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Secret Agent 00Zero (also known as Jackson to his mom) grabbed a handful of hair and used it to haul himself up the side of the woolly mammoth. “Whoa!” he said. “It’s like sitting on the roof of a monster-truck sled!”
“Yeah, I wish we could bring it to school on Monday for Snow-and-Tell!” his best friend, Quigley, said, climbing up next to him. Quigley (also known as Secret Agent Q to Jackson) pressed another button on the controller he was holding, and the mammoth swished its tail and flapped its ears. “This would make the best undercover spy vehicle!”
“Undercover spy vehicle?” Jackson couldn’t believe his feathers. “Uh, I think enemy agents might see us coming—watch it!” Jackson ducked as the mammoth flicked back its trunk and nearly knocked him off.
“Wow!” Quigley breathed. “So lifelike!”
Jackson smiled nervously and held on tighter. When Quigley had mentioned the idea of visiting the museum on Saturday morning to help his crazy inventor cousin, Sunny, with his new mechanical-dinosaur exhibits, Jackson had gotten that feeling. The disaster-waiting-to-happen feeling he always got when Sunny was involved. Sunny’s inventions were even scarier than Quigley’s! Jackson still had the red patches from the automatic face-washer flipper his mom had bought off Sunny a few weeks ago. It dangled down on a long arm from the bathroom ceiling and was supposed to lightly wipe your face while you brushed your beak. But one morning it had wrapped itself around Jackson’s body like a giant squid tentacle and kept scrubbing his face until he’d managed to fight it off.
Now, the mammoth tossed its head again and let out a loud bellow. Several little hatchlings who’d been looking at the mammoth squealed and ran to their parents.
“Er, Quigley,” Jackson whispered, “I think the mammoth is scaring people. Maybe we should wait for Sunny?”
“Nah!” Quigley grinned. “Sunny said we could try it out while he fetched a snack. And it’s so neat!” He gave the lever on the control another wiggle, and the mammoth thudded its tusks on the floor. “It actually behaves just like a real live woolly mammoth.”
“Yeah, that’s the problem!” Jackson said as more visitor penguins backed away from their plinth.
Quigley pressed a different button on the remote. “Maybe I can make it quieter.”
“That’s not the make-it-quieter button!” Jackson gasped as the mammoth lunged forward.
The mammoth was now lumbering off its plinth, swinging its trunk and shaking its head. A couple of teenagers screamed. Some dad penguins with eggs on their toes backed away. A tiny hatchling in a stroller started to cry.
“Quigley!” Jackson shouted. “You’ve got to stop this thing.”
“I’m trying!” Quigley waggled the control lever in every direction. “It isn’t responding.”
The mammoth let out a roar, its giant tusks swaying. Then suddenly it shot forward.
“Watch out!” Jackson shouted. “We’re going to hit that—”
“Woolly rhino,” Jackson muttered.
The rhino dino’s bones collapsed in a heap. But still the mammoth wasn’t done. It reared up on its back legs, bellowing like a startled walrus and lurching from side to side.
“Uh-oh! I’m sli-i-i-ding!” Jackson scrabbled to stay on top. Got to hold on. Can’t fall off! He racked his brain for some secret-agent survival trick that might help … Of course! The Sticky Starfish Technique! He spread his body out across the mammoth’s back like a starfish on a rock, willing every one of his feathers to sucker onto the creature’s fur. Uncle Bryn, who was a real-life secret agent with the FBI (the Frosty Bureau of Investigation), said the Sticky Starfish Technique was perfect for surviving being shoved down the side of a building. Or was it an iceberg? Or maybe a garbage chute or— “Ahhhh!”
Crash! The mammoth smashed into another giant model—a huge skeleton of a cave bear that was under construction. Bones scattered. Scaffolding collapsed and clouds of dust filled the air.
