“Mom! Dad! Mimi! Pop Pop! I saw…” Jekka shouted as she ran inside.

“Whoa, slow down, honey – your sister’s sleeping,” her mom said. “Sorry, it’s just that…” “Wait a minute,” said her dad, “You’re dripping all over the place. Hold on while I get a towel.” “But I’m trying to tell you…” “And didn’t I say not to go in the water?” her mom added, with a skeptical look. “Yes. Sorry. It was an accident. My binoculars got tangled and I fell in.” “Maybe you shouldn’t have been so close to the lake, peanut,” her dad chimed in, handing her a towel. Jekka felt like she was going to explode. “It was Champy!” she finally shouted. The room got suddenly silent, and Jekka repeated herself, this time quietly. “I saw Champy, and I think I took his picture.”

Other Books By Dan Ward Meet The Boomer Sisters

The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy!
By Dan Ward

A ROGUE PRESS BOOK New York 2006

Visit us at www.lulu.com/RoguePress

Copyright © 2006 by Dan Ward Cover design by Mandy Hoelmer

For My Parents, who taught me to aim high.

Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything is hopeless. - G.K. Chesterton

CONTENTS

1. Vacation Begins 2. First Encounter 3. A Garden Tour 4. Letters In The Attic 5. Cornerstone Bookstore 6. Beach Day 7. Visiting ECHO 8. Loon Rescue 9. Pieces Coming Together 10. Flying The Lucky Duck 11. ECHO’s ECHO 12. Pistachio Launch 13. In The Lake 14. The Deep Water Program 15. Close Encounter 16. Back To The Garden

1 7 14 24 32 41 50 60 69 77 87 98 110 119 127 133

Chapter 1: The Vacation Begins

“5… 6… 7…” BJ Boomer carefully set her socks into the suitcase, counting each pair out loud. “8… ooof – JB!” BJ glared at her little sister, who had come into the room unannounced and bumped her arm, scattering socks all over the bed. “Look what you did! What are you doing in my room?” “7, 8, JB? JB isn’t a number, silly,” replied the youngest Boomer girl with a grin. “And besides, that’s not even my name anymore. From now on, I want to be called Jekka.” “Mom!” BJ yelled. “JB is bothering me and she messed up my socks and she probably didn’t even pack yet!”

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

“I said I want to be called Jekka now,” she replied, then ran towards BJ’s door and collided with her mom, who had just arrived. “Girls, please don’t harass each other,” Mrs. Boomer said with a sigh. “We’ve got a long drive ahead of us and it would be nice if everyone would get along.” Turning to her youngest daughter, she said, “JB, are you packed already?” “Yes, and I want to be called Jekka now,” she answered in her most regal, princessy voice. “OK, Jekka, let’s check out your suitcase.” Together, the two went into Jekka’s room, and BJ heard her mom give a small gasp. “Um, sweetie, nice try, but you can’t just throw a wad of clothes into a bag and call it packing. Look, it’s all shirts and no pants. Here, let me help you…” BJ sighed and silently started counting out her socks again, then began picking out some shirts to bring. “The Camp Mimi Express leaves in thirty minutes,” BJ heard her dad say from the hallway. BJ started to pack faster. For as long as she could remember, BJ and her sister had gone to Plattsburgh, New York, to visit their
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grandparents for a week each summer. The girls called them Mimi and Pop Pop, and everyone called the trip “Camp Mimi.” This year, instead of just one week, they would stay for two, while their mom and dad took a hot air balloon trip across the country. BJ loved visiting her grandparents any time of year, and loved going to Camp Mimi most of all. Mimi and Pop Pop lived in a part of Plattsburgh called Cliff Haven, on the shores of Lake Champlain. Summers there were filled with canoeing, picnics on the beach, snorkeling, and trips on her grandparent’s boat, Air Force Blue. Mimi had a garden which wrapped around the entire house, and even though BJ didn’t like dirt, worms or bugs, she loved helping Mimi take care of all the beautiful flowers. Plus, with her parents gone, she and JB – I mean Jekka – got to stay up late, eat candy, and do all the things kids can’t do when their parents are around. “Um, hello?” BJ’s dad poked his head into the room, startling her. “Are you packing or did you go to Cliff Haven in your mind already?” he asked with a chuckle. BJ realized she had spaced out, thinking about the trip, and was standing motionless in her room, one hand on a half-folded shirt.

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

“Oops, sorry Daddy,” she said sheepishly. “I guess I got distracted by my own brain. I’m almost done packing, don’t worry.” “Sounds good, kiddo,” he answered. “Let me know when your bag is ready and I’ll put it in the van. You’ll have plenty of time to daydream while we’re driving.” “I’m going to find Champy this year,” Jekka announced from the doorway as their dad moved into the kitchen. She had a pair of binoculars around her neck and a camera in her hand. “I don’t think he’s real,” answered BJ, surprising herself a little with her response. She used to believe in the monster that supposedly lives in Lake Champlain, and spent hours looking for him every summer. Lately, though, she was beginning to doubt whether such a huge creature could live in the lake without being noticed. Part of her still believed, and most of her wanted to believe, but she wasn’t entirely sure what she should think. “He is real,” shot back Jekka, stomping one foot defiantly. “And I’m going to take his picture.” She spun on her heel and disappeared down the hallway at her usual high rate of speed. BJ heard her dad say “oof,” as Jekka crashed into him.

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BJ zipped her suitcase, then picked up her book bag with a grunt. She had packed close to twenty books the night before, and they were heavy. “Whoa, that’s a lot of books you’ve got there, kiddo.” Her dad was back. “You know you’re only going to be there for two weeks, right?” “Oh Daddy, these books are for the car ride, not Camp Mimi. Pop Pop said he would take us to that cool bookstore while we’re up there, and get even more books.” BJ’s neck tingled at the thought. “Oh,” he answered, as he picked her full suitcase up. “Well, if anyone can read all these books in four hours, I imagine you can. Let’s get it started, shall we?” “Can we bring our flying bikes, Daddy?” Jekka asked. “Sorry kiddo, there’s not enough room in the van. Besides, I’m sure you’ll have plenty of adventures and fun in Cliff Haven, even without winged bicycles.” “Ok. Then can I bring my little flashlight?” “Sure,” Mr. Boomer answered with a chuckle. “By all means, bring a flashlight.”

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

The drive to Cliff Haven took forever, as usual. BJ spent most of the time reading, while Jekka hummed and sang along with the music on her headphones. The last half-hour, however, everyone spent staring out the window, in a contest to see who would be the first to glimpse the lake. “There it is!” Jekka shouted, a second before BJ joined in. “We see it! We see it!” At first, all they could make out was occasional glimpses of brilliant blue water, occasionally broken by white capped waves. Then the glimpses turned into larger patches, and before long they were driving along the shore. Ten minutes later, they were pulling up to Mimi and Pop Pop’s house, spilling out of the car into the bright sunshiny day, hugging their grandparents hello while Joey the cocker spaniel barked and barked. Camp Mimi had begun.

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Chapter 2: First Encounter

Dinner was a noisy, active event. Pop Pop grilled his special burgers and hotdogs in the backyard, and Mimi laid out a huge platter of strawberries and fruit. Jekka ate a ton of berries, as usual, but BJ didn’t have much of an appetite. She felt funny all over, and alternated between being too hot and freezing. She slumped down in her chair, and didn’t even perk up when Mimi brought out her favorite dessert – apple pie from Rolf’s orchard. “Are you alright, honey?” asked her mom. “I don’t feel good,” BJ answered, in a whisper. “Can I have your strawberries, then?” Jekka asked. “Sure,” muttered BJ as her mom felt her forehead. “I didn’t touch them.”

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

“Oh dear, you’ve got a fever for sure. How does your head feel?” “It hurts. So does my belly.” “OK, let’s get you to bed, peanut. I’m sorry you’re sick!” Mimi bustled around, bringing BJ some medicine and setting her up in the bedroom at the end of the hallway. “I don’t want to be sick, Mimi,” BJ protested. “I want to go work in the garden.” “Don’t worry, sweetheart. The garden isn’t going anywhere. It’ll wait for you, and there’s always something to do out there. Just rest now, so you can get better.” She kissed BJ’s forehead. Jekka came in, clutching an old stuffed duck that used to be yellow. She set it on the bed next to her sister. “You can sleep with Du-yaya if you want to,” she said in a gentle voice, “Cause you’re sick.” “Thanks, Jekka.” BJ smiled, then closed her eyes. Two minutes later, she was asleep. Back in the kitchen, it was clean up time. “Pop Pop, do you believe Champy is real?” Jekka asked as she put the empty berry dish into the sink.

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“I sure do,” he answered. “Have you ever seen him?” “Well, I’m not sure. I’ve seen things on the lake that I can’t explain, which may or may not have been Champy. But, believing and seeing are two different things, and even though I can’t say I’ve definitely seen him, I definitely believe he’s real.” “Oh.” Jekka thought about that for a minute. “Well, I hope I see him this summer.” “That would be great,” Pop Pop answered. “I hope you see him too.” “BJ said Champy isn’t real,” Jekka added, hesitantly. “She did, did she? How does she know, I wonder? It’s a pretty big lake, and you’d have to search the whole thing from one end to the other to know for sure, and it’s over a hundred miles long.” He bent down to look Jekka in the eyes. “Do you think BJ has been surveying the entire lake without telling us?” His eyes twinkled, and there was laughter in his voice. “Oh Pop Pop, you’re so funny.”

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

When the table was cleared and the dishes put away, the grownups laid out a map on the table and began talking about Mr. and Mrs. Boomer’s hot air balloon trip. Jekka had other things in mind. “Mom, can I go look at the lake?” she asked. “Sure, honey, but stay on the shore, OK?” “OK, I just want to look for Champy. I think he likes to come out at dusk. I won’t go in the water.” “OK. Good luck, honey!” Jekka hung the binoculars around her neck, grabbed her camera, and ran across the street, through a grassy field and towards the water. Her parents said there used to be a rocky beach there a long time ago, but now there was a cement wall, to prevent erosion, and a set of stairs leading down to the water. The lake was perfectly still. The evening air felt cooler as Jekka got closer to the water. With the sun setting behind her, Jekka shivered a little bit and breathed in the gentle scent of the lake. She walked down the steps and sat on the last one, drawing her knees to her chest to stay warm.

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The sky was a darkening shade of blue, which the lake reflected like a mirror. Jekka stared out at Crab Island, and raised her binoculars to get a better look at the island’s memorial. It looked like a giant white toothpick stuck in the ground, and wasn’t very interesting, so she let the binoculars dangle over her knees and scanned the lake with just her eyes. She sat quietly for a few minutes. A sudden movement on the lake caught her eye. Off to the right, about half way between the shore and Crab Island, something was moving. Whatever it was, it was underwater. All Jekka could see was a v-shaped wave moving north, parallel to the beach. It wasn’t a boat, but it was very fast and seemed like it must be quite large. It picked up speed until it was directly in front of her, and then the wave, or wake, turned towards the shore. Jekka sat like a statue, her eyes huge, not daring to move or even blink. The v-shaped wave got closer, and she thought she could see a dark shadow under the water. It looked enormous. The thing slowed down and the wake was harder to see. The sun had nearly set, so Jekka leaned forward to get

11

The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

a better look. She had forgotten all about the camera, which was still in her hand. At this point, several things happened at once. A long, skinny, shiny, neck-like object broke the surface of the water. It had a head that looked like a cross between a horse and a snake with horns, and it moved from side to side, as if looking around. Jekka screamed in excitement and fear and tried to stand up, but the strap from her binoculars (which was still around her neck) was somehow looped around her toe. Instead of standing, she fell headfirst into the lake. She was still holding the camera in her left hand, and as she fell, she pressed the shutter button. The flash went off right before the splash. By the time Jekka got untangled from the strap and was standing up again, there was no sign of the neck, the head or the v-shaped wave. The lake was perfectly still again, and she was alone. She stood there, in water up to her knees, breathing hard, dripping wet, laughing and crying all at the same time. She had seen Champy, there was no doubt in her mind. She just knew that was him, and he was magnificent. She looked down at the camera in her hand, the camera which just might contain proof of Champy’s existence. Still

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laughing and crying and dripping, she sprinted up the stairs and shot back across the street to her grandparent’s house. “Mom! Dad! Mimi! Pop Pop! I saw…” Jekka shouted as she ran inside. “Whoa, slow down, honey – your sister’s sleeping,” her mom said. “Sorry, it’s just that…” “Wait a minute,” said her dad, “You’re dripping all over the place. Hold on while I get a towel.” “But I’m trying to tell you…” “And didn’t I say not to go in the water?” her mom added, with a skeptical look. “Yes. Sorry. It was an accident. My binoculars got tangled and I fell in.” “Maybe you shouldn’t have been so close to the lake, peanut,” her dad chimed in, handing her a towel. Jekka felt like she was going to explode. “It was Champy!” she finally shouted. The room got suddenly silent, and Jekka repeated herself, this time quietly. “I saw Champy, and I think I took his picture.”

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

Chapter 3: In The Garden

It took hours for Jekka to fall asleep that night, but she finally did. She was just so excited about what she’d seen, and could scarcely wait for the morning to come so they could take her film to get developed. She also couldn’t wait to tell BJ. Even though she’d told the whole story to the grownups three or four times that night, Jekka was sure she’d never get tired of talking about it. She woke up early, as usual. Mimi and her dad were already awake and drinking coffee, but everyone else was still in bed. “Can we walk over to the lake again?” Jekka asked. “Sure,” her dad answered. “Are you looking to get another peek at Champy?” he asked with a gentle smile. “Kinda,” she replied, taking Mimi’s hand. Together, the three of them walked across the street. Jekka went
14

down the stairs carefully for a change, and sat on the bottom step, dangling her feet in the chilly water. Something hard and a little slimy bumped her foot, and she jumped up with a squeal. “What’s the matter?” her dad asked. “Did a fish nibble your toes?” “I don’t know. I felt something.” They all looked into the water, and Jekka sighed with relief. “It’s just some driftwood.” She reached down and pulled it out of the water. It was long and straight and fairly thick. At one end was a root ball, bent like an L, with a few short branches sticking out from it. There was something vaguely familiar about it, but Jekka couldn’t quite put her finger on it. “Cool stick,” her dad said. They sat there for a while, enjoying the quiet laplap-lap sound of tiny waves coming in from the glassy lake. “Hey you guys,” said a voice from the top of the stairs. It was Mrs. Boomer. “How’s the lake today?”

