When he discovers that the school is built over the tunnels of an old missile base that may still be in use, Timothy wants answers. But he’s warned that students who ask questions at Smithson don’t live to ask twice.
The creature on the dune was the size of a tiger, but the thing was ruby red and its head was all wrong, featuring two curled horns like a ram’s above baseball-sized yellow eyes with vertical green slits. Four fangs protruded from its mouth, two on top and two on the bottom, all yellowed and with a scimitar’s curve. There was no doubt it had seen them, or rather, seen him—Oliver had dropped the spear and was running down the dune, screaming.
What good would that do? They were supposed to fight the thing—that’s what this simulation had to be about. Pierson had provided weapons and must have been cheering them on. At least he couldn’t be eaten by a virtual beast.
The animal was having trouble getting up the slope, slipping backward a bit with every step. Oliver may have had it right: run far away and tire the thing out. But then something happened that changed the game. The animal opened its mouth and made the most terrible noise he’d ever heard—a deafening shriek that set the very sand at his feet vibrating. It continued for two or three seconds and by then his confidence had been smashed to quivering mush. Could you die in this simulator? If it could reproduce grains of sand and the slope of a dune, could it also model the crushing power of a jaw armed with razor sharp fangs? He crouched and fumbled for the spear. But when he tried to stand again and turn to face the animal, his feet wouldn’t obey. The sand around them had hardened like concrete!
He felt something warm in his crotch and looked down to see an expanding damp patch. Oh, God, he’d peed himself. He desperately tried to move his encased feet and finally felt some give in the sand and pulled them free. But the beast was there.
It just stood, not twenty feet away, sizing him up. It was a lot bigger than he’d thought at first, maybe sixteen feet long and six feet tall. Its mouth began to open. It was going to freeze the sand again. He lurched left, his right foot catching a hardening lip of sand, but his left came down on top of the now frozen surface—he was still free.
The beast advanced and he countered with the spear’s point, waving it back and forth. It lifted a giant paw to swat away his toothpick but he was able to pull it back quickly, the weapon so light. And then he saw an opening. He thrust with the spear and made contact with its paw.
The animal was confused and lifted its wounded limb. Droplets of blue stained its red fur and a few splattered to the sand.
“Feel that? What are you going to do now?”
The answer came when its mouth started to open. Timothy jumped right this time but he misjudged the slope of the dune. His left foot caught and he collapsed to his knees as the creature’s petrifying roar reached full volume. In milliseconds, his knees and one hand were encased in frozen sand.
The beast circled toward his blind side. Timothy twisted as far as he could but it wouldn’t be enough to face it head on. He choked up on the spear and managed to get it pointed back toward the animal but it had obviously done this before and shifted even further behind him. He spun the other way to meet it, except it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. As he whipped his head back, sharp points pressed into his scalp and the nape of his neck.