“Wow, dudes!” Jackson heard a voice from below. He glanced down and saw Quigley’s cousin, Sunny, holding a large krill burger. “It’s like the clash of the mighty prehistoric beasts!” Sunny laughed. “Mammoth 1, Cave Bear 0! Hey, cuz,” he added to Quigley, “toss me the remote control. I think you put it in fighter mode.”
And seconds later, with the controller back in Sunny’s flippers, the mammoth stopped moving. “It’s a wild ride, huh?” Sunny looked proudly up at his creation. “But maybe the museum dudes need to give it more space.”
Yeah, Jackson thought, like a whole flipper-ball pitch!
“What is going on in here?” An angry-looking security guard came running into the hall. Jackson froze. For a second he thought it was his mom—she wore a similar uniform for her job at the department store. Then he remembered she wasn’t working today; she was outside somewhere, doing an activity with the Egg, Jackson’s soon-to-be-sibling. Jackson breathed a sigh of relief. If his mom had seen him dangling off the back of a nine-foot mammoth, she’d definitely have reached Hammerhead on her Shark Scale of Crossness!
Sunny smiled at the guard. “Oh, sorry, ma’am, we’ve just had a slight malfunction.”
“A slight malfunction?” The security guard rolled her eyes, then plucked a walkie-talkie out of her belt and spoke into it. “Would the bone-building team please report to the dino hall?” she said. “Two of the skeletons have collapsed. And can you ask the janitor to fetch a ladder?” She looked up at Jackson and Quigley. “A very long ladder!” She put the walkie-talkie back in her belt. “What are you two doing up there?”
Jackson was about to explain how he and Quigley had been helping Sunny by safety-testing the new exhibits when he heard something bleep inside his backpack. “Quigley!” he hissed. “Listen!”
Quigley’s eyes sparkled, and a huge smile spread across his beak. “The FBI radio transmitter!”
They’d found it weeks ago, when Jackson’s Uncle Bryn had lost it in a pond at the city aquarium. Before they could return it to him, Uncle Bryn had gotten a replacement, so the boys had decided it was probably okay to keep it. After all, if Jackson and Quigley wanted to prove to the FBI they had the skills required to become junior agents, they needed to keep up with every secret mission.
Jackson reached into his backpack and pulled the transmitter out.
Jackson felt his feathers stand on end; his Adventure Detectors were maxing out. “It’s another mission!” he whispered. “Come on, Agent Q, this is our chance to show the FBI they need us. We’ve got to find that escaped criminal. Let’s do this!”
They didn’t wait for the ladder. Instead they shimmied down the mammoth’s trunk and raced for the doors.
“We’ll be back soon,” Quigley called to his cousin. But Sunny already had his head inside the mammoth’s belly, tweaking its control panel.
“I wonder who the escaped criminal is,” Jackson whispered.
“I hope it’s not Blow Frost!” Quigley shuddered. “He looked so mad when they took him off to jail.”
Jackson and Quigley had recently been responsible for catching a super-baddie named Blow Frost, who had tried to take over the town with mind-controlling ice cream. Uncle Bryn had very nearly gotten framed for Blow Frost’s crimes. If it hadn’t been for Jackson and Quigley, he would have been in jail by now.
“Well, we’ve caught Blow Frost once,” Jackson said, puffing out his chest feathers, “so we can do it again. Come on. We’ll cycle over to Rookeryville Jail and find out what’s going on.”
But as they dashed through the doors into the main hall of the museum, Jackson froze; a familiar figure was coming toward them, and this time there was no mistake.
“Mom!” Jackson squeaked.
Marina Rockflopper smiled. Then sneezed. Then sneezed again. “Sorry, boys,” she said, blowing her beak on a large spotty hanky.
“Are you okay?” Jackson asked. “You look kind of sick.”
She nodded. “Yeah, I think I’m coming down with your dad’s—achoooo!”
“Flu?” Jackson suggested. Dad had been in bed for two days with a runny beak, a high fever, and aching feathers. Now it looked like his mom had caught it, too.
