Smartest Kid in the Universe #3: Evil Genius is a part of the The Smartest Kid in the Universe collection.
Meet middle schooler Jake McQuade. Jake became the smartest kid in the universe when he accidentally ate a jarful of ingestible knowledge jelly beans. But what happens when those jelly beans fall into the wrong hands?!
Readers who enjoy the action of the Last Kids on Earth books will love this fast-paced, spy-packed series that's a "rollicking good time" (New York Times) by the bestselling author of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library!
Jake McQuade's the smartest kid in the universe—or at least he was. But just as his training with the secret agency known as the Consortium is about to start, Jake's jelly beans go missing! And to make matters worse, they (and Jake's genius!) might be wearing off right when he needs his smarts most!
Jake needs to solve this mystery fast. Who stole the jelly beans and why? Can Jake figure out what's going on, recover the missing jelly beans, and stop a high-tech heist before it's too late?!
From top-secret hideouts to New York City penthouse apartments to the Statue of Liberty in the middle of the night, get ready to go on a whirlwind, wild-ride adventure filled with supervillains and spies, puzzles and pirates, codes and drones, and much, much more—and don't miss the first two books in the series—Smartest Kid in the Universe and Genius Camp!
An Excerpt fromSmartest Kid in the Universe #3: Evil Genius
The clock was ticking.
Jake McQuade, the twelve-year-old who’d defeated the world’s most sophisticated artificially intelligent computer, solved impossible cases for the FBI, and--thanks to his newfound knowledge of geometry, physics, and human psychology--starred on his middle school basketball team, was on a mission for the top-secret agency known as the Consortium.
His pale, freckled skin baked in the scorching midday sun. He was on a high-speed rigid-hull inflatable boat speeding across choppy waters with a small team of commandos in scuba gear. His mother had been right: Jake should’ve packed sunscreen.
The commando team dropped Jake and his best friend, Kojo Shelton, on a craggy island.
“You two are on your own,” said the squad commander, clicking a stopwatch. “You have fifteen minutes to secure the package.”
Jake used a handheld mapping device to quickly find the target building.
But inside the windowless structure, things slowed down. The place was like a dark maze trapped inside a fun house.
Except this house was more dangerous than fun.
Jake and Kojo followed the blinking green dot through a series of switchbacks and found themselves trapped inside a black box of a room. The instant their feet hit the floor, a huge metal door slammed shut behind them.
“We need to get out of this room, Jake,” said Kojo, checking his glowing watch. “Fast! We only have ten more minutes to secure the package.”
“Working on it,” said Jake. He was thinking. Trying to come up with a solution.
“Where to next?”
“I’m, uh, not sure.”
“What? Come on. Use your big jelly-beaned brain.”
This mission was, clearly, a test of Jake’s superior intellect.
And that made him a little nervous.
Jake hadn’t become super intelligent the usual way--studying, reading books, doing homework. He’d taken a short cut: Ingestible Knowledge capsules in the form of jelly beans.
Jake never knew if or when his mental superpowers would disappear.
He just hoped it wasn’t today.
“Oh, wow, check it out,” said Kojo, rustling around inside the sleek nylon sling bag the Consortium had given them for this mission. “There’s all sorts of cool gear in here. Duct tape. A Swiss Army knife. A pair of binoculars. Hold up. I think there’re some Hershey bars in here, too.” He sniffed loudly. “Oh yeah. That’s chocolate.” Another sniff. “This one has almonds.”
“Great,” mumbled Jake. He was distracted. His whole mind was focused on the mapping device. But the green dot in the center of the grid had stopped moving. All it was doing now was blinking.
“Looks like that thing’s busted,” said Kojo, peering over Jake’s shoulder.
Jake nodded, even though he wasn’t sure Kojo was right.
He needed time.
To study the sequence of blinks.
“Two long, one short,” he muttered. “Three long. Long, short, short, short, short . . .”
“You thinking about pants?” said Kojo. “Shirtsleeves?”
Jake reached into his own nylon sling bag. He shoved aside the binoculars and pulled out a spiral notebook and a pen.
“It’s Morse code. Short blinks and long blinks. Dots and dashes.”
“Cool,” said Kojo, biting off a chunk of chocolate bar.
Jake wrote down the sequence of light flashes. He knew Morse code from a book he’d skimmed a couple of weeks ago.
“What’s it mean?” asked Kojo.
“Go through the door in the floor.”
“There’s a door in the floor?” said Kojo. “Who designed this building?”
Jake and Kojo dropped to their knees. The room was so dark, they’d have to feel their way to any kind of hidden doorway. They patted around with their hands.
“Got it!” said Kojo, pulling up and twisting a ring latch.
He yanked on it.
It opened. Jake peered in. Once his eyes adjusted, he saw another room directly below the room they were in.
That was where they needed to be.
But first they’d have to get past the web of crisscrossing laser beams.
“Those lasers are a trip wire!” said Kojo, looking down at the web of thin green beams. “Just like in Mission: Impossible. The movie, not the TV show. Although Eartha Kitt did evade a bank vault’s light sensors in season one of the TV show.”
