Chapter 1: The Augmented Expedition 1 The Augmented Expedition
I STEPPED INTO THE GYM and scanned the area. A few students sat on the bleachers. Some watched two members of the fencing team facing off, foils at the ready. Others chatted quietly or finished their homework last-minute before school began. Luckily, none of them seemed to be interested in my destination.
I casually strolled across the floor, heading toward the end of the single set of bleachers. I adjusted my glasses and looked at the seated students. I didn’t bother glancing at the fencers; their masks would definitely block my facial recognition program.
That’s right, I was testing my brand-new augmented reality glasses. You see, I had almost all of the academy students in my address book, so it was easy to add their faces to my program.
As I moved closer to the bleachers, small green squares appeared around the students’ faces. Their names floated under those open boxes. Simone Mosby chatted with Alicia Wilkes. Evan Wittman sat alone, reading something on his tablet.
Okay, their names didn’t really float next to these unsuspecting students. That was the augmented part of my augmented reality glasses. You see, my program projected the images onto my glasses so that only I could see them. The boxes continued to float next to the students even though I kept moving. It was very cool. In fact, I felt kind of like James Bond or Jason Bourne. Except their spy glasses might list a bunch of deadly facts about the subject. I imagined an additional list of stats floating beside Evan’s face: international assassin, wanted by Interpol, deadly with nunchucks.
As I moved closer to the bleachers, Evan glanced up from his tablet. “Cool glasses, Tom,” he said casually, instead of attacking me with nunchucks. “What do they do?”
“I’ll tell you later,” I replied as I continued toward my destination. “I’m still beta testing them.”
Evan gave a knowing nod and went back to his tablet.
At any other school, I would’ve looked weird walking around wearing oversize safety glasses with wires leading down to a controller and power pack clipped to my belt. Okay, I’m sure I looked weird here, too. But at the Swift Academy of Science and Technology, it wasn’t unusual for students to test their inventions on school grounds. You might see drones flying down the halls one day and green smoke billowing out of the chemistry lab the next. You never knew what strange and exciting things you’d come across at this school.
Today, I wasn’t just testing my latest invention—I was also helping my best friend, Noah Newton, with his. That’s why I made my way to the back of the bleachers. I was using my glasses to assist Noah with his own augmented reality invention. And I wasn’t the only one. Noah had created a cool app that most of the academy students were helping him test.
I ducked behind the bleachers and adjusted my glasses. Scanning the dark and dusty area, I quickly spotted exactly what I was looking for: a cartoon pork chop slowly spun as it hovered just above the floor under the bleachers. It wasn’t a real pork chop, obviously, but one I could see only using my glasses.
I dug out my phone and accessed Noah’s Feed the Beast app. The program activated the camera, and I held up my phone so I could see the pork chop hovering on the screen. Using the app, I’d be able to see the cartoon hunk of meat even if I wasn’t wearing my glasses.
My thumb moved toward the app’s Collect button, but the pork chop disappeared before I could capture it. I spun around to see that I wasn’t alone. A thin boy with curly brown hair held his own phone in front of him. I recognized the student, even as my glasses drew a square around his face and flashed a label: Terry Stephenson.
“Not so swift, Tom Swift,” Terry said with a grin. “I found this one yesterday.” Terry ducked his head as he stepped out from under the bleachers and disappeared from sight.
I closed Noah’s app and shot him a text. Someone found the one under the bleachers.
Cool, Noah replied. Keep looking.
Hurrying away from the bleachers, I made my way to the gym doors, scanning the ceiling just in case Noah had hidden any other loot up there.
Noah had created a cool phone app that hid all kinds of cartoon food items all over the school. There were barrels of apples, cartoon fish, and even oversize cherries, just like in that old-school video game, Pac-Man. You couldn’t see the items unless you were looking through your phone’s camera, using his app.
Noah had made the app available to all the academy students so everyone could play. The object of the game was to go around the school and collect as many of the items as you could. The student who collected the most loot won for the day.
That wasn’t the coolest part of the game, though. Every day after school, if you went outside and aimed your phone at the sky, you would be able to see a giant beast tromping toward the Swift Academy building. When it got close enough, all of the students who’d gathered loot could launch it toward the creature. If enough people collected enough food and successfully launched their cache into the monster’s mouth, the beast would be satisfied and it wouldn’t destroy the school. That’s right. Noah had created a cool program where a monster demolished the Swift Academy building. It looked amazing and pretty realistic.