“That’s why I came to find you,” she said. “I’m so relieved you’re here. When you said you were coming to the museum to help Sunny, I wondered whether it was really a cover story for another crazy scheme to join the FBI.”
“Ha! Of course not!” Jackson laughed nervously and glanced at Quigley. His buddy’s face had turned red and his beak was opening like he was about to say something incriminating. Jackson stepped in front of him so his mom couldn’t see. Whenever he had to fib, Quigley turned into a wibbly, wobbly jellyfish—especially with Jackson’s mom: Marina Rockflopper could suck the truth out of a penguin faster than a frost vacuum on max power.
Jackson’s mom swung her backpack off her shoulder and began rummaging inside. “I’ve decided to go home to bed,” she said. “Jackson, I need you to look after the Egg for me. Here, can you take it, please?”
“What?” Jackson stared at his soon-to-be-sibling. “B-b-but I can’t! What about Finola?”
“Your sister’s at band camp, remember?” His mom handed him the Egg. “I’m so sorry, Jackson, but I really don’t feel—achoooo!” She dabbed her beak with her handkerchief and groaned. “Oh, my head hurts.”
Jackson’s shoulders sagged. “Sure. Of course I’ll help. You go home and rest.”
“Thank you.” Jackson’s mom blew her nose. “Remember to keep an eye on the Egg, because it’s started rolling off. This morning I nearly put it out with the trash. Good thing I looked inside the garbage bag.”
“Oh, I can help you with that, Mrs. Rockflopper.” Quigley pulled open his backpack. “See, I invented this awesome new tracker patch. It looks like a Band-Aid. You stick it on your valuables and you can track them on your phone and your watch. Look, I’ll show you. You just put it on like this”—he reached over and stuck a small blue patch on the Egg—“and then you can track it on an app on your iceWatch.”
“That’s great, honey,” Jackson’s mom said with a smile. “You use this clever Band-Aid thingy to help Jackson look after the Egg for me, okay? And here’s some extra allowance for snacks,” she added, pushing some money into Jackson’s flipper. “You’re going to need lots of energy. Today’s the Rookeryville Golden Egg Games, and, Jackson, I’m going to need you to take my place and compete with the Egg.”
“The Golden Egg what?” Jackson frowned. The name rang bells, but he couldn’t quite remember why.
“I told you about it at breakfast.” His mom shook her head. “I swear you never listen. The contest is held every ten years. And whoever wins—either as Egg or Egg’s guardian—gets their name on the Rookeryville Golden Egg Cup, and then they can become mayor someday.”
Jackson shrugged. “I don’t want to be mayor.” I want to join the FBI, he wanted to add but didn’t because his mom thought being a secret agent was far too dangerous.
“Well, you don’t have to be mayor,” Mom said. “But the Egg might like to someday. ‘Mayor Rockflopper’ has got quite a ring to it, don’t you think?” She blew her beak again, then picked up her bag. “The contest is taking place on the grounds of the museum, so you don’t have to go far. You just need to register. Thanks, boys. I’m so grateful. Oh, and Jackson, make sure the Egg gets plenty of rest. Pop it in your backpack when it’s not doing activities. It’s close to hatching, and it needs lots of sleep. Oh, and also, watch out for the blizzard storm that’s forecast for the afternoon. Make sure the Egg stays nice and cozy. Okay, you got all that? Good!” she said without waiting for a reply. “I’ll see you later.”
“But, Mom—” Jackson called as his mom shuffled away. “I don’t even know what happens in the Golden Games!”
“Look! It’s working!” Quigley said, showing Jackson his watch. “That flashing light shows that the Egg is here with us, in the museum.”
“Unfortunately!” Jackson muttered. He looked at the Egg and sighed. Shell-sitting was not part of his plan. How were they going to catch an escaped criminal with an egg to look after?
Text copyright © 2020 by Sam Hay.Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Marek Jagucki.