Jake looked at Kojo. His best friend streamed a lot of old-school TV. He’d even adopted the “Who loves you, baby?” catchphrase of the 1970s Tootsie Pop–loving TV detective Kojak.
“We might be soul mates,” Kojo had once told Jake. “He’s Ko-jak and I’m Ko-jo. Sure, he’s a bald, old Greek dude and I’m a handsome, young Black dude, but come on--we both dig Tootsie Pops.”
“We can’t just drop down into the room,” said Jake.
“Well, duh,” said Kojo. “You break those laser beams, they’re gonna set off some kind of alarm. Even I know that, and I haven’t eaten a single one of Mr. Farooqi’s magic jelly beans.”
Kojo was one of only three people who knew about Jake and the jelly beans. Their friend Grace Garcia was another. The third was Haazim Farooqi, the Ingestible Knowledge capsules’ creator.
“To safely break the beams,” said Jake, “I’m gonna need to break these first.”
He pulled the binoculars out of his go bag and smashed them against the floor.
“Ouch,” said Kojo. “Let’s hope they don’t charge us for that.”
Jake reached into the cracked-open binoculars and removed one of the prisms between the eyepieces and the lenses. “The prisms are what turn the image right-side up.”
“I know,” said Kojo. “We studied prisms in seventh grade. Back when you weren’t paying attention to anything except video games.”
Jake carefully lowered the prism into the path of one of the flickering lasers and, without breaking the beam, cautiously angled the glass until the pinpoint of light was deflected back to its source.
There was an electronic screech. The green beams disappeared. The laser had destroyed itself.
“MacGyver did that once,” said Kojo. “I should’ve remembered.”
“Who’s MacGyver?” asked Jake as he positioned himself over the floor opening.
“Star of a 1980s TV show.”
“Cool. What was it called?”
“MacGyver,” said Kojo.
The two friends took turns lowering themselves down into the chamber. Lights automatically snapped on. They were in a ten-by-ten metal cube. Jake looked up and saw pipes overhead. Those pipes have to be there for a reason, he thought.
The pipes disappeared through the far wall with a stenciled 9 on it. That nine was above the spray-painted image of an equilateral triangle with three circles on each side. To the left of the triangle diagram were six small numbered circles.
“That’s our next challenge,” said Kojo.
Jake went to the number circles and peeled one off the metal wall.
“They’re rubbery magnets,” he said.
“So what’re we supposed to do?” asked Kojo, glancing at his wristwatch. “Because we better hurry up and do it. We’re down to four minutes!”
“Professor Garcia gave me a puzzle like this during those IQ tests he ran on me.”
Professor Garcia was Grace’s father. He and his colleagues at Warwick College had certified Jake’s IQ at “well in excess of three hundred.” They’d been the first ones to call him “the smartest kid in the universe.”
Jake tapped the stenciled 9 on the wall.
“We have to arrange the six number magnets along the legs of this triangle so each side adds up to nine.”
“So why don’t you go ahead and do that?” suggested Kojo. “Have I mentioned?” He showed Jake his wristwatch. “WE’RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME!”
Jake did some quick calculations.
It took him about ten seconds to slap all the round magnets onto their correct circles. Each of the three sides added up to nine.
The metal wall slid sideways.
“There it is!” said Jake.
He gestured toward a glass box on the far side of the new room that had just opened up to them. Inside the wall-mounted display case was a glowing green orb the size of a softball. “That’s the package the Consortium wants us to secure!”
Jake heard the steady plink, plink, plink of a drip.
He looked up.
Those ceiling pipes converged directly above the item they were supposed to retrieve. That was where the leak was.
It would be impossible to remove the glowing green orb without getting splashed by whatever was seeping out of the line directly above it.
“Hang on,” said Kojo, sniffing the air in the new room. “You smell something?”
Jake sniffed. “Rotten eggs.” He gestured up at the leak. “That could be sulfuric acid. Don’t let it touch your skin. Or your eyes.”
“I know,” said Kojo. “Sulfuric acid can cause burns, blindness, irreversible organ damage, and possibly death. It’s worse than those prescription-drug commercials my grandma watches.”
“We have to stop the leak,” said Jake. “Otherwise, we won’t be able to complete our mission.”
“Uh-oh,” said Kojo. “The orb just turned yellow.” He checked his watch. “We’re down to two minutes, baby. What are we supposed to do?”
How can you safely plug a sulfuric-acid leak? thought Jake.
He ran through all the math and physics and chemistry and plumbing stuff crammed inside his brain.
He got nothing.
This was so weird. Ever since he’d eaten Mr. Farooqi’s Ingestible Knowledge capsules, almost every time he’d needed an answer it had been there, just waiting for him.
Had he hit a mental wall? A dead zone in his brain? Was this one chunk of knowledge he hadn’t ingested?
Or, worse, were the jelly beans starting to wear off?
Jake’s stomach felt queasy.
Was this the beginning of the end?