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

“Good,” answered Jekka and Mimi together. Jekka added, “But no Champy this morning – just a stick.” “Well, Pop Pop got up and he’s making pancakes. He sent me over to let you know they’re almost ready.” Jekka grabbed her driftwood and raced for the pancakes. Back in the house, BJ was still sleeping. She slept through breakfast, so Jekka ate enough pancakes for both of them. BJ only opened her eyes a little when her parents came in to say goodbye and confirm that her fever was gone. They were leaving for their hot air balloon trip and had to get on the road to meet up with their crew. “Give us a call on our cell phone when you get the photo developed, ok?” Jekka’s mom said to her. “I want to hear all about it! And keep us posted on how your sister is doing, of course. Love you, kiddo! Bye!” After breakfast, Pop Pop took Jekka to the drugstore to drop off the film. When they got back, BJ was finally awake, curled up on the couch with Mimi, a cup of juice, and a book. The radio was tuned to WIRY, and the DJ was reading a list of people’s birthdays.

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“Hi BJ! How are you feeling? Did you hear about Champy?” Jekka asked, adding “I saw him last night, I really did! And you said he wasn’t real.” “Yes, Mimi told me. And I never said he wasn’t real – just that I wasn’t sure if I believed in him anymore.” BJ sniffed. “It’s not fair. I wanted to see him too.” “Don’t worry, I think I took his picture before I fell in the lake, so you’ll get to see him soon too. It should be ready in an hour.” BJ didn’t feel like talking anymore. Her head still hurt a little, so she snuggled deeper into the couch and picked up her book. Mimi took Jekka outside to work in the garden, while Pop Pop read the newspaper on the couch next to BJ and listened to WIRY. Joey wandered outside too, sniffing the ground and occasionally barking at birds flying overhead. Mimi’s garden sort of reminded Jekka of Uncle Q’s shop, except the garden was outside and alive. Some flowers were tall and enormous, while others were tiny and delicate. A winding path ran through it, paved with stepping stones made by BJ and Jekka during previous summers at Camp Mimi. The stones were made of cement and decorated with brightly colored pieces of mosaic glass.

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

Jekka walked past the patio swing and the table where they sometimes ate “outside lunch.” “These are Bee-Balm,” Mimi said, pointing to big red flowers that were taller than Jekka. “Oh, a humming bird! Hummingbirds love Bee-Balm. That’s why I planted them.” She bent down and pointed to some tiny blue flowers. “These are Forget-Me-Nots. Their seeds are very sticky, which is why they are all over the place.” “What are these Mimi?” Jekka asked, pointing to another blue flower. “They look like hot air balloons!” “Those are called Balloon Flowers, actually. They’ll look different when the blooms open, of course, but you’re right – they got their name because they look like balloons when they’re closed.” Mimi gave her a tour of the rest of the garden, pointing out Sweet Williams, big Purple Coneflowers, tiny pink Coral Bells, and giant pink Dahlias – Jekka’s favorite. As they came around the corner, towards a wonderful smelling Lavender plant, Jekka gasped in surprise. There was Champy, poking his head up out of the roses! He had the same long neck, the same curved head and pointy horns she’d seen the night before.

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“What?!? Mimi – look!” Jekka exclaimed, pointing. Then she breathed a big sigh of relief. “Oh, never mind. It’s just the driftwood.” In her race to get some pancakes, Jekka had left the stick lying in the driveway. Pop Pop must have moved it, propping it up against the side of the house. Jekka took a closer look at the twisted ball of roots and laughed at herself. “I thought the stick was Champy just now. It’s sort of the same shape I saw last night…” Then a terrible thought hit her. What if this is what she saw in the water last night? If the stick could fool her for a second in broad daylight, in a garden, couldn’t it fool her at dusk, in the water? “Yeah,” Mimi was saying, “It does look a little like a Champy head, doesn’t it?” “Mimi, what if it wasn’t him? I mean, what if it was him… I mean, what if it wasn’t really, I mean, if the stick…” Jekka stammered. “Slow down, honey,” Mimi said, putting her hand on Jekka’s shoulder to comfort her. “I don’t understand. What if what was who?”

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

“What if this stick is what I saw last night, instead of Champy?” Jekka finally blurted out. “What if Champy’s not real?” “Oh my,” Mimi said. “Let’s have a seat and talk about this.” She took Jekka’s hand and led her to a huge Maple tree in the backyard. There were four large rocks under the tree, where the girls often had picnics. “Now, I don’t know what you saw last night, but you did say it was moving pretty fast, right? Even though the lake was perfectly calm?” “Yeah…” “OK. How fast do you think a stick like this can swim?” Jekka laughed in relief. “And,” Mimi continued, “You said it was poking up out of the water, right? Have you ever seen a stick floating in the water? Aren’t they usually laying down flat?” “Yes!” Jekka jumped off her rock and gave Mimi a big hug. “Thanks, Meems.” “There’s one more thing you need to understand, Jekka.” Mimi looked pretty serious now. “Just because

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there’s a fake of something doesn’t mean the real version doesn’t exist. Even if what you saw last night was the stick, that wouldn’t prove anything about Champy.” Pop Pop came around the corner, followed by Joey. “Oh, there you two are! Does anyone want to come with me to get that film?” Jekka spun around three times, bounced into Mimi and gave her a big hug, then dashed off towards Pop Pop. She grabbed his hand and didn’t slow down, so together they ran towards his car. The trip to the drugstore only took five minutes, but to Jekka it felt twice as long as the drive from her house to Cliff Haven. When they finally arrived, Jekka ran to the photo desk, waving her arms wildly to get the clerk’s attention. “Are they ready? Are they? Are they?” The girl behind the counter smiled. “Yep. Here they are. That’ll be $9.46.” Pop Pop paid while Jekka ripped open the envelope and flipped through the photos. There was one of her own backyard, taken the week before. There was one or two from school… and then the photo she took the night before.

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

She stared at it for a long moment, unable to move (for a change). Despite the sudden fall into the lake, despite the water, despite the darkness that night, the photo was a perfectly clear, unmistakable shot of… her bare foot. The camera must have been pointing down as she fell. “Oh,” was all she could say. Pop Pop saw it too, and put a hand on her shoulder. “So, that’s the photo, eh?” he said. “Looks like Champy is pink and has five heads. Cool.” Jekka laughed in spite of herself. “Oh Pop Pop, those are my toes.” “Yes, I suppose they are. Well, they’re very nice toes, but not exactly what you were hoping for, I know.” He handed her a lollipop. “Here, I got you this, too.” “Thanks.” She popped it into her mouth and tried not to cry. Pop Pop put his arm around her and together they walked slowly back to the car. Back at the house, they showed the photo to Mimi and BJ, who was starting to feel better. They sat there, quietly, and then they all went out to the garden together. Jekka wandered towards a small round hut, about the size of her shoe. Mimi called it a Toad Abode, and Jekka bent down to look inside. It was empty.
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“Toads are sort of like caretakers for the garden, you know,” Mimi said from beside Jekka. “They eat the slugs, so the slugs don’t eat my hostas.” “Your toad is missing,” Jekka replied, pointing at the empty hut. “Oh, he’s not really missing. I just don’t know where he is at the moment. He’s around somewhere, doing his thing, looking for slugs. It’s a pretty big garden, sweetie, and the toads could be anywhere.” For some reason, this made Jekka feel a little bit better. Then again, being in the garden with Mimi always made things better.

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

Chapter 4: Letters In The Attic

The next morning dawned gray, cold and rainy. A steady drizzle was falling, the kind of rain that can last all day and seems like it will last all week. The lake was a steely gray color, matching the sky, and had hundreds of tiny waves on it, flowing in all different directions, as if the lake couldn’t decide which way the wind was blowing. “Great!” BJ said. “I’m feeling better, and now it’s raining! I’m never going to get to go to the beach!” “Oh, I think you’ll enjoy what I’ve got planned for today, sweetie,” Mimi said with a hug. “And I’m so happy to see you’re feeling better!” “What is it? What do you have planned?” asked Jekka as she bounced into the room.

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“Well, I thought we’d eat some breakfast, then have a treasure hunt in the attic. Then, after lunch, we can visit the used bookstore downtown.” “Yay!” Both girls jumped up and down. “What kind of treasures are in the attic, Meems?” asked BJ. “If I told you, it wouldn’t be much of a hunt, would it?” she replied. “And besides, how would I know what your treasures are? Only you can decide that. But first, breakfast.” The girls tore through breakfast in record time, and cleaned up even faster. “Let’s go!” laughed Jekka, tugging on Mimi’s arm. “OK, follow me!” Mimi answered. She led the girls to the hallway, and pulled on a cord that dangled from the ceiling, unfolding a wooden staircase. “Now, be careful up there, girls. We had a momma raccoon and her babies up there last spring, and Pop Pop put his foot through the ceiling when he went up there to trap them.” The girls laughed at the thought of Pop Pop’s legs dangling through the ceiling.

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

“We’ll be careful,” they promised. The attic was lit by a single bare bulb, and the whole place smelled like dust. There were mysterious looking piles of boxes, objects covered with sheets, and everything else you would expect to find in a grandparent’s attic. The girls could hear the rain pattering on the roof, which made the whole place feel even more magical. Jekka found a cardboard box full of stuffed animals and pawed through it. She picked out a stuffed manatee, and Mimi said she could keep it. Then she found a trunk full of old costumes. “That’s our Halloween trunk,” Mimi said. “Your dad and Uncle Q used to love to play with that stuff when they were your ages.” Jekka put on a wig of wild red hair, a black eye mask and a cape, then looked around for a mirror. BJ, meanwhile, had opened a trunk labeled Zeke, which is her dad’s name. It was full of old comic books, and she saw a stack of letters with unusual looking stamps on them. BJ took a closer look. The return address said Scotland! “Mimi, who does Dad know in Scotland?”

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“I don’t know. Let me see.” Mimi came over for a closer look. “Oh, these are from your dad’s cousin-twin, Debbie. Her family lived in Scotland for a few years, a long time ago.” “A cousin-twin?” asked Jekka, who was now wearing a princess gown and a horse head mask. “What’s a cousin-twin?” “Well, they’re not really twins – they were just born in the same year, so that’s what they called each other.” “Ok,” said Jekka, returning to the costume trunk. “Can I read some of them?” BJ asked. “I’m sure that would be fine,” Mimi answered. BJ carefully opened the top one. Dear Zeke, Hiya cuz! How is my favorite cousin twin? I am well. Scotland is beautiful, but I miss Virginia. Y’all think I talk funny, you should hear the people around here. I can’t even understand them sometimes. I try to explain that I ain’t got no accent, but I’m not sure they can understand me either.

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

We are on vacation – they say “on holiday” around here – and are visiting Loch Ness for a whole week!!! I haven’t seen the Loch Ness Monster yet, but she’s named Nessie and they say Nessie is like Champy. I go out to the shore with binoculars every day. Thanks for your letter. I am sorry you haven’t seen Champy yet, but I bet you will someday. I have to go now. My mom says it’s lunchtime. Love, Debbie BJ carefully folded the letter and put it back in the envelope. Her brain was full of thoughts of Scotland. She pictured her Dad’s cousin as a girl about her age, standing on the misty shore of a deep, cold Scottish lake. “Mimi, did Cousin Debbie ever see Nessie?” “You’ll just have to read some more letters,” Mimi replied with a wink. “Maybe the treasure you’re looking for is in there.” BJ opened letter after letter, looking for more clues about Nessie or Champy. She read about the skirts Scottish men wear, called kilts. She read about the weather (rainy), the schools (different), the other kids (nice) and the food
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(weird). She folded the last letter with a sigh, disappointed that Debbie hadn’t seen the Loch Ness Monster after all. As she replaced the stack of letters in the trunk, she noticed another letter, which had slipped down among the stack of comics. Dear Zeke, it began You won’t believe it, but I think I saw Nessie this morning! I was up real early, cause this is the last day of our vacation, and I walked down to the shore. There was some steam coming off the Loch and everything was perfectly still and quiet. Then I heard some splashes out towards the middle of the Loch, but I couldn’t see nothing. I tried to use my binoculars, but all I could see was white. The splashes sounded like a hand slapping the water, or maybe a flipper or something. They got louder and moved closer, first over to my left, then towards the right. I think I saw a dark shape moving around through the mist, sort of like a shadow, but it was dark and misty and I couldn’t see it good. Then there was one big splash, and everything got real quiet.

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

Maybe it was a fish or duck or something, but I bet it wasn’t. I bet it was Nessie. We are going home today, and we’ll be back in Virginia in a few months. Now we’ve both seen lake monsters. Love, Debbie BJ could scarcely contain herself. She read the last line over and over again, half expecting it to disappear. It didn’t. “Mimi! This letter says she saw Nessie, and Dad saw Champy!” Jekka popped her head out of the Halloween trunk. She had apparently found some clown makeup and was in the process of applying it all over her face. Judging by how it looked, however, she hadn’t found a mirror yet. “Read it to me! Read it to me!” she asked, waving a fistful of makeup sticks. BJ read the letter out loud, while Jekka smeared more colors on her face. She squealed when BJ got to the part about the shadow, and yelled “No!” when she read “maybe it was a fish or a duck.”

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“What did she mean ‘now we’ve both seen lake monsters’?” asked Jekka. “What did Daddy see?” “I don’t remember exactly,” answered Mimi. “Probably a duck.” “Mimi! You’re teasing me!” Jekka protested. “Yes, I am. Of course I remember. When your dad was about your age, he saw a v-shaped wave moving along the lake, sort of like what you saw, Jekka. It didn’t last long, and there wasn’t anything dramatic like a head or humps, but he was always convinced that it was caused by Champy.” “Cool!” “Well,” added Mimi, “Let’s go have some lunch. All this treasure hunting is making me hungry.” She turned to Jekka and had to laugh. “And I’ve got some cold cream for you, sweetie, unless you want to wear that clown makeup all day.”

