A map provides one of the best examples of a picture being worth a thousand words.
—The Eighth Korus of the Black Tree
TRACKER: Dragonflies. YES! They’re the key!
Max sighed as the 10:15 blasted by. Brilliant. Attention, class. The nutty professor’s in. There’d be no shutting Tracker up, whoever he was. Once, Max had asked Dr. Caulfield if he’d heard of the obsessed loon, but the professor had looked at him as if he were the daft one.
Max stared at the screen as more information from Tracker flowed by. Species: 2,874; migratory patterns: worldwide; number of lenses in their eyes: 30,000; speed: 35 mph… It was as if the guy were searching for something never seen before in the order Odonata. Something supernatural.
TRACKER: Keep looking. It’s bound to be there.
Yeah, just like the two blokes picking you up in the upholstered truck.
SPYDER: Danny, you said your dragonfly delivered a message. What was it, dawg?
Just then, a thwap sounded at his bedroom window. Then another. Max was afraid to look. Another. Thwap!
Sure enough, the green bug was back. The collywobbles returned too, only this time doing somersaults. THWAP! This wasn’t funny.
Max rose from his laptop and made his way to the window and the aerial intruder tapping at the glass. It took a moment of sincere, logical, internal discussion—really, what harm could a dragonfly do?—before Max finally obliged. “All right then,” he lectured the bug as he fiddled with the latch, “Play nice, or else.”
Max had just enough time to duck before the dragonfly bolted into his bedroom like an emerald laser. He dove for cover, burying himself beneath the dirty laundry as the insect ricocheted off every corner of the room. First over the bed, then the dresser, then past his desk. It paused for a moment in front of the giant fly poster—hello—before rocketing toward the door. Max peered through a pair of undercrackers as the dragonfly ping-ponged by.
“Li Fang was right. We Euros do know evil when we see it!”
The dragonfly made a few more quick passes, then streaked back out into the London sky. Pulling himself off the floor, Max sprang to the window and leaned out. The dragonfly was gone, leaving behind nothing but the train tracks out of Brixton and the promise of The City beyond.
“What a cheeky bugger. Maybe—”
Dashing into the parlor, he scanned the view from the front of his flat. Nothing but more London. Max waited just the same. That’s when he caught sight of the three lads disappearing beneath the tracks on the street below. Maybe he should yell down, ask if they’d seen a supersonic insect. Then again, maybe not. There were already too many loons in this part of London. Why add his name to the list?
Returning to his bedroom, Max surveyed the flat, pale sky one last time. Closing the window, his eyes traveled from the skyline to the window frame, and finally to the curtain pull beside him, the one twinkling in the mid-morning light.
Except we don’t have curtain pulls.
A piece of metal dangled from a leather cord wrapped around the window latch. Now what?
As he reached for the cord, Max narrowly avoided stepping on a fold of paper that had gone unnoticed during the dragonfly’s blitz. His brow twisted into a question mark as he bent down to pick it up. Triangular in shape, the fold was small, not more than two inches at its widest point. It was its feel, however, that took him by surprise. Rather than recycled stock from his printer, or the glossy sheets ripped from magazines, this paper appeared to be more weathered parchment than anything else. He held it to his nose. Rather than musty, however, it smelled oddly fresh, like the bark of a tree or a reed of grass. Papyrus maybe?
Papyrus? Now who was the loon?
Gently, Max unfolded the slim stack, taking care not to tear its delicate weave. First one layer, then two, then more, and still more, and after that, even more! Finally, with a mix of awe and disbelief, he spread one impossibly large triangle of parchment across his bedroom floor.
With its base at his feet and the tip of the triangle pointing away, Max stared at the paper, perplexed. He tilted his head first one way, then the other. At last, he realized the cause of his confusion. “You daft prune, you’ve got it upside down.”
Grabbing several pushpins from his desk, he flipped the parchment over and pinned it to the wall—covering a suddenly irritating giant fly poster—the map’s peak pointing down.
“Now what exactly do we have here?” Max stepped back for inspection.
Nearly five feet across, the inverted triangle appeared to be a section of an ancient, richly decorated map, the kind he’d seen in the British Museum—the ones used to chart ancient oceans or record new lands, maps that plotted the heavens before the birth of telescopes, and that used intricate, three-dimensional illustrations to highlight mermaids and warn of serpents.
But beyond its shape, what made this map unusual was its orientation. Unlike those that incorporated the Earth’s curvature—commonly referred to as mercator, or sinusoidal projections—the map pinned to Max’s wall was…well… reversed. Instead of a world “mapped” to the outside of a globe, this world appeared to be within one! All the continents and seas were wallpapered to the interior of a sphere, as if it were a world existing within a bubble.
Max stepped back even further from the mystery he’d unfolded. Again, his collywobbles beat their war drums.
“Where in Prince Charlie’s knickers is this place?”