Since Noah’s app had launched three days before, the beast had torn down the school every time. And as cool as that was to watch, it also meant that not enough students had collected enough loot. Today looked like there was a pretty good chance that would change, though. Every day the app was live, more and more students could be seen roaming the halls with their phones out in front of them—even more than thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds usually do.
I stepped out of the gym and checked my watch. It was almost time for first period. I had just enough time to get to my locker, put away my glasses, and head to algebra. I’d help Noah grab more food items during lunch. Maybe today would be the day that we finally succeeded in feeding the beast!
I continued to test my glasses as I headed for my locker. They correctly identified Kevin Ryan, Mia Trevino, and Tony Garret. Unfortunately, they identified Jamal Watts as his sister, Shandra. I’d have to check my address book to make sure I had their photos right. Otherwise, my program wasn’t able to tell the difference with a strong family resemblance.
I reached my locker and began dialing in my lock’s combination.
“Attention, Swift Academy students,” came Mr. Davenport’s voice over the intercom system. “Noah Newton and Tom Swift, report to my office right away.”
I sighed and reset my padlock. It looked like I was going to be late for algebra.
As I made my way to the principal’s office, I got the usual jabs any student might have received after such a public announcement. They weren’t too bad, especially considering my last name matches the name of the school.
There’s a very good reason for that. My father, Tom Swift Sr., created the school with the profits from his nearby tech company, Swift Enterprises. However, ever since I started at the academy, I’ve done my best to be just another student. I don’t want any special treatment from teachers or students. So far, that had worked out just fine.
When I entered the front office, Noah was already there sitting in one of the chairs by the school office manager’s desk.
Ms. Lane smiled and nodded in the direction of my friend. “Just have a seat. Mr. Davenport will be with you in a moment.”
I plopped down in the chair next to Noah’s. “What do you think this is about?” I whispered.
Noah sighed and shook his head. “Isn’t it obvious? Davenport’s going to shut down my app.” He rolled his eyes. “He probably thinks it’s too disruptive.”
I shrugged. “You never know. It might be something else.”
Noah smirked and gave me a skeptical look. “One of the last times we were here was because of an app. What else could it be?”
My friend had a point. Once, Noah and I, along with our friends Samantha Watson and Amy Hsu, came to see Mr. Davenport because of an app Amy had created. It was a cool program that let students know when teachers were going to give a pop quiz. Now that app was disruptive… to the teachers’ lesson plans, at least. Even though Noah’s app did have kids’ faces buried in their phones a little more than usual, I didn’t think it was actually disruptive.
Something buzzed on Ms. Lane’s desk and Mr. Davenport’s voice blared out of a small speaker. “Send them in, please,” he said.
As Noah and I stood and headed back, Ms. Lane gave us a nod and a half-grin that seemed meant to wish us luck.
When we reached the principal’s office, I was surprised to see that he wasn’t alone. A blond woman in a bright red sweater sat in one of the four chairs in front of Mr. Davenport’s desk. She turned and smiled at us as we filed in.
“Mr. Newton. Mr. Swift,” Mr. Davenport said. He pointed to the chairs. “Please take a seat.”
As we settled down, the principal stood. “Now, Mr. Newton, I was about to put the brakes on this… Feed the Beast app of yours.”
My best friend gave me a What did I tell you? look before addressing the principal. “What if people just used it before school and during lunch?”
Mr. Davenport chuckled. “You’re not listening, Mr. Newton. I said I was about to put the brakes on it.”
Noah opened his mouth to debate some more, but then caught himself. “Oh,” he said, relaxing a little. He’d clearly had an argument all ready to go.
The principal gestured to the woman. “But Ms. Jensen here talked me out of it.”
The woman turned and extended a hand to us. “Purely for selfish reasons, I assure you,” she said. “I’m Holly Jensen, the new head of PR at Swift Enterprises.”
As I shook her hand, I was glad she said she was new. I didn’t know everyone who worked at my father’s company, for sure, but it would’ve been embarrassing if I had already met her and forgotten.
“How do you know about my app?” Noah asked. “It’s just for the students and it’s only been live for a few days now.”
“Oh, I poke around here and there, talking to a few students and teachers,” Ms. Jensen replied with a sly smile. “I wouldn’t be good at my job if I didn’t stay on top of all the exciting new innovations you little geniuses come up with.” She stood, becoming quite animated. “And I think your app would be perfect to showcase at the upcoming… wait for it… Inventors’ Olympics!”