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

Chapter 5: Cornerstone Bookstore

The Cornerstone Bookstore was one of BJ and Jekka’s favorite spots in Plattsburgh – aside from Mimi’s garden, the Cliff Haven beach, Rolf’s orchard… well, it was a place they really, really liked. It was particularly nice on a cozy, rainy day like this one, and after lunch, that’s where they went. The bookstore was absolutely stuffed with books. Jekka imagined that if someone brought even one more book in, the whole place would explode, scattering pages everywhere and covering downtown Plattsburgh with a foot of fluffy white paper, like Christmas in July. That never happened in real life, of course, but it happened in Jekka’s imagination every time she visited. As she walked in, shaking drops of rain off her jacket, BJ took a deep breath. She loved the wonderful

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scent of old books and wooden shelves, mixed with rain and a little whiff of coffee from the shop next door. She loved the sight of floor-to-ceiling shelves, stacks of paperback novels on the floor everywhere, and winding stairs leading up to the second floor. But mostly she loved the thought of all the stories, waiting to be discovered. BJ quickly assembled a small mountain of books she wanted, and curled up to read as much as possible before Mimi said they had to leave. Jekka, however, wandered around for a while, then approached the lady at the checkout counter. “Excuse me,” she said in her most polite voice, “But where are your Champy books?” “I think we’ve got some in the children’s section.” The lady answered helpfully. “Here, I’ll show you.” Jekka followed her around a corner or two, then spent a few minutes flipping through the picture books and stories. Not satisfied, she went back to the lady. “Um, do you have any Champy books for grownups? The kid books were too kiddish.” “Oh, I see. Actually, a new one just came in this morning. Maybe it will be more along the lines of what you’re looking for. Follow me.”
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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

The lady led Jekka through the maze of crowded shelves once again, this time ending at a shelf titled Natural Mysteries. “Here it is – The Case For Champ – A Scientific Assessment of Lake Champlain’s Elusive Monster, by Dr. Haydu Leonchuk.” Jekka took the heavy book from the lady, said thank you, then sat on the floor to read. It was full of big words and long sentences, but she did her best to read and understand it. When early explorers like Samuel De Champlain came to the region, they heard stories from the Native Americans of a “horned serpent” which lived in the lake. Champlain himself reported sighting an unusual creature in 1609, and there have been over 300 reported sightings in the last 100 years alone. She flipped ahead a few chapters, and stopped at a photo of a familiar looking neck-and-head shape sticking out of the water. The creature, called Champy in New York and Champ in Vermont, is often compared to the Loch Ness Monster. The most famous evidence of

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Champ’s existence in recent years is the Mansi Photograph (figure 8). Taken by Sandra Mansi in 1977, it has been subjected to extensive testing and shows no sign of tampering. However, the negative was lost, leading some skeptics to doubt the photo’s authenticity. Jekka wasn’t sure what that all meant, but it didn’t sound good. She continued reading. A team of scientists from Japan, using sonar to chart the lake, reported seeing “a very large object” passing underneath their boat at one point. While the object was not positively identified, its size was consistent with estimates of Champ’s size, and much larger than any known lake fish. However, Lake Sturgeons have been known to reach lengths of 7 feet and 300 lbs. They can not be ruled out as the source of the Champ legend. Jekka decided to stop reading the words and just looked at the pictures instead. She found a map of recent Champy sightings and a drawing of a long-necked prehistoric whale called a Zeuglodon. There was a photo of Zeuglodon fossils being dug up in Charlotte, VT, only a few miles away from the lake.

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

The book said zeuglodons were extinct, but it also said there was a fish called a coelacanth that everyone thought was extinct until a fisherman caught a live one in 1938. “I’m telling you, there is no monster in this lake,” said a man’s voice, startling Jekka and making her lose her place in the book. She looked around but didn’t see anyone. “How can you know for sure?” asked another voice. This time, Jekka could tell it was coming from the other side of the bookshelves. She leaned forward to hear better. “Well, people would have seen it, for starters,” answered the first voice. Jekka peeked around the corner and saw two men, each with a stack of books in their hands. One of them was wearing a baseball cap that said Imagine on it. “I agree - nobody has ever seen Champy…. unless you count all the people who have seen Champy,” said the man in the hat. He chuckled, then continued more forcefully. “The truth is, people have been seeing Champy for hundreds of years, maybe even longer. Just because they didn’t snap a photo of it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.” Jekka found herself liking this man very much.

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“Bah! People see what they want to see and believe what they want to believe. They don’t worry about facts.” “Does that apply to you too? It seems like you want to believe Champy is just a story, even though the facts are not on your side.” “The facts?” sputtered the first man. “What facts?” “Yes, the facts. Like, all the sightings. Like the fact that the only way to disprove Champy’s existence would be to drain the lake. You know what they say – a lack of evidence is not evidence of a lack.” “Of course. But you have to admit, the idea of a plesiosaur in Lake Champlain is pretty far fetched, even for you. Isn’t it more likely to be a log, or a sturgeon, or even a prank?” “Ah, now we’re getting somewhere,” the man in the hat answered. “People do play pranks sometimes. Logs do float. It is indeed far fetched to think an otherwise extinct animal has managed to survive. But…” “It’s happened before,” Jekka blurted out and jumped up, then covered her mouth and sat down again. “What was that?” asked the first man.

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

“I think we’ve got an eavesdropper,” replied the second, peeking around the corner and seeing Jekka. “Hi there. I assume you heard some of our conversation?” Jekka nodded. “That’s alright,” said the first man, with a grin. “You said ‘it’s happened before’ just now. What’s happened before?” “Um, an extinct fish got unextinct. I mean, it wasn’t really extinct, people just thought it was.” She turned to the book and quickly found the page again. “It’s called a co… a co-el-a… I don’t know how to say the name, but here’s a picture.” She held the book out for the men to see. “A coelacanth?” said the man in the hat as he accepted the book from Jekka. “Well, what do you know? It turns out extinction isn’t always forever after all.” He turned to the other man and said “Steve, you just got taken to school by a little girl. Nice job!” He handed the book back to Jekka. “That’s very interesting,” said the first man, whose name was apparently Steve, “and I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but it’s not exactly the same. The coelacanth is a lot smaller than Champy is supposed to be, and it lives in the ocean, which is a lot bigger than Lake

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Champlain. It would be much easier for a small fish to hide in a big ocean than for a large monster to hide in a small lake.” “But you have to admit, it’s possible, however unlikely,” answered his friend. “I suppose I do.” “Oh, there you are,” said Mimi as she came around the stacks. “I see you’ve made some friends.” “Yeah, we’re talking about Champy,” Jekka answered. “Cool. Did you learn anything?” Much to Mimi’s surprise, both men said yes. “That’s a smart girl you’ve got there,” said the man in the hat. “Yes, she sure is,” Mimi replied, then turned to Jekka. “If you’re done teaching for the day, let’s go find your sister and head home, sweetie. It’s time to make some dinner.” Jekka waved good-bye to the men, then took Mimi’s hand and went to look for her sister. When they found her, the pile of books around her was even larger than usual, and she wanted them all.

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

“OK,” Mimi said, “How about I buy you as many books as you can carry, instead of this whole pile. Otherwise, we’ll need a truck.” “Great!” BJ scrambled to load the books into her arms, and staggered towards the checkout desk. Jekka was content with her single copy of The Case for Champ. They paid, then dashed through the pouring rain towards Mimi’s car. BJ finished two more books on the five-minute drive home, while Jekka hugged her book and watched the rain slip along the car’s windows.

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Chapter 6: Beach Day

The next day dawned brilliantly sunny and hot, almost as if it was a different country. The lake had steady, small waves and looked cool and inviting. “Beach day!” shouted Jekka as she ran into the kitchen for breakfast. She was already wearing her bathing suit and reeked of sunscreen. “Well, you didn’t waste any time, did you?” Mimi said. “Beach day!” BJ echoed, as she entered the room too. She was also in her bathing suit, and smelled just as strong as Jekka. “Sounds good to me,” answered Mimi, lifting up the corner of her t-shirt to reveal she was wearing her bathing suit too. “Pop Pop already said he is going to meet us there for lunch.”
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“Can we take the canoe to the sandy beach?” asked BJ. “It’s way more fun than walking.” “That’s already set up too – Pop Pop brought it across the street for you before he went to work this morning. Let’s eat quickly.” As they finished their breakfast, there was a knock on the door, and Joey started to bark. “I wonder who that could be at this time in the morning.” Mimi shoed Joey away as she opened the door. “Oh, good morning, Ella. Good morning, Jake.” “Ella! Jake!” shouted Jekka as she ran towards the door. Ella and Jake lived across the street from Mimi and Pop Pop’s house. They were just about the same ages as the Boomer sisters. Jekka saw they were wearing bathing suits too, along with lifejackets. They each had a canoe paddle in their hands. “Do you want to go to the beach with us?” BJ and Jake said at the same time. “Jinx!” Jekka and Ella added, also at the same time. “OK, BJ, Jake, Jekka and Ella,” Mimi said with a wink, “Let’s get into the canoes and head on over. I’ve got lunch packed.”

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She lifted a heavy-looking cooler, and the whole group trudged to the waters’ edge. They carefully set the cooler into Jake and Ella’s canoe, being careful not to crush the beach toys and minnow nets Jake had stashed in the bottom. BJ, Jekka and Mimi got into their canoe. BJ and Jekka did the paddling, while Mimi sat in the middle. Jake and Ella launched their canoe into the water, and in a moment, both groups were moving south along the shore, towards the beach. The sunlight turned the lake into a glittering field of moving diamonds. BJ was content to paddle slowly, enjoying the sun, wind, water and everything. All her senses were tingling, and she even forgot to paddle for a minute. Jake brought his canoe alongside and playfully splashed BJ. “Hey!” she squeaked, then splashed him back. “Wanna race?” he asked. “OK. Mark-get-set-go,” BJ answered, as fast as she could. Jekka let out a wild laugh and began paddling as fast as she could, splashing water in all directions.

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

Jake and Ella lived right on the lake, and spent most of their summers in a canoe. BJ and Jekka hadn’t been in a canoe since the previous summer, so after a quick start, they started to fall behind. “Faster! Faster!” shrieked BJ, and the girls began to catch up with the other kids. Steering was tricky and they started to curve to the left. “No, that way!” hollered Jekka, laughing. “Paddle on the other side!” “I am paddling on the other side,” answered BJ. “You paddle on the other side.” “Which side?” asked Jekka, turning around to see BJ. “No, Jekka, don’t turn around!” BJ said, but it was too late. The canoe wobbled, then started to tip. All three passengers leaned the other way, but they leaned a little too far and found themselves bobbing in the lake beside their upside down canoe. “Well,” laughed Mimi as she wiped water from her face, “we got further along than I thought we would before we fell in. It’s a good thing I put the cooler and towels in the other canoe!”

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It wasn’t easy, but BJ, Mimi and Jekka managed to get their canoe right-side up again, with them inside it. The rest of their trip to the beach was uneventful and quick. As much as they loved canoeing, they were all glad to get their feet on the sand. After pulling the canoes securely onto the beach, the kids got right to work. There were sand castles to build, minnows to chase and catch in buckets, and, of course, swimming and splashing in the water. Jekka wandered over to the lifeguard stand and looked up at the tall, tanned lady in a red bathing suit. “Hi Lifeguard, I’m Jekka,” she said. “What’s your name?” “I’m Kim,” she answered. “Are you new? I haven’t seen you here before.” “We’re just visiting our grandparents. I was wondering, have you ever seen Champy?” “Not yet, but I keep looking. Why do you ask?” “I saw him two nights ago. Well, I think I saw him. I’m pretty sure, but it was dark and I fell in the water and took a picture of my own toes.”

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

Kim laughed. “That must have been quite an experience. You know who you should talk to? There’s a guy named Dr. Van Der Warden Velden. He’s an aquatic biologist. That means he studies things that live in the lake. He works at the ECHO Center in Burlington, and Champy is sort of his specialty. He probably knows more about Champy than anyone else. Plus,” Kim added with a wink, “he’s cute.” “How do you know him?” Jekka asked. “Well, being a lifeguard is just a summer job. I’m also a college student, and I’ve done some research projects with him over in Vermont. He’s very nice, and I’m sure he would be glad to help you out. Oh, I should warn you, he can be a little hard to find sometimes, but I bet a smart girl like you will figure it out.” “OK. I’ll ask my Mimi if she’ll take me there. Thanks!” Jekka ran over to where Mimi was sitting. The kids had buried her in sand up to her chin, and were now sculpting the sand into a set of curvy octopus legs, which radiated out from her head. It looked pretty weird. Jekka carefully avoided stepping on them as she made her way over to Mimi’s ear.

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“Look out, Jekka,” Mimi said, “I’m a personheaded sand octopus, and I like to gobble up kids!” Jekka pretended to be scared for a minute, then told Mimi about what the lifeguard had said. “So can we go to ECHO?” “Sure! Tomorrow is Saturday, so Pop Pop can come too. We could even take Air Force Blue to get there.” Satisfied, Jekka busied herself making more legs for the Octa-Mimi. Then Jake got out his underwater viewer and everyone stood in waist deep water, taking turns peeking at the silty, sea-weedy, rocky and sandy world below the water’s surface. The viewer was basically a tube with glass lenses on each end, and a few mirrors in the middle. It reminded Jekka of a telescope, only instead of looking at her friend the moon, she was looking at minnows. “Ew,” said BJ, when it was her turn. “The seaweed looks gross!” “It’s an important part of the lake’s food chain, you know,” replied Jake. “It is a source of nutrients for lots of fish, which then are food for larger fish. And then…” “Yeah, I know, but it’s still slimy.” BJ replied.

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

“True,” answered Jake, nodding thoughtfully. “Pop Pop!” shouted Jekka, pointing towards the beach. “Pop Pop is here!” She started to run but tripped on an underwater rock and fell face first into the water. She got up laughing. “Good thing the water was there to catch me!” By the time the kids got to the shore, Pop Pop had reached Mimi and was helping to unbury her. “Sorry to mess up the Octo-Mimi,” he said, “But I think she’ll enjoy lunch more if she can use her hands. Oh, I almost forgot – you two got some mail!” He produced two postcards and handed them to the girls. BJ’s had a picture of a jack rabbit with antlers, and Jekka’s showed a cowboy riding an enormous snake in a rodeo. BJ’s card said: Howdy, Kiddo! We’re flying over Texas today. The weather is good and the winds are strong. The view is amazing. We miss you two, but we’re sure you are having fun in Cliff Haven. See ya in a few days! Love, Mom & Dad Jekka’s card said pretty much the same thing.