“Hey, Kojo?” said Jake, his voice a little shaky. “You ever wonder if a gift can become a curse?”
Kojo shot him a look. “You ever wonder if, maybe, you should think about that kind of stuff later?”
Jake sighed. “Remember how happy I was before, all of a sudden, I got smart? When I was just me?”
“ ‘You’ is all we need, baby. Just figure out how to plug that leak!”
“I don’t know what to do!”
Kojo snapped his fingers. “MacGyver!”
He tore open his gear bag and pulled out his second chocolate bar.
“One time, MacGyver plugged a sulfuric-acid drip with chocolate!”
Suddenly, something clicked in Jake’s head.
“Of course. The sugar, or glucose, in the candy bar will react with the acid to generate an exothermic reaction, resulting in a thick, gummy putty. It’ll block those holes!”
Jake and Kojo both unwrapped chocolate bars and carefully touched the edges to the acid leaks.
In seconds, the dripping stopped.
Jake snatched the orb, which had just turned orange on its way to red.
A buzzer sounded. High-power exhaust fans whooshed to life.
“We did it!” shouted Kojo. “We beat the clock.”
All four walls of the room slid sideways, exposing a high-tech underground lab. Several scientists in long white lab coats made notes regarding Jake and Kojo’s performance in the drill.
“Bravo!” said Dr. Marie Double, head of the Consortium. “Bien joue!” She had a very thick French accent and always wore a fashionable silk scarf and jumbo ant-eye sunglasses.
“What’d she say?” Kojo whispered to Jake, because Kojo didn’t speak French and Jake could speak twenty-seven different languages.
“ ‘Way to go,’ ” Jake whispered back.
“Oh. Okay. That’s cool. And that’s a wrap for me.” Kojo handed his gear bag to the closest lab technician. “For the record, my binoculars are the ones that aren’t busted open. Come on, Jake. We need to head back to the mainland. Summer’s almost over. It’s time for a real vacation.”
That had been the plan.
Run field tests for the Consortium and Dr. Double. Prove he would be a reliable and valuable asset for any upcoming super-secret international intelligence missions.
Then take the rest of the summer off. Go to Disney World with his mom and little sister, Emma.
But that was before Jake had started doubting himself and his so-called superpowers.
Was he really reliable and valuable?
Were the jelly beans still working?
Or was he on his way back to just being Jake McQuade?
“You performed quite well, Mr. McQuade,” said Dr. Double as she drove Jake and Kojo in a gleaming golf cart down a brightly lit tunnel.
They were returning to the mainland underground.
“How about that chocolate-bar move with the acid drip?” said Kojo. “I came up with that one.”
“Very clever,” said Dr. Double. “It was, of course, the solution we hoped you would arrive at. It is why chocolate bars were included in your gear bag.”
“Good thing I watch old MacGyver reruns,” said Kojo. “Am I right?”
“Indeed you are. We had assumed that Mr. McQuade would’ve figured it out for himself.”
Jake could tell: Dr. Double was questioning his genius superpowers almost as much as he was.
The golf cart came to a stop at the dead end of the very long, very sterile hallway.
Dr. Double pressed her palm to the white wall. A section rolled sideways to reveal a high-tech elevator. They all stepped aboard.
“By the way,” said Kojo as the elevator whirred up its shaft, “Jake had to smash open his binoculars to beat those lasers. We didn’t give you a damage deposit, did we?”
Dr. Double laughed. “No.”
Kojo nodded knowingly. “And this is why. Sometimes you gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet.”
“Or a roasted-red-pepper frittata,” added Jake. “Or eggs en cocotte. Or an egg-in-a-hole sandwich with bacon and cheddar.”
One of Mr. Farooqi’s jelly beans had made Jake a gourmet chef who knew way too many ways to cook eggs.
After the elevator’s high-speed ascent, its doors whooshed open. Jake, Kojo, and Dr. Double stepped out of the “supply closet” in the fake dental office that served as the Consortium’s cover.
Dr. Double consulted her phone. “Your families are on the way and should be arriving shortly. We thank you both for agreeing to these field tests, and we look forward to working with you in the future.”
Was she lying? Had Jake actually failed the Consortium’s tests? Did the fact that Kojo was the one who’d figured out the answer to the sulfuric-acid problem lower his score?
“I’m going to my family’s reunion in Georgia,” said Kojo. “Two weeks of cousins, fun, and food, then--boom. It’s back to school. But that’s cool. Jake and I are going into the eighth grade. We will rule Riverview Middle School.”
“And how about you, Jake?” asked Dr. Double. “Where will you be going with your mother and sister?”
“Florida,” Jake said glumly. “Disney World.” That came out sounding even gloomier.
“Um, that’s supposed to be the happiest place on earth,” said Kojo.
“You’re thinking of Disneyland in California,” said Jake. “That’s ‘the happiest place on earth.’ Disney World in Florida is ‘the most magical place on earth.’ ”
“Riiiiight,” said Kojo, because Jake didn’t seem very magical or happy. “You okay, man?”