Noah and I glanced at each other. “Wait, what?” I asked.
Ms. Jensen grinned and glanced around. “You two are the first students to find out the big news! In two weeks, instead of Mr. Edge’s invention convention, Mr. Davenport has graciously allowed Swift Enterprises to put on a display of all the academy students’ inventions, which will be open to the public!”
Mr. Edge, our engineering teacher, holds a monthly showcase he calls the invention convention—a chance for students to show off their inventing skills. It’s pretty informal; we meet in the cafeteria during lunch. But it’s really cool to see all the creative inventions students have been building. I’d never thought of it being open to the public before. It was a good idea scheduling this new event to replace the upcoming invention convention. Most of the students were already well on their way to getting their inventions ready anyway.
“We thought it would be great advertising for the school,” Ms. Jensen continued. She tapped her chin with one finger. “The only issue is… how do we show off your app to a large crowd of people? Could you get video footage somehow?”
My mind started racing. This was the kind of challenge I loved. Give me a problem with set parameters and I’m good to go!
I smiled and sat up straighter. “I think we can,” I said, tapping my glasses, before explaining how they let me see the same virtual objects from Noah’s app. “I bet we can rig some kind of filter that goes in front a camera lens.”
“Oh yeah,” Noah agreed with a grin. “For sure.”
Ms. Jensen leaned closer to look at my glasses. “I thought those were a bit odd for a prescription pair.”
Mr. Davenport shook his head. “I guess I’m just so used to seeing students wearing crazy contraptions, I didn’t think to ask.”
“You can try them if you like,” I offered. “You can see how they identify everyone in the room. I’m thinking they would be great for a new student or teacher. It’s like everyone would be wearing a virtual name tag.” I began to remove the glasses. “Too bad there are no Feed the Beast items in here for you to see—”
I was interrupted by Noah nudging me. “Uh, about that…” He nodded toward a filing cabinet in the corner of the office.
I slid the glasses back on and turned toward the corner. A large cartoon pineapple hovered above the cabinet. My eyes widened. I couldn’t believe I’d missed it before.
Mr. Davenport crossed his arms. “Mr. Newton… you did not plant one of those virtual items in my office.”
Noah shrugged. “You have to admit, it’s a great hiding place.”
I gave the glasses to Ms. Jensen, being careful to hold the trailing power pack beside her. She laughed when she spotted the cartoon fruit. “Amazing.”
Noah pulled out his phone and pulled up his app. He held it up so Mr. Davenport could see the pineapple on the screen, then tapped a button in the app and the pineapple disappeared.
Ms. Jensen returned my glasses. “Okay, cards on the table,” she said, leaning against Mr. Davenport’s desk. “I had an ulterior motive for asking if your app could be recorded.”
Noah and I glanced at each other. “Okay,” Noah said.
“It involves another wonderful PR idea,” she added.
Mr. Davenport sighed. “This one, I’m not so crazy about.”
Ms. Jensen playfully shooed him with one hand. “Do either of you watch shows like Camped Out or Squatch Hunters?”
I shook my head, but Noah’s eyes lit up. “I love Camped Out! It’s hilarious.”
Even though I hadn’t watched them, I had certainly heard of both popular television shows. Camped Out was a reality show that had several teenagers from different backgrounds staying in a summer camp. They have these crazy competitions, and then vote someone out of camp every week. The last one in camp wins a big prize or something. Squatch Hunters was another reality show, but this one followed around a group of real-life Bigfoot hunters, “squatch” being short for Sasquatch.
“Well, I’m friends with the producer of both shows,” Ms. Jensen continued. “I pitched him the idea of doing a reality show about Swift Academy, and he loved it.”
“Sweet,” Noah said, glancing at me with a big grin on his face.
I gave half a smile back.
Ms. Jensen placed her hands on our shoulders. “That’s the reason I asked Mr. Davenport to bring you boys down here today.” She nodded at Noah. “First of all, I told him about your app and he thought it would be a great invention to feature since it involves most of the students.”
Noah beamed even more than I thought was possible.
She turned to me. “And you, Tom Swift. I wanted you here because… well it’s the Swift Academy, after all!”
I felt a bowling ball settle in my stomach. A while back, I was at the center of a news piece on the academy (at least at first), and I wasn’t so thrilled about it. It was the worst thing that could happen to someone who just wanted to blend in with the rest of the students. The thought of a camera crew following me around seemed like that first interview on steroids.
My half-smile was getting a real workout today. “Great,” I said with a nervous laugh.