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“Are there really big snakes like this in Texas,” asked Ella when she saw Jekka’s card. “I don’t know,” answered Jekka. “I hope not.” “No, silly,” added Jake. “It’s just a trick photograph.” Mimi and Pop Pop had been busy setting out lunch while the kids read their mail. Now it was all ready and everyone started eating. The kids were starving after such a busy morning, so there wasn’t much talking. Then Jekka bumped her juice box by accident, scattering sand all over her plate. “Rats!” she said. “Now I really have a sand-wich. Yuck!” Eventually it was time to go home, so they loaded up the canoes and pushed off. This time, nobody fell in.

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

Chapter 7: Visiting ECHO

Saturday morning was bright and cheery, just like the day before. The girls filled their backpacks with snacks, binoculars, sunscreen, sunglasses and other essentials. By nine o’clock in the morning, they were down at the marina, getting ready to cast off. BJ loved to watch her grandparents work on their boat. She loved the tidy coils of rope, the knots to tie and untie, and the hundred little tasks that were part of getting a boat ready. Jekka loved watching the ducks that hung around the docks, begging for bread. Pop Pop used to be in the Air Force, so they named the boat Air Force Blue. It was long and sleek, with a cozy little cabin towards the front. The sides were decorated with

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blue stripes, and the roof was a plastic-and-canvas contraption that could be removed like a convertible. After a little tinkering, the engine roared to life, scattering the ducks away. Pop Pop carefully backed away from the dock. Soon, they were shooting along the lake, heading towards Burlington, Vermont. The wind blasted their ears, making it hard to hear, but somehow Pop Pop’s hat stayed on. “Hey girls, did you know there are over 80 species of fish in this lake?” he shouted over the wind. “You’ve met the minnows, of course, but we’ve got big fish too. There’s Muskellunge, which can weigh up to 20 pounds. We get salmon in the spring and fall. In the winter, when the lake freezes, people like to go ice fishing for a fish called smelt.” “Don’t the fish die when the lake freezes?” Jekka asked. “Nope! The fish dig little tunnels in the ice, so they can swim along no problem.” “Pop Pop! That’s not true!” said BJ with a laugh. She turned to her little sister and explained, “Only the top

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of the lake freezes. There’s still lots of liquid water under the ice, so the fish can still swim around and not get stuck.” “Oh, yeah, that’s what I meant to say,” said Pop Pop, grinning. “How deep is the water?” asked Jekka, peering over the side. “Well, right now it’s about 60 feet, which is actually the average depth for this lake. But some parts are as much as 400 feet deep. That’s a whole lot of water!” He slowed the boat down, and brought it to a gentle stop. Now that they weren’t moving forward, the waves made Air Force Blue rock from side to side. It wasn’t a bad feeling. “What’s wrong?” asked BJ. “Why are we stopping in the middle of the lake?” “Nothing’s wrong. I just wanted to show you this.” He pointed to a round yellow object bobbing in the water off the port side of the boat. The girls scrambled to get a closer look. They saw the words Underwater Historic Preserve written on it. “It’s a marker buoy,” Mimi explained. ‘That means there’s a shipwreck under here. They put these markers out

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so people can find it. Sometimes scuba divers go down to look at the wrecks.” “I wonder how many shipwrecks there are,” asked Jekka. “Nobody knows for sure, but it’s probably around 300,” answered Pop Pop. “Someday I am going to learn to scuba dive so I can see them!” Jekka announced. “I’m sure you will,” replied Mimi. Pop Pop started the boat again, and soon they were cruising along at full speed again, shooting across to a landing site on the Vermont side of the lake. BJ and Jekka took turns holding the steering wheel, then Pop Pop guided the boat into the dock. As they were stowing their gear and tying their knots, they heard the sound of a plane flying low overhead. “Oh, I wonder if that’s Grampy!” said Mimi to the girls. Then she turned to Pop Pop and asked, “Is your dad scheduled to fly today?” “I think so,” he answered. “Yup, that’s him – over there!”

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

The girls looked in the direction Pop Pop was pointing, and quickly located the plane. It was bright green and had two pairs of wings, one on top of the other. The body looked like a boat, and the tail looked like nothing they’d ever seen before. Grampy had been flying patrols for the Coast Guard in his sea plane for several years. He said he needed something to do now that he was retired from the Navy. BJ thought it was funny that Pop Pop used to be in the Air Force, but he had a boat, while Grampy was a Navy man with an airplane. Everybody waved, and the plane wiggled its wings as it turned a slow circle overhead. “Do you think he saw us?” Jekka asked. “Well, he is a spotter, and looking for things on the ground is what he does, so… yes, he probably saw us,” answered Pop Pop. “What sort of things does he look for?” asked BJ. “People with boat problems, mostly, so the Coast Guard can come help them. In the winter he looks for ice.” They finished securing the boat and Grampy’s plane headed out over the lake.

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“OK, are you girls ready to visit the ECHO?” “Yes!” The ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center is perched right on the shore of Lake Champlain. It’s a large building, with lots of windows, and it’s full of cool exhibits. They walked right up to the sign-in desk, to get their admission bracelets. “Excuse me,” Jekka said in her best grown-up voice. “I am looking for Dr. Van Der Warden Velden. I was told he works here.” “I’m sorry, honey,” said the nice old lady behind the desk. “I don’t think there’s anyone here by that name.” “But…” Jekka sputtered. “But that lifeguard said! She told me he’s here and he knows all about Champy!” “Oh my. I think she was pulling your leg, dear. But we do have an art exhibit for children to color pictures of Champ. It’s right over that way, near the West Tower.” Jekka felt tears begin to well in her eyes, and BJ put an arm around her. As they walked away, neither girl noticed the nice old woman push a button on the desk and whisper into a small microphone.

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

“How could the lifeguard tease me like that?” Jekka sniffed. “How could Dr. Van Der Warden Velden not be real?” “You have to admit, it does sound like a made-up name,” BJ said, sympathetically. Jekka nodded and her shoulders drooped. They wandered around from exhibit to exhibit, but Jekka’s heart wasn’t in it. She was staring duly at a perch tank when she heard her name. “Hey Jekka!” It was BJ, calling from across the hallway. “Come look at this! You’ve got to come see it!” Jekka’s natural curiosity got the better of her, and she ran over to see what her sister was pointing at. She took a look, then turned on her sister with a huff. “It’s a picture of people on a boat, BJ,” she said flatly. “Big deal.” “Look closer, Jekka,” BJ insisted. “The boat is a research ship from the University of Vermont. It’s named the Melosira, and I think that’s our lifeguard friend standing on it.” Jekka peered closer, then gasped. It was Kim the lifeguard. And the man standing next to her must be Dr. V!

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A familiar-looking figure was half visible in the background, but his back was to the camera, so the girls couldn’t see his face. They returned to staring at the lifeguard and the handsome scientist standing next to her. “Look!” whispered BJ. “The sign is missing!” Sure enough, all the other photos had little signs posted next to them, explaining the image and identifying the people in them. This photo of the Melosira was the only one without a sign. “I wonder where it went,” Jekka whispered back. “Who took it? Kim did say he was hard to find. Maybe someone is trying to hide him. Maybe he took the sign down himself!” They looked at some of the other photos and read the signs, looking for clues. “Wait a minute!” Jekka said. “What does ECHO stand for again?” “Ecology, Culture, History and Opportunity,” BJ answered, proud of her excellent memory. “Are you sure?” Jekka asked, with a sly smile. “This sign says there’s an Elusive Creature Hunting Organization that searches for Champy around here, and

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

that spells ECHO too. And look – there should be a photo of the creature hunters right here, but it’s missing too!” BJ looked closer. Sure enough, there was a blank spot on the wall next to the sign, where the photo should have been. “I’ll bet our lifeguard friend is in that picture…” Jekka announced. “Along with the mysterious Dr. V.” Jekka was back to her usual excited self again. “Hey, let’s go over to the West Tower like that lady suggested. We can do some drawing and coloring while we think of what to do next.” “OK,” BJ replied. The Boomer sisters ran towards ECHO’s art wing. Jekka drew a picture of the photo she wished she’d taken the other night. BJ’s drawing was of Champy swimming underwater, chasing a school of fish. After completing their masterpieces, they looked around for a place to hang them. Jekka found some moveable dividers where lots of other kids had posted their pictures of Champy. She added hers, then gave the wall a final pat for good measure.

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“Oops!” she shouted, as the divider began to fall down. “Oh no, sorry-sorry-sorry…” her stream of sorries trailed off as she took in the sight in front of her. The moveable dividers, which were now in a jumbled mess on the floor, had been covering up a door. On the door she saw four words: Elusive Creature Hunting Organization. Below the words was a name: Dr V. She immediately grabbed the knob, but the door was locked. Then some stern-looking security guards came over to set up the dividers again. They shoed the girls away. “Did you see that, BJ? It’s real! He’s real! I almost found him!” Jekka was practically bouncing out of her skin. “I saw the door and the words, but lots of names could begin with V, you know.” “Yeah, lots of names… like Van Der Warden Velden, for one. It’s him. I’m just sure of it. It’s got to be him.”

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The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy

Chapter 8: Loon Rescue

It was almost closing time, so the girls found their grandparents and got ready to leave ECHO. On the way out, they passed the sign-in desk, but the lady wasn’t there anymore, so Jekka couldn’t ask her about the other ECHO or the door or Dr. V. Back on Air Force Blue, Pop Pop let the girls take turns steering again, as they discussed their discoveries. “Well,” Mimi said, “The Dr. V on that door might be the guy you’re looking for, Jekka, but BJ is right – lots of names could start with the letter V.” “But it said Elusive Creature Hunting, and Champy is elusive, right? So it’s got to be him, and even if it’s not, I still want to meet Dr. V, whoever he is.”

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“It’s too bad you two didn’t mention this when we were in the place,” Pop Pop interjected. “Maybe we could have helped.” The girls felt a little foolish for not thinking of that. “I guess we’ll just have to go back tomorrow,” said Jekka. “I guess so,” answered Mimi with a grin. Pop Pop took control of the boat and eased it into position alongside the dock. “Avast, ye scurvy dogs!” said Pop Pop, in his best pirate voice. “Secure the midden! Batten the hatches! Swab the deck! Scuttle the flibbers!” The girls giggled as they scurried around the boat, tying and cleaning up. In no time at all, they were walking along the bouncy, floaty dock towards the shore. A sudden movement on the beach caught BJ’s eye. “Look! It’s a bird!” she said, pointing. “It’s a plane!” added Pop Pop, looking into the air, “It’s… Superman!” “No, I’m serious,” BJ said. “It really is a bird, and I think it’s hurt.”

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She rushed over to get a closer look, but was careful not to get too close. She bent down, softly muttering soothing sounds. The bird’s sleek body was mostly black, with specks and stripes of white. Its bill was pointy, like a knife, and even though it sort of looked like a duck, BJ knew right away it was a loon. Its webbed feet were tangled in some sort of fishing line. It tried to flap its wings, then laid its head down on the sand, clearly exhausted. “We’ve got to help this poor loon!” She looked at Mimi. “Can we take her to Mrs. Rose Marie? She’ll know what to do!” Mrs. Rose Marie was a wildlife rehabilitation specialist who lived next door to the girls’ other grandfather, Pop Pop Dave. She helped take care of all sorts of injured animals. Last summer, she had shown the girls some baby squirrels she was caring for in her basement, along with some birds and a three-legged raccoon in her backyard. “Sure, honey,” answered Mimi, pulling a towel out of a bag and handing it to Pop Pop. “Here, pick it up

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wrapped in this towel. Gently – and watch out for that beak!” Gingerly, Pop Pop placed the towel around the bird, which was too tired to struggle. He picked it up and led the group across the parking lot to their van. “Hey, good thing Joey’s traveling crate is in here!” BJ said peeking into the trunk. “It’s the perfect size for a loon!” Pop Pop Dave’s house was nestled in the woods, not far from the marina. BJ winced with every bump and jolt on the 10 minute drive, and watched the loon through the slots in the dog carrier. They pulled in to Pop Pop Dave’s driveway. Jekka rant to the door to tell him what they’d found, while BJ stayed in the car with the loon, crooning softly. “It’s ok. You’re going to be ok. You’re a pretty bird. You’re going to be ok…” Mimi and Pop Pop followed behind Jekka. “Well, hi there. I see you’ve got a bird that needs some help,” Pop Pop Dave’s voice boomed out. “Let’s take it next door and see what Mrs. Rose Marie can do.”

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Pop Pop Dave was a giant. He reached one long arm into the van and effortlessly picked up the box with the loon. When he turned around, BJ saw that Jekka was on his back, getting a ride. Mrs. Rose Marie answered the door, and the girls quickly explained the situation. She led everyone to her basement, where she had some work tables and other equipment. “OK, maybe everyone should stay upstairs,” she said, looking around at the small crowd of people. “We don’t want to make the loon any more nervous and loony than it already is.” “Can I stay?” pleaded BJ. “I’ll be quiet and stay out of your way, I promise.” “Well, I suppose one person in the room will be alright.” BJ grinned and took a spot near the wall, while the others filed back up the stairs. Mrs. Rose Marie carefully pulled the towelwrapped loon out of the box, laying it on the table. She uncovered it and clucked sadly.

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“Poor little guy. Someone wasn’t very careful with their fishing line, I see.” She pulled out a pair of scissors and carefully began snipping the bird free from the tangle. It flapped its wings a little, then decided it wasn’t in any danger and relaxed. Mrs. Rose Marie had that effect on animals. “That’s right,” she whispered, “Rose Marie won’t hurt you. I’m here to help. Ah, there you go.” She snipped the last bit of fishing line and the loon was free. It waved its feet and tried to stand, but Mrs. Rose Marie held it firm. “No, no, not yet,” she whispered. “Let me have a look at those pretty legs first.” BJ craned to see and caught a glimpse of red marks on the loon’s legs and feet. “BJ, can you hand me those bandages over there?” Mrs. Rose Marie asked. “I’ve got to hold this guy down.” Happy to be able to help, BJ quickly brought the box over. Mrs. Rose Marie took out a few bandages and wrapped up the loon’s injuries, after first applying some cream. She looked it over, gave each leg a little tug and a pat, then put the bandaged bird back in the dog carrier.

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“This bird is going to be fine,” she announced. “I’ll need to keep him here for a little while, but he should make a complete recovery. It’s a good thing you brought him here, though, because if he’d stayed on the beach all tangled up like that, he would have died. Let’s take him to an outside cage and tell everyone the news, shall we?” They went back upstairs to announce the news, then Mrs. Rose Marie led the whole group to her backyard. She carefully deposited the loon in a cozy cage, right next door to a two-story squirrel house. She brought out a big bag of loon food and filled up a dish of water. They all watched the loon check out its new surroundings. It sniffed the food, took a sip of water, then settled down to sleep. As they walked back towards the house, Pop Pop Dave bent down to examine a little cluster of milkweed plants. “Whoa!” he muttered, then turned to his neighbor. “How did you get so many monarch caterpillars?” BJ took a closer look and, sure enough, there were four, no five, little black and yellow striped caterpillars crawling around on the milkweed plants.

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“I’ve got a ton of these plants in my yard, and haven’t seen a single caterpillar or butterfly!” he moaned. “I don’t know what to tell you,” Mrs. Rose Marie answered. “They just sort of show up wherever they want to.” “Oh well,” Pop Pop Dave sighed. “Maybe they just haven’t found my yard yet.” “I’m sure that’s it,” she answered. “Mrs. Rose Marie, will you call us later to let us know how the loon is doing?” BJ asked. “Of course, dear. And you can come visit him when you like. I think he’ll be here for several days.” “You know a lot about animals, right?” asked Jekka. “I suppose so.” “What do you know about Champy? Have you ever seen him?” “Oh, you’re interested in Champy, are you? Have you been to the ECHO center yet? I think they have some information…” “Yes,” said Jekka, interrupting excitedly. “We were looking for someone named Dr. Van Der Warden Velden but we couldn’t find him, except we found a door, only it

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was locked, and we didn’t ask Mimi and Pop Pop to help, so we’ll have to go back, but the lady at the desk said he wasn’t there, but I think he was, and I think he’s real…” She ran out of breath and paused. “Well, I agree you should go back and try again,” Mrs. Rose Marie said, with a strange smile. “Something tells me you’ll find what you’re looking for this time.” “I know,” answered Jekka. “I know he’s there, and I’m going to find him.”

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Chapter 9: Pieces Coming Together

The next day was Sunday. The girls went to church with their grandparents. They were both itchy to get back to ECHO, but it was closed on Sundays, so they would have to wait. The priest said something about faith and believing in things you haven’t seen, but BJ and Jekka found it hard to concentrate. All they could think about was Dr. V and the locked door. They perked up when they heard the name “Champy.” “Some people say there is a monster in our lake,” the priest was saying. “I don’t know for sure if Champy is real or not. But I choose to believe in Champy, even though I have never seen him. Do I believe Champy is real because I have scientific proof of his existence? No. Is it because there is some reason he must exist? Again, no. There is

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certainly some evidence he is real, but at this point there is no proof. So, why then do I believe in Champy? “Well, faith is complicated. Maybe I believe because my parents believed. Maybe it’s because believing makes me feel good or special. Maybe I just want to believe, for reasons I will never know, and maybe that’s enough. “Of course, Champy’s existence seems reasonable to me, but is that why I believe, or does it seem reasonable because I believe? Which came first – the belief or the reasonableness? I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t matter why I believe, or why I think I believe. “Ultimately, faith is a mystery, whether it is faith in a God we haven’t seen or a lake monster. And mysteries are part of what make life so wonderful. I must admit – part of me doesn’t even want proof that Champy exists. If someone were to discover some sort of proof, the mystery would diminish. Without mysteries, life would be pretty dull.” After church was over, Pop Pop took everyone out for pancakes, as usual. They drove past the beach on the way home, but Kim the lifeguard wasn’t there. “Let’s just go home,” Jekka said.

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“Yeah, I want to work in the garden,” added BJ. “That sounds wonderful to me,” answered Mimi. Back at the house, Pop Pop settled down with his newspaper, and Jekka curled up next to him with The Case For Champ. BJ went outside with Mimi. “So, what did you think of church today?” asked Mimi as she pulled some weeds. “It was good,” BJ answered. “He talked for a long time, but I liked it when he talked about Champy.” “Yeah, I thought you would. I liked that part too.” They worked in silence for a while, pulling weeds and carefully trimming the flowers. The sun was gentle and warm, and BJ could hear the sound of waves from across the street. A few bees flew around, but BJ ignored them and they ignored her. Both BJ and the bees focused on the flowers instead. “Did I tell you this garden has been certified by the National Wildlife Federation as an official Wildlife Habitat?” Mimi asked. “No. What does that mean?” BJ replied.

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“Well, it means this is a safe place to live for wild animals, like the toads and birds and butterflies. It means I’m helping to protect nature.” “Toads aren’t wild animals, Mimi,” BJ said with a laugh, picturing a toad with sharp teeth and claws. “I thought wild animals meant things like bears and tigers.” Mimi laughed along with her. “Yeah, I guess toads aren’t the first thing I think of when it comes to wild animals, but they are wild because they aren’t domesticated.” “They do live in houses,” BJ teased, pointing to a toad abode and giggling. “And I still haven’t seen any. How do you know they are around here, anyway?” “I’ll show you.” Mimi stood up, took BJ’s hand, and led her to a large plant with big flat leaves. “This is a hosta. Slugs love to eat hostas, and there are a lot of slugs in this area.” BJ wrinkled her nose at the thought of slugs, and shuddered at the phrase “a lot of slugs.” “But look at this plant, BJ” Mimi continued. “It’s healthy and enormous. There aren’t any slug bites in the leaves this year. When I started my garden, my hostas had a

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hard time. The slugs were actually killing them. But ever since the toads moved in, the hostas have been just fine. And as long as these plants are healthy and slug-free, I can be pretty sure the toads are around.” They wandered through the garden some more, hand in hand. “I saw a leopard frog the other day too,” added Mimi. “He was really well camouflaged, and he sat really still, so I almost missed him.” “Cool.” BJ answered. They came around to the back patio and sat on the bench swing. BJ stared at a purplish gazing ball that rested on a pedestal in the middle of a cluster of pink and white Astilbes. BJ was amazed at how much motion there was in the still garden. Bees and butterflies zipped and floated from flower to flower. The wind pushed the plants this way and that. An occasional squirrel scampered through, and the trees swayed and rustled. It was a peaceful kind of movement, and BJ wished she could sit in the garden with her Mimi like this forever. She was lost in thought when she heard a door slam and Jekka came charging outside, waving her arms and
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shouting “I found him! I found him!” She was carrying The Case For Champ over her head, and she skidded to a stop directly in front of the swing. “What is it?” asked BJ, slightly annoyed to have her peaceful garden time interrupted by her explosive little sister. “It’s Dr. V!” Jekka said breathlessly. “He’s in the book, only it’s not him, except it is, but he’s got a different name, but it’s him…” She realized she wasn’t making much sense, so she shoved the book forward. “Look!” BJ slowly took the open book from Jekka and peered at the photo she was pointing at. It showed a scientist in a white lab coat, standing next to some strange looking equipment. It seemed to be a tuba, or at least part of a tuba. The caption read Dr. David Durkee of the ECHO Science Center’s Speculative Elusive Creature Research and Education Team (S.E.C.R.E.T.), with his experimental underwater sound machine. “I guess he sort of looks like the guy we saw in the picture at ECHO,” said BJ. “But this man’s name is Dr. Durkee.”

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“No, it isn’t!” Jekka replied, proud to have noticed something her sister overlooked. “Look closely. There’s a name on his lab coat, and it’s not Durkee.” BJ leaned closer to the book, so she could read the tiny letters embroidered on the lab coat. Sure enough, the name was clear – Dr. Van Der Warden Velden. BJ gasped. “Why does the caption have a different name, if his coat says Dr. V?” asked BJ. “That’s what I want to know,” Jekka answered. “Maybe he was borrowing the coat from the real Dr. V?” Mimi suggested. “Or maybe it’s a nickname.” “Maybe…” Jekka said. “But even if the man in the picture isn’t named Van Der Warden Velden, he’s wearing that coat and he probably knows him. In any case, this picture should definitely help us find him. We’ll just bring this back to ECHO tomorrow and show it to the lady at the sign in desk. She’ll have to admit he’s real when she sees the photo.” Just then, Pop Pop came into the garden. “I just got off the phone with Grampy,” he said. “He’s wondering if there are any young ladies around here who would like an airplane ride tomorrow morning.” The

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girls cheered, and Pop Pop continued. “He’s planning to land his plane on the lake right here at 6:00 tomorrow morning. We’ll paddle you out to it in the canoe, and he’ll drop you at ECHO when it opens. We’ll take Air Force Blue and meet you there. Oh, and he said don’t forget to bring your binoculars.”

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Chapter 10: Flying The Lucky Duck

Early mornings on the lake can be chilly, even in the summer, so the girls were wearing long pants and sweatshirts as they walked across the street towards the lake shore. The water was like glass, and small wisps of steam rose from it here and there. They each sipped from cups of hot chocolate while scanning the sky for Grampy’s plane. Pop Pop lowered the canoe down to the water, setting off a series of ripples as the water made room for the little boat. “Shh…” BJ said. “I think I hear something.” “I don’t…” Jekka started to say, then added “Wait, I do!” The sound was a low, steady noise, faint at first but growing louder quickly. It seemed to increase in volume,
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speed and pitch as it got closer. Then, all of a sudden the plane was directly overhead, roaring loudly. The girls cheered to see it, and waved their arms crazily at the departing plane as it shot past their location. “Where did he go?” asked Jekka. “Why didn’t he stop?” “An airplane isn’t like a car, silly,” BJ answered. “He can’t just stop right away.” “That’s true,” added Pop Pop. “Plus, I think he likes to fly over a landing spot once before landing, to make sure it’s clear and safe. Look, he’s turning around and coming in for a landing.” Sure enough, the double-winged, boat-shaped plane was carving a lazy circle in the sky and heading towards them. The noise from the two big propellers changed again as it slowed down and came in for a landing. The girls had never seen an airplane land on water before. They held their breath as it inched closer to the surface, and clapped when it touched down with a splash. It sent out big waves on both sides as it slowed. Grampy’s plane was named The Lucky Duck, and it had a painting of a grinning green cartoon duck on the side

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of the dark green fuselage. The duck wore a hat and had a big shamrock on its chest. Light green shamrocks covered the rest of the plane. The duck was giving a double thumbsup sign, and the words Lucky Duck were painted right below its feet. The paint job wasn’t the most unusual thing about the Lucky Duck, however. The structure was pretty strange too. For starters, it had two pairs of wings, one above the other. A large, rounded set was mounted high above the aircraft’s body, while a smaller, stubby set was attached to it, directly behind the cockpit. These lower wings acted as a platform to stand on when the plane was on the water. A pair of enormous propellers dangled between the upper wings and the cockpit. The tail was made up of a series of struts and bars, extending straight back from the upper wing and up from the back of the passenger section. These struts held up a flat tail wing, with two tail fins sticking up through it. “Hey, there’s Grampy!” BJ said, pointing excitedly. Grampy emerged from a hatch on the top of the passenger section, and stepped out onto the lower wing. “Ahoy there! The Lucky Duck Express, at your service!” He shouted across the water. Then he danced a

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little jig right there on the wing, making the plane rock alarmingly. The girls laughed as they climbed into the canoe with Pop Pop and got ready to paddle out to the plane. “Are you ready to fly?” Both girls shouted yes as Pop Pop paddled. “This time, try not to dump us into the water, OK Jekka?” said BJ from the front, without turning around. “Oh BJ, I always try not to dump us into the water,” Jekka said, “But sometimes it just happens.” “I was afraid you were going to say that.” Fortunately for the girls and Pop Pop, it didn’t happen this time. They reached the plane without any problems and climbed aboard – first Jekka, then BJ. Pop Pop slid to the middle of the canoe and got ready to paddle back to the shore, where Mimi was waiting. “Thanks for taking them on patrol with you, Dad,” he said to Grampy. “We’ll meet you over at ECHO around 10:00.” Turning to the girls, he added “Have a fun flight! Make sure you buckle up for takeoff and landing, ok?” “We will!”

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The girls scrambled through the hatch into the plane, and Grampy followed. He gave a final wave towards the shore then swung the latch until it clicked. The Lucky Duck’s interior was small, but cozy. The low ceilings were just right for the girls, and Jekka giggled at the thought of her giant Pop Pop Dave trying to fit inside. She slid one of the windows open and stuck out her hand to try and touch the water. “Welcome aboard the Lucky Duck,” Grampy said as Jekka pulled her dripping hand back inside. “One of you can sit in the co-pilot seat while we take off, and the other can sit there for the landing.” BJ turned to her sister and said “Rock – Paper Scissors, winner goes first.” “OK,” answered Jekka, then together they said “Rock, Paper, Scissors – shoot!” BJ thrust out her hand with her first two fingers sticking out – scissors. Jekka’s hand was open and flat – paper. She groaned. “Scissors cuts paper – you get to go first, BJ.” Grampy led the way to the front of the plane, and squeezed in to the pilot’s chair. BJ slid into the seat next to

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him, and looked in wonder at all the dials, lights and buttons that covered the cockpit’s front panel. “Make yourself comfortable back there, Jelly Bean,” Grampy said to Jekka. He always called her that. “This ship was originally built to carry 8 passengers, so you’ve got plenty of space.” He flipped a few switches and the engines roared to life. The propellers began to move, slowly at first, then quickly became a blur. Grampy put on headphones and adjusted the mouth piece, then handed a set to BJ who did the same. The Lucky Duck started to move forward. Meanwhile, Jekka had buckled herself into a seat, grabbed a set of headphones and was looking around the cabin. The interior was painted green, and the ceiling was covered with shamrocks, just like the outside. Each side was lined with windows, larger than the ones on the big planes she’d been on before. She could see Pop Pop Bud standing on the shore with Mimi and the canoe. She waved. A few of the original seats had been replaced with a table, which had a large map of Lake Champlain taped to it. Grampy pushed a few more buttons, flipped more switches, checked some dials, then pushed forward on the
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funny-looking steering wheel. The plane picked up speed, splashing loudly through the still lake. Everything suddenly got quieter as they lifted into the air. “How are you doing?” Grampy’s voice crackled over the headsets each girl wore. “Everyone comfy?” They nodded, grinning broadly. “Let me tell you a little bit about my plane. It’s called an S-38, and they built a bunch of them all the way back in 1928. That means it’s about as old as I am. It can go 120 miles an hour and as high as 16,000 feet. And, everyone who flies in it becomes extra lucky for the rest of the day.” He chuckled. “I think we’re pretty lucky already,” said BJ. “How sweet it is!” Grampy replied, as the Lucky Duck began to curve to the right. BJ strained her neck to see out the cockpit window, but her chair was low and the windows were high, so all she could really see was a few clouds in a blue sky. “You’ll probably see better from the back,” Grampy said, watching her squirm in her chair. “Just plug your headphones into the wall when you get back there, and I’ll still be able to talk with you.”

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BJ nodded and scrambled back to sit in a window seat, across the aisle from her sister. “Lake Champlain is 110 miles long,” Grampy was saying as BJ plugged back in, “But we can go 750 miles before we have to land. Of course, I usually don’t go that far. Mostly I circle around this area, watching for any stranded boats or any bad guys.” “Do you ever see any?” Jekka asked. “Stranded boats? Sure! Bad guys – not very many.” “Tell us more about your plane, Grampy,” BJ asked. “Well, there were some movie makers named Martin and Osa Johnson, who had a plane just like this one, back when the S-38’s were new. They painted it with zebra stripes, named it Osa’s Ark, and flew it all over Africa, making movies about the animals there.” “Cool! I want to see one of their movies,” BJ said. “Maybe you will some day. But for now, what do you think about helping me make a movie about Lake Champlain?” He pushed a button and two screens popped down from the ceiling. A pair of joysticks poked up from the armrests on the chair. The screens both were showing

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scenes of a lake, apparently taken from an airplane. BJ could see boats, islands, and even some houses on the shore. “Your Uncle Q helped me put some movie cameras on the bottom wings. They are controlled by those joysticks, and you can point them in whatever direction you want. The screens will show you what the camera sees, and it’s all recorded on the plane’s computer” BJ was amazed, and Jekka was already jerking wildly on the stick, panning her camera from side to side and up and down. BJ gingerly moved her joystick, and watched as the image on the screen shifted accordingly. The girls spent the rest of the flight collecting beautiful shots of the lake. As the morning went on, they watched the lake transform from a quiet, motionless body of water into an active, rolling series of waves, full of boaters and swimmers. Grampy flew low over Crab Island, and Jekka got a close-up shot of the memorial. BJ saw a family of ducks take flight and wondered how her loon was doing. Finally, it was time to land. Jekka decided to stay in her back seat, and watched the landing on the movie screen. Touching down on the water was surprisingly smooth.

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“How sweet it is,” Grampy said as they taxied towards the shore. “How sweet it is.”

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Chapter 11: ECHO’s ECHO

Mimi and Pop Pop were waiting for them on the dock, and the girls ran up to greet them excitedly. “How was the flight?” “It was amazing!” Jekka shouted. “We flew higher than birds and made a movie about the lake and I got to see Crab Island close up and we went a hundred miles an hour and everything.” “That sounds fantastic,” Mimi said, as Jekka finally took a breath. Then she turned to Grampy. “Thanks again for taking them up, Chief.” “Any time, my dear. Any time.” He answered. “Are you going to join us at ECHO?” Pop Pop asked. “But of course!”

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The five Boomers walked hand-in-hand towards the front door. Mimi had brought along Jekka’s copy of The Case For Champ, so they could show people the photo of Dr. V / Dr. Durkee. As it turns out, they wouldn’t need the photo after all. The nice old lady was back at the front desk, and when she saw them approaching, she pushed a button and spoke quietly into a microphone. “Welcome back folks,” she said sweetly as they arrived. “Professor Markster will be right with you. It will be just a moment.” They looked at each other confusedly. “I’m sorry – Professor who?” asked Pop Pop. “No, Professor Who is not here today, but Professor Markster will be glad to show you around. He’s the director, you know, and I’m sure he’ll answer all your questions. Ah, here he comes now.” She pointed to a tall man with an enormous beard and sparkling eyes. He wore a suit and tie, but BJ noticed he had sandals on his feet, and no socks. She liked him right away.

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“You must be the Boomer family,” he said with a big grin. “We’ve been expecting you, and I’m so glad you made it. Right this way, please.” He turned to go, but Pop Pop stopped him. “Hold on – you’ve been expecting us? Are you sure you’ve got the right group? We’re just…” “You’re just the ones we were waiting for,” finished Professor Markster. “You’re the ones who asked about Dr. Van Der Warden Velden, right? And you rescued a loon? And you’re looking for Champy?” Jekka gasped. “Oh, you’re the right group, for sure. Please, come with me. We’ve got a lot to talk about. He turned again and set off at a quick pace. BJ and Jekka had to almost run to keep up. They headed towards the West Tower, where Jekka had discovered the hidden doorway, but Prof Markster stopped suddenly at a door labeled Cleaning Supplies. He looked around to make sure nobody else was watching, then opened the door and hustled everyone inside. When all six of them were squeezed into the small closet, he closed the door, engulfing everyone in darkness. “Sorry about the dark,” he said. “It’s for security reasons, you know. I’ll get some light in just a moment.”
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BJ heard a beep, and suddenly she could see. Something about the light was strange, however. After a second or two, she realized it was coming from the floor. “Hold on,” the professor said, as he pressed a button on his watch. BJ and Jekka grabbed each other’s hands as the closet lurched and began to fall downwards. “We built this secret elevator,” Prof Markster was saying, “to provide access to the underground portion of our facility. This is where ECHO’s Elusive Creature Hunting Organization does it’s work – the ECHO’s ECHO. In a moment I’ll introduce you to the S.E.C.R.E.T. researchers – that stands for the Speculative Elusive Creature Research and Education Team.” “That was in the book too,” Jekka whispered to BJ. “This is so cool!” The elevator jolted to a stop, and the professor opened the door. He led the group down a long hallway. It was lined with windows, and BJ realized with a start that they were under water. A fish swam past, on the other side of the window. “The ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center is committed to the highest level of scientific integrity,” said Professor Markster, sounding very much like a professor.

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“That means everything we say and everything we teach must be accurate and true. We work very hard to make sure we don’t present the public with anything we can’t prove.” He paused at a door at the end of the hallway, his hand on the knob. “So, we keep some of our ongoing research underground, or rather, underwater, until we have verifiable results. That’s what this facility is all about.” “Why are you showing us all this?” asked Jekka. “Why? Oh, there are many reasons why.” Prof Markster answered with a grin. He squatted down so his face was level with BJ and Jekka. “You two have been searching for Champy for a long time, and we thought you’d like to meet some other Champy hunters. “You helped rescue a loon, so you obviously care about nature. You see, Mrs. Rose Marie is a friend of mine, and she called to tell me all about you. Then, a lifeguard called to vouch for you as well, and…” he paused. “I’ll let the last guy introduce himself. Wouldn’t want to spoil that surprise.” He stood up, opened the door, and gestured for them all to enter.

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They stepped into an enormous room. The ceiling was so high they could hardly even see it. One of the walls was lined with televisions, each of which showed a different underwater scene. Another wall was completely blank, aside from a big seam running down the middle. A bank of computers hummed and blinked off to one side. In the middle of the room, a huge glass ball dominated the room. It was large enough for four grownup to fit inside easily. It rested on a pair of long, pointed cylinders, which lay on the ground and had big propellers at one end. Several people were busy at work, pushing buttons and examining numbers on handheld computers. BJ noticed a faint smell of popcorn. Professor Markster cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention. “Ahem. Ladies and gentlemen, the Boomer Family is here.” A man in a white lab coat turned around to face them, and Jekka squealed happily. It was the scientist in the photo! He came right over and shook everyone’s hand. “Hallo,” he said, with a thick accent. “I am Dr. Van Der Warden Velden. Please, you can call me Van. I think you have met my assistant, Kim?”

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It was Kim the lifeguard. She looked more like a grownup in her white lab coat, and she shook everyone’s hands too. Then the girls heard a familiar voice from inside one of the big tubes. “Girls! I am dee-lighted you made it!” Uncle Q’s head popped out of a hatch on the side of the cylinder, and the rest of him quickly followed. “Welcome to the underground ECHO,” he added, as he hugged his nieces. “How do you like our new submarine? It’s almost ready for it’s first test drive… I mean, test float… or test swim… hmm, now that I think about it, I’m not quite sure what to call it.” “How about just calling it a test?” BJ suggested. “Brilliant! Amazing! You should come work here full time!” Uncle Q turned to his friends. “I told you these girls were amazing, didn’t I?” “Thanks, Uncle Q. I don’t know how me and my brain do it,” BJ answered. “Is this glass ball really a submarine?” Jekka asked. “Oh, it’s not glass, and it’s much more than a ball,” said Dr. Van. “The E.R.I.N. is a state-of-the-art research submarine, designed to explore Lake Champlain. The big

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glass ball, as you called it, is the observation bubble. We’ll have quite a view of the lake from inside there.” “Those two long tubes,” Uncle Q added, “One of which I was in, are engines. They will move the sub around underwater. See the propellers at that end?” He gave one a little push and it swiveled from side to side. “It should be remarkably maneuverable.” “But if it’s not glass, what is it?” Jekka asked, gently touching the hard, cold ball. “It is transparent alumina,” answered Dr. Van. “Also called aluminum oxide, to be precise. It’s chemical name is Al2O3. It is amazingly light, completely see-through, and three times tougher than hardened steel. It will never break.” “Believe it or not, girls,” Uncle Q added, “Aluminum oxide is basically the same stuff rubies and sapphires are made of. The only difference is ours doesn’t have any color.” “So it’s made of rubies?” BJ asked, incredulous. “Well, sort of,” said Dr. Van. “It’s actually made up of lots of tiny pieces of clear ruby material. We built it with some help from the Fraunhofer Institute, using a flame spray method called the Rosenflanz technique. Anatoly
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Rosenflanz is a genius about sintered materials, but you don’t need to worry about all that.” “Would you like to take a look inside?” Uncle Q asked. “Yeah!” both girls shouted. Uncle Q led them between the engine tubes, to a small hatch on the bottom of the big ruby bubble. A small ladder dangled down, and the girls scrambled up behind him. “Here it is,” he said, gesturing around the cabin. There’s not a lot to see in here – isn’t that wonderful? You would think a science submarine would be full of confusing equipment, right? They usually are, but not the E.R.I.N. All the electronics and controls are built into these two seats, and into the bubble itself.” “That’s right,” said Professor Markster, who had joined them. “We designed the sub to be very simple. Even a child could drive it – no offense. Here, sit in the pilot seats.” BJ and Jekka dove into the two seats in the center of the bubble. There was a single joystick, mounted in between the seats, in easy reach of them both. The arm rests

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each had a little ball securely nested in it, with a pair of buttons, like a computer mouse. “This stick controls the sub, so you can drive from either seat,” Uncle Q explained. “Most of the controls are voice activated, and the shell of the bubble acts as a computer screen. Watch!” He turned to face forward and said “Pistachio!” He turned back to the girls and explained “The computer’s name is Pistachio.” Facing front again, he said, “Pistachio, turn on the video cameras.” A computer voice said “Command Accepted,” and suddenly the curved wall in front of them was covered with a video image of Dr. Van. He obviously didn’t know he was on camera, because he was making a lot of silly faces into the camera. “These cameras will show us what’s happening in the water around us, particularly in the areas where the pilot’s vision is obstructed by the engine tubes. They also let us record footage to study later.” “The computer screen is programmed to show important information about the sub, too,” added Prof

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Markster. “Things like your speed, location, depth, what direction you’re heading. It’s all very simple.” “Let’s go back outside, shall we, so Dr. Van can show you the coolest part of the sub,” said Uncle Q. “It’s the part that’s going to help us find Champy.”

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Chapter 12: Pistachio Launch

The girls, Uncle Q and Prof Markster piled out of the sub excitedly, and rejoined Mimi, Pop Pop and Grampy, who were talking with Dr. Van and Kim. Dr. Van was busily adjusting a curled metal tube that was mounted at the front of the bubble, in between the two engine tubes. It ended in a large opening, and reminded BJ of a tuba. “This is an experiment in aquatic acoustics – that means making noises underwater,” Dr. Van explained. “I believe this device will produce the sort of noise a Champlike creature might make, if it exists. Of course, if Champ is more like a Zeuglodon and less like a pleisosaur, that would change things a bit, but in either case, I think the two would actually sound quite similar.” “The basic idea,” added Prof Markster, “Is to activate the device in a deep part of the lake and see if

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Champ comes to investigate. Sort of like a hunter using a duck call to attract birds. The main difference, of course, is that we aren’t going to shoot the animal we call.” “The other difference,” Uncle Q added with a smile, “Is we know for sure that ducks exist. And what they sound like. And where they live.” “Wow, do you really think it’ll work?” Jekka asked. “I have no idea!” Uncle Q answered, “And there’s only one way to find out! We’ll just have to test it. If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be research.” “I have a question,” BJ said, “It’s about the computer. Why did you call it Pistachio?” “Ah, good question!” Uncle Q replied. “We started out calling it ‘Computer,’ but that got us into all sort of trouble. For example, I might say ‘Don’t push that button, it makes the computer shut down.’ The computer hears me say ‘computer shut down,’ and turns itself off. That would be most unfortunate if it happened in the middle of the lake. So, we decided Pistachio would be a safer name, since we are less likely to accidentally say it.” “So, the computer only pays attention to commands that start with its name,” Kim continued. “We’ve also programmed it to ignore any sounds coming over the radio,
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so it doesn’t accidentally get reprogrammed just because someone left a microphone turned on. And as a double failsafe, some of the more important commands have to be repeated twice.” “But the ship is named the E.R.I.N., right?” BJ asked. “Yes,” answered Prof Markster. “Pistachio is only the computer’s name. We named the actual sub after my wife. E.R.I.N. stands for Exploration, Recreation, Innovation and Nutrition.” “Nutrition?” asked Jekka. Prof. Markster blushed. “Um, we sort of had a hard time coming up with a word that started with N. Nutrition was the only one we could think of.” “Oh.” “Have you told the girls about the robot fish?” asked Dr. Van, changing the subject. “Not yet,” answered Prof. Markster. “Please, go right ahead.” “Follow Me,” Dr. Van said as he walked over to a wall covered in TV screens. Each showed a different

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underwater scene, and BJ could scarcely take her eyes off them. “The E.R.I.N. is our manned research sub, but we have quite a collection of unmanned projects as well,” Dr Van explained. “We call them our robot fish because, well, they are robots that look like fish.” “Are they really robots? Like in a movie?” Jekka asked. “In a way, yes. The main difference between these and a movie robot, of course, is ours don’t talk. Our robot fish are able to move themselves around and respond to their environment, but they are really not very smart, and we have to tell them what to do.” “Oh,” Jekka said, trying not to be too disappointed. “Each one has a video camera inside it,” Uncle Q continued. “They transmit a video signal back to us as they swim around. Here, let me see if Kim can get two of them to come together, so you can see what they look like.” As Kim fiddled with some dials and buttons, BJ continued to stare at the screens. One in particular caught her attention. It was darker than most of the others, and she thought she saw something large moving on the edge of the camera’s view.
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“Are all these robot fish looking for Champy?” BJ asked. “Sure!” answered Dr. Van. “But they are also helping us do other things, like count how many fish are in the lake, watch for pollution, and look for shipwrecks.” “Ah, here we are,” said Uncle Q, pointing at two screens. “Smile for the camera!” At first, the fish on the two screens looked like normal fish, not like robots at all. But after a moment, BJ noticed that their eyes looked a little strange, and the way their tails moved wasn’t quite right. “They are beauties, aren’t they?” said Kim. They watched for a few more minutes as the robot fish circled each other. Then, Uncle Q pushed another button, releasing them to continue their research. BJ watched the larger one disappear into the murky water with a stiff swish of its tail. “Are you going to launch the E.R.I.N. today?” Jekka asked, after the last robot fish swam away. “No, it’s not quite ready,” Dr. Van answered. “The submarine itself is complete, but we haven’t finished

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programming Pistachio. It’ll probably be finished in a week or two.” “Aw, we’ll be back home by then!” Jekka protested. “Can you please, please, please finish Pistachio faster?” Uncle Q laughed. “Sure, peanut. We’ll do our best.” Suddenly, Jekka remembered something. She spun towards Dr. Van. “I’ve been meaning to ask you – who is Dr. Durkee?” Dr. Van looked around confusedly. “I do not know anyone by that name.” “Really?” Jekka said, “Because my book says you are someone by that name!” She walked over to Mimi, who was still holding the copy of The Case For Champ. She opened it to the right page and held it out for Dr. Van to see. “Strange,” he muttered. “It is my photo, but someone else’s name.” He flipped to the next page and said “Ah ha! Just as I thought.” He handed the book back to Jekka and pointed to a new photo.

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“That is Dr. Durkee, not me. Apparently the publisher made a mistake and put his name next to my picture.” Jekka looked at the photo Dr. Van was pointing at. It showed an older man, with a bald head and big whiskers. The caption said Dr. Durkee. “These things happen,” Dr. Van continued. “It just goes to show you can not believe everything you read.” “Now that we’ve solved that mystery,” BJ said, “I have a question. How are you going to get this enormous submarine out of this room and into the lake?” The scientists looked at each other, their eyes large and mouths open. “Oh no…” said Dr. Van. “Well… um…” said Prof. Markster. “Actually, we didn’t think about that…” “Maybe we – no… or we could – no…” said Uncle Q. “Or perhaps – no, that wouldn’t work either.” “I told you we shouldn’t build it here,” said Dr. Van. “I wanted to build it upstairs, but you wouldn’t listen.” “I thought building it here was your idea!” replied Uncle Q.

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“My idea? I wanted…” Dr. Van started to say. “OK boys,” Kim interrupted, with a laugh. “That’s enough joking around.” She turned to the girls and explained “They’re just pulling your leg. I think maybe they’ve spent too much time underwater. Come on – I’ll show you the airlock.” She walked over to a large blank wall and pushed a button. The wall slid open to reveal a big empty room, just large enough to fit the E.R.I.N. BJ saw some big pipes extending into the room from the side walls, near the ceiling. The ceiling itself was made of metal and had a large seam running down the middle. “Do you know how an airlock works?” Kim asked. “I think so,” BJ answered. “You put the sub in here and close the doors. Then you suck out all the air, right? And then the water comes in?” “That’s pretty close. We don’t actually have to suck out the air. We just seal these doors and open some valves. Water comes in through those pipes up there, then the ceiling opens and the E.R.I.N. sails away.” “And the computers are all connected, of course,” added Dr. Van. “So the whole thing can be controlled by Pistachio.”
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BJ giggled again at the computer’s name. “I want to sit in the submarine one more time,” said Jekka. “Can I? Can I, please?” “Sure! Then we’ll all go get some lunch, ok?” Dr. Van answered. BJ followed Jekka into the submarine, while the grown-ups discussed what to eat. They sat in the drivers’ seats and pretended they were undersea explorers. “Look, there’s Champy!” Jekka said in mock surprise, pointing to an empty spot in the air. “Oh, she’s beautiful!” BJ answered, playing along. “I wish we could be here for the Pistachio launch,” Jekka said with a sigh. “It’s named E.R.I.N.” BJ started to say, but she was interrupted by a sudden movement. The ship shuddered and the girls heard the hatch close with a loud clang. A computer voice said “Launch command received. Please confirm.” What’s going on? What did you touch?” BJ asked. “Nothing! I didn’t touch anything! I just said…” she gasped at the realization. “You said Pistachio launch!” BJ shouted.
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“Launch command confirmed,” said the computer voice. The sub lurched towards the open airlock room. “You said it too! Help!” Jekka replied. BJ could see the grownups in the lab scrambling to get out of the way of the sub as it rumbled slowly forward. Kim was frantically pushing buttons on a computer, but the E.R.I.N didn’t slow down. Uncle Q’s voice came over the sub’s loud speakers. “Hold on tight, girls, and don’t worry. You’re both fine. We’ll get control of the sub in just a moment, so sit back and enjoy the ride. I do apologize for the little surprise here. I also apologize that it isn’t going to last very long. As adventures go, this one is probably going to be pretty dull and short. We’ll have control of the sub again in just a moment. And speaking of subs, we’ve decided to get subs for lunch.” The E.R.I.N. continued to move forward, and was soon entirely in the airlock. There was a loud clang and the massive doors behind them began to close. “Don’t be scared, Jekka,” BJ said bravely. “They’ll get us out of here right away.” BJ stole a quick glance at her little sister, and saw that Jekka was grinning enormously and bouncing in her chair.
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“I wish we could…” Jekka started to say. “Don’t say it!” BJ shouted. “Last time you opened your mouth, we ended up… here.” “I was just going to say…” “Nothing! Say nothing! We’re going to be fine. They’ll get us out of here any minute now. Just don’t panic. Whatever we do, don’t panic.” The airlock doors banged shut, and water began to pour out of the pipes, filling the airlock room. It looked like four enormous fire hoses were shooting at the sub. The noise was tremendous for a minute, then the room was full and everything was silent. “Was that supposed to happen?” BJ asked, frantically. “Is this thing water tight? When are they going to let us out? How much air do we have? What if…” “Alright girls, I think we’ve got it under control.” Uncle Q’s soothing voice came over the radio. “Now we just need to drain the…” Uncle Q’s voice stopped. “Uhoh.” The sub’s engines kicked to life as the ceiling opened. BJ and Jekka held on to their seats and the E.R.I.N. launched itself into the lake.

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“Small problem,” Uncle Q’s voice continued. “Pistachio is not responding.”

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Chapter 13: In The Lake

“Not responding?” BJ yelled. “What does that mean?” “BJ, relax,” said Jekka. “They’ll figure it out. Cool – we’re in the lake now! Look – fish!” “Girls?” Uncle Q’s voice was back. “Can you hear me? Press the green button on the chair’s armrest to turn on your microphones, so I can hear you.” BJ pushed the button and said, “We can hear you, Uncle Q. We are OK. Can you come get us?” “Well, we’re working on that,” Uncle Q answered. “We could put on scuba gear to come get you, but the E.R.I.N. does not have an airlock, so we would not be able to actually get into the sub with you. And we would need to use the airlock room to get to you anyway, which would mean closing the door and pumping out all the water, which
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might take a while. I think it would be faster to have you just return the E.R.I.N. to the room directly.” “OK, but we don’t know how.” “I’ll walk you through it. First, you’ll need to turn on the video camera and the ship’s status reports, so you’ll know what direction you’re facing and how deep you are. Just tell the ship’s computer to do it.” “OK,” BJ answered tentatively. “Pistachio, turn on the video cameras.” “Command accepted,” came the reply. Just like before, the front wall of the sub now had a square video image on it. This time, instead of Dr. Van making funny faces, it showed a watery, murky scene. The camera was pointed straight down, giving the girls an excellent view of the open doors of the airlock’s ceiling. “Pistachio,” Jekka added, “Show us the status reports.” A stack of numbers and letters appeared alongside the video feed. “Is it responding to you?” Uncle Q asked. “What do you see?”

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“Yeah, it’s doing it,” BJ answered. “We can see the airlock below us. We are facing west, the water is 30 feet deep and our depth is 20 feet.” “Excellent! Incidentally, how’s the view?” “It’s awesome!” answered Jekka. BJ realized with a start that in all the excitement, she had forgotten to look around. The world outside the sub was a wonderful bluegreen-brown color. It looked very peaceful, and the girls saw a few large fish swim past the sub. Looking out straight ahead, they could see the silty, rocky lake bottom dropping away. It was hard to judge distances, and the water appeared to get dark and hard to see through pretty quickly. They looked up and could see the bright surface, sparkling 20 feet over their heads. “Can we stay out here for a little while?” Jekka asked. “No!” shouted BJ, a little louder than she intended. She tried again, softer. “I mean, no. We need to get back. It’s close to lunch time, and I’m getting hungry. Besides, the view is a little scary.” She wrapped her arms around herself and took a deep breath.
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“Alrighty then, let’s get you back inside, shall we?” Uncle Q’s voice responded. “Kim is sort of our expert on this sort of thing, so she’ll guide you through it. Here she is.” “Hi girls! I’ll have you back inside in a minute and a half. And can I just say how lucky you two are to be out there? I really wish I could be there with you, on the E.R.I.N.’s first test.” “Yeah, I wish you were here too,” answered BJ, “Although I don’t feel too lucky yet.” “Well, hang in there. We’ll get you back as fast as possible. First, let’s give the computer a chance to bring you back. Say it’s name and give it the command return to airlock.” “Pistachio,” BJ said, “Return to airlock.” “Command not understood,” came the reply. “Please try again.” “OK, that’s what I thought might happen,” said Kim. “We’ve only given the computers the directions on how to go out. It doesn’t know how to come back yet – I was going to do that part tomorrow.” BJ shuddered.

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“That’s alright – we’ll just do it manually. One of you needs to do the driving. Any volunteers?” “Me!” said Jekka. “You!” said BJ. “That was easy,” said Kim. “Alright, Jekka, I need you to take the control stick – it’s the big thing in between the chairs. Be gentle with it now, and press it forward.” Jekka nudged the stick and the E.R.I.N. lurched forward, heading towards the deeper water in the middle of the lake. “Yee-haw!” said Jekka with a laugh. “Um, why are we going out?” BJ asked. “I thought we wanted to go down?” “I need to let Jekka get used to how the controls work,” Kim explained, “Before I have her try to land it in the airlock. “Now, Jekka,” Kim continued. “Gently push the stick to the left. You’re going to turn the sub around in a big circle, then come back towards the hatch. BJ, you need to watch the depth indicator and make sure the sub doesn’t get too close to the bottom, ok?”

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“OK,” BJ answered, happy to have a job to do. Jekka turned the sub in a wide arc. “When the screen says you’re facing East, stop turning and press the stick forward.” “OK, I did it.” The sub zipped along, and BJ took a big breath. They were heading back towards shallower water, and would be safe in the lab in just a few minutes. She realized her shoulders were all hunched up, and she put them down with a sigh. Jekka was grinning fiercely and singing a little song to herself as she piloted the ship back to the base. BJ recognized it as Hush Little Baby. “You should see the airlock any moment now,” Kim’s voice said. “BJ, you might have to adjust the video camera a little, in case you didn’t come back to exactly the same spot. The control is on the armrest.” The depth monitor said they were 20 feet deep and the bottom was 30, so BJ figured they were close to the hatch. She pressed the video controller, and as she panned the camera, the image on the wall slid to the side, until she was looking at it over her shoulder. She slid it back to the front, then to the other side.
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“Oh no,” BJ gasped. “I see the hatch, Kim. I see it right there, but it’s closing!” “It is? Are you sure?” Kim asked. “Yes – unless there’s more than one big airlock hatch around here.” The Boomer girls heard a clang through the water as the hatch closed completely. “I heard that,” Kim said. “Hold on a second.” “Like we have a choice, right?” BJ muttered. Jekka maneuvered the sub towards the closed hatch. She was getting the hang of it, and was really enjoying herself. “I’m going to be a famous sub driver when I grow up,” she announced proudly. “I think you’re a pretty great sub driver already,” answered Kim over the speakers. “Um, hello?” injected BJ. “Can we stop talking about Jekka’s future career plans for a moment and focus on getting these doors open? I’d like to get back on dry land.” “Right – sorry,” said Kim. “I guess the doors closed automatically after a few minutes. I forgot about the timer. Ask your computer to send the open signal.”

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“Pistachio,” BJ started to say, “Open the…” She paused. “Hold on, Pistachio. Kim, if I tell the computer to open the… the things… it’s not going to open the… um… things on this submarine, is it?” “Good thinking, but don’t worry. The sub door won’t open if it’s underwater. We made sure of that first thing.” “OK, here goes nothing. Pistachio, open the airlock doors, but not the ones on this submarine.” BJ added, for good measure. She watched the image on the screen in front of her, but nothing happened. “That didn’t work, Kim.” “Try telling it to open the airlock doors at the base.” She tried, and still the doors didn’t budge. “Don’t worry, girls, we’ll figure it out. Just, um, give us a minute. Why don’t you sit back and enjoy the view? Maybe count the fish?” “Couldn’t we just steer it to the shore?” BJ asked. “Ah, yes,” Uncle Q’s voice answered. “We might have you do that, actually, but we want to try one more thing before giving up on the airlock. Kim is finishing that

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right now. And you two are perfectly safe, of course, as long as you don’t activate the deep water program.” BJ was starting to relax, and said, “Pistachio is a funny name.” But before she finished her sentence, Jekka interrupted with a question. “Activate the deep water program?” said Jekka. “What does that me…?” She stopped in mid sentence, as the submarine’s engines revved up again and the sub began to turn back towards the west. “Oh no, I said it and it’s doing it!” “Cancel deep water program! Cancel deep water program!” shouted BJ, who was almost in tears. “Cancel deep water program, Pistachio!” But Pistachio didn’t respond. The sub faced west once again, then began to move forward and down, into the murky, dark center of Lake Champlain. “Oops!” said Jekka, glancing at her sister. “Sorry about that!”

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Chapter 14: The Deep Water Program

“OK, girls,” Uncle Q’s voice came over the radio. He sounded a little nervous and a little excited, all at once. “It looks like you’re going to get more of a tour of the lake than we’d expected. There is no need to worry, and at the moment there’s not a lot you can do other than sit back and enjoy the sights. Here, I’ll let Kim explain.” Kim’s voice was calm and reassuring. “The Deep Water Program is designed to automatically go to a pretty deep spot in the lake. It’s about 300 feet of water, but don’t worry, it’s not terribly far from here. Once you get there, the computer should automatically trigger the underwater sound maker – the Champ Caller – and then the program will end. “At that point, control of the sub will revert back to the pilot. That’s you, Jekka. Once you get control, I want

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you to shoot straight to the surface. We’ll meet you there with Air Force Blue and tow the E.R.I.N. back to the Marina. In fact, your grandparents are leaving right now. I’ll stay here to guide you.” “Hey, was that a duck?” Jekka asked, pointing at a trail of bubbles that crossed their path. “It was probably a loon,” BJ answered. She glanced at the depth indicator, which said they were 80 feet down and the water was 130 feet deep. “Wow, they dive pretty far.” “I wonder,” came Dr. Van’s voice, “If you would mind turning on the video recorder? I would like to save the footage, just in case you see anything interesting.” “Sure, no problem.” Jekka answered. A familiar looking fish appeared alongside the sub. It had strange looking eyes, and it’s tail looked a little funny. “Hey, it’s one of the robot fish!” BJ said. “Yes,” came Dr. Van’s voice again. “Kim was able to send one over to keep you girls company. It can’t go much deeper than 100 feet, so it won’t be with you the

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whole time, but we figured you’d enjoy the company. Wave to the camera! We can see you!” For some reason, the robot fish’s presence made the girls feel better. Just knowing the grown-ups could see them was reassuring. “My little robot fish friend tells me you are approaching something called the hypolimnion. It’s a layer of cold water at the bottom of the lake, and in the summer it starts around 90 feet down. You might want to buckle up, because things might get a little bumpy for a few minutes, as you cross that boundary.” BJ was already buckled in, and now Jekka clicked her seatbelt too. “Say goodbye to the robot fish! He can’t get much deeper.” The girls waved as the fish disappeared into the gloom. Even with the submarine’s powerful outside lights on, it was hard to see very far, compared with life on land. “Look, Jekka!” BJ squealed, pointing. “It’s a shipwreck!” Sure enough, just off to their left was an ancient looking boat. For a shipwreck, it looked in remarkably

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good shape. The strangest thing was the fact that it was sitting upright on the lake bottom, as if waiting for a crew that would never come. Its mast was still standing, and a cannon was still perched on the front. The girls gaped as they drifted past. “Ah, that’s probably the Spitfire,” said Kim. “It’s a gunship from the Revolutionary War. It was commanded by a guy named Benedict Arnold, and it sank in 1776, during the Battle of Valcour. It wasn’t discovered until 1997, and it was another two years after that before anyone knew for sure which boat it was. “Pretty amazing, huh? I’ve only seen pictures of it, myself. Have I told you girls how lucky you are?” “I’ll feel a lot luckier when I’m on dry land again,” BJ replied. “For that matter, I’d settle for seeing sunlight.” The sub continued its long, downward journey. Suddenly, it started to bounce and rock back and forth. “Help!” said BJ. “Whee!” said Jekka. “Ah, it sounds like you’re crossing the hypolimnion I warned you about,” said Kim. “The bumps shouldn’t last long.”

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“Before she even finished the sentence, things got smooth again. “Whew!” said BJ. “I’m glad that’s over.” “Nice job, ladies,” Kim said. “Can you tell me what your location is? Look for the words Lat and Long, followed by some numbers.” “I see it,” BJ answered. “It says Lat 44 28 01 and Long 73 16 47. What does that mean?” “It means you are about to leave Burlington Bay. The lake gets deep pretty fast now, so you’re almost there.” “Oh good,” muttered BJ. “Also, you… radio… work…” the loudspeakers crackled with static. “Kim?” Jekka asked. “Can you hear us? Hello?” There was no answer. “I think she was trying to tell us the radio might stop working at this depth,” BJ said, looking at her sister. “Looks like we’re on our own.” Jekka played with the video camera controls, sweeping the screen from side to side and singing a nonsense song about polka-dot fish that she made up as she went along. She saw schools of fish zip past. An eel briefly

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appeared, its long snake-like body wriggling in the water in a way that made BJ uncomfortable. The sub slowed down as it approached a long, narrow, flat space. The depth indicator said 305 feet, and both girls instinctively took a breath. 306… 307… 308… The sub gently settled onto the flat bottom of Lake Champlain, kicking up a cloud of silt that obscured their view. “Ooohhhhmmmmpppffff…” A huge groan echoed through the E.R.I.N., and both girls put their hands over their ears. “Ooohhhhmmmmpppffff ….” it repeated. “What the…?” BJ shouted. The sound made her eyes water. “It’s the Champy Caller!” Jekka answered, grinning wider than ever. “I wonder if he’ll come. Or maybe it’s a she. Or maybe a hundred Champys will show up!” “Even if a whole bunch of Champys show up, we won’t be able to see them, because of all the silt we kicked up.” But even as BJ spoke, she noticed the silt cloud had mostly settled down again. “Oh, never mind.”

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“Um, did it just get quiet all of a sudden?” asked Jekka. “I think the engines turned off,” BJ answered nervously. Then, the lights went out. The girls were engulfed in the darkest darkness they’d ever imagined. They both felt like their eyes were closed, and they strained to see even the smallest glimmer of anything. “What’s happening, BJ?” asked Jekka, all hints of her previous happiness gone. “I’m scared. It’s so dark!” “It’s OK,” BJ said, reaching out her hand. “Take my hand. I don’t know what’s going on, but we’re going to be fine.” She managed to find her little sister’s hand, even in the dark. It felt small and cold, but it was the most wonderful thing she had ever felt. “We are going to be fine,” she repeated. “It was probably programmed to turn off the stuff and wait for Champy. The engine noise and the lights would probably scare him away.” “Yeah, but they’d make me feel a lot better,” Jekka answered. “I don’t care about seeing Champy right now. I just want to see something. And how would we see Champy anyway? It’s all dark.”
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“I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t think of that part.” “Ooommhhhoommpppffff…” Another long, low groan echoed across the sub, quieter this time. “That sounded different,” BJ said. “And farther away. Do you think…?” “Ooohhhhmmmmpppffff …” the original groan sounded again, just as loud as the first time. It was answered by a quieter, different-but-similar sound, then another one, shorter but louder. “It’s coming from outside the sub,” Jekka whispered. “And I think it’s getting closer!”

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Chapter 15: Close Encounter

“I wish we had a light… wait a minute!” BJ yelped. “Pistachio, turn on the lights.” “Lights are deactivated during the Deep Water Program,” answered Pistachio in his computer voice. “Pistachio, deactivate the Deep Water Program,” said BJ. “Command not understood.” “Stupid computer.” BJ sighed. “It was worth a try.” Suddenly, BJ realized she could see. There was Jekka, grinning sheepishly. They couldn’t see very much, and their world was still very small and dark, but compared to seeing nothing, this was wonderful. “I just remembered I had this little flashlight in my pocket,” Jekka said. “Sorry I didn’t think of it sooner.”

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BJ was too relieved and happy to be mad. Her eyes soaked up every bit of the light, like a person in a desert who finds water, except water was the one thing the girls had plenty of. “Thank goodness!” BJ unbuckled her seatbelt and went over to hug her sister. “OK, we need to think of a way to get out of her.” “Pistachio,” said Jekka, “Go to the surface. Pistachio, go up. Pistachio, float. Pistachio, rise. Pistachio, climb.” The sub didn’t budge. “Hold on,” BJ said, “Don’t confuse it. Let’s try one at a time. Pistachio, end Deep Water Pro…” “Ooohhhhmmmmpppffff…” BJ’s command was drowned out by the booming groan of the Champy Call. “Pistachio,” said BJ, trying again. “End… what was that?” She pointed to a spot outside the sub, behind Jekka. “What? What did you see?” “I don’t know, but it was big. I think I saw a fin!” “It’s Champy! squealed Jekka, clapping her hands. “He’s come to rescue us!”

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“Maybe it was just a fish,” BJ replied. “I’m… I’m not sure what I saw.” Both girls were peering out through the transparent sub walls. Jekka slowly swung her flashlight from side to side. It didn’t penetrate the water very far, but then again, there wasn’t much to see, so they couldn’t really tell. “I’m cold, BJ,” Jekka said, shivering. “Yeah, it’s getting cold in here,” BJ answered, putting her arm around Jekka. “Pistachio, go up.” “Command not understood.” BJ sighed and tried to think. The Deep Water Program couldn’t last forever, could it? There must be a timer or something. Another groan rocked the sub, startling her. “Pistachio,” questions?” “Yes,” said Pistachio. “Pistachio, how can we get out of here?” Jekka asked. “The exit hatch is on the rear of the submarine,” Pistachio answered. said Jekka. “Can you answer

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“That’s not what I meant. Pistachio, when will the Deep Water Program end?” “In one hundred hours.” “Um, Pistachio,” BJ said tentatively, “How much oxygen do we have left?” “There are 28 minutes of oxygen left.” The girls looked at each other, wide-eyed, and Jekka started to cry silently. BJ took her hand again. “Pistachio, can we turn off the Deep Water Program?” “Yes.” “How?” “Command not understood.” “Arrgh!” BJ pounded the sub wall in frustration, then stopped for fear of breaking something. She wiped her eyes, then froze. Something was outside the sub again – something big and close. She saw its smooth skin gliding past the sub wall. The strange groan sound came again, softer and gentler, and not the one made by the Champy Caller. It was right outside the sub. Then, BJ and Jekka both saw the eyes, right up against the sub.
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They were large and yellow. They didn’t look angry or mean, but they didn’t look nice and cozy either. They just looked strange and different and curious. They were mounted on a head that looked like a horse and a snake and a fish, all at once. There seemed to be horns or ears or something poking up from the creature’s head. And then, just as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone. The girls realized they were both holding their breath, and both breathed in deeply at the same time. “Did you see that, BJ?” whispered Jekka. “I think so,” whispered BJ. “Did you?” “Oh yeah. I definitely saw it… oof!” Jekka stumbled into BJ. “Hey, careful,” BJ started to say, but she lost her footing too. The girls ended up in a tangle of arms and legs on the floor. The sub was rocking from side to side. “What’s going on? Jekka, get into your chair!” BJ helped her sister to her feet, and together they made their way into the pilot seats. The massive dark shape glided along outside the sub, and BJ saw a long tail press up against it, causing it to rock even more.

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“What’s it doing, BJ?” Jekka wailed. “Is it going to eat us?” “No, it isn’t. I won’t let it. Pistachio, it’s an emergency. Get us out of here!” “Emergency command Program.” The engines roared to life, making the girls ears ring after so much silence. The lights came back on, giving BJ and Jekka one last brief glimpse of the big creature outside the sub. Its long neck and flippered body was a sight they would never forget. The sub began to rise in a fast spiral, heading for the surface. BJ looked at her sister, who was smiling bigger than ever. “I told you Champy was real, BJ,” she said. “I told you…” The water outside the sub got lighter and lighter as they shot upwards. First it was a dark brown, then a bluegreenish brown. They finally broke the surface and shielded their eyes from the bright sunshine that sparkled along the beautiful, wonderful, fantastic surface of Lake Champlain.
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received. Deep Water

Program terminated. Activating Emergency Extraction

Chapter 16: Back To The Garden

“We’re safe,” said BJ with a happy sigh. “And we saw…” Jekka started to say, before she was interrupted by a voice over the radio. “Girls? Are you alright?” It was Grampy. They heard the rumble of an engine in the background. “Yes!” answered Jekka. “Grampy, we’re safe and on the surface again. And we saw…” “Super! I can see you. I’ll land the Lucky Duck nearby right away. Hold on while I radio the others and let them know where you are.” The girls looked out through the transparent wall, scanning the skies for the strange green plane. “There he is!” BJ said, pointing. Another voice came over the radio.

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“Welcome back, girls,” said Kim. “How was your adventure?” “Scary,” said BJ. “Awesome,” said Jekka, “And you won’t believe it. We saw…” her voice trailed off and she pointed. “BJ, look!” A small navy was heading straight for them. Air Force Blue was in the lead, riding high on the waves and kicking up a big spray. The girls could see Pop Pop at the wheel, his hat turned backwards so the wind wouldn’t blow it off. A pair of Coast Guard ships was right behind Air Force Blue, and they were all joined by the research ship Melosira. The Lucky Duck, with its huge green wings and noisy engines was flying low alongside them. BJ gasped as she saw the plane land with a big splash. “Is everybody alright in there?” It was Mimi’s voice on the radio. “Yeah, we’re fine,” answered BJ. “I think Jekka wants to go again, but I can’t wait to get back onto dry land.”

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“It’ll just be a few more minutes, sweeties. What do you think about your welcome party? The Coast Guard came and everything!” Jekka bounced in her seat and waved at everyone. The Coast Guard rescuers waved back. “And, we’ve got one more surprise for you – look up.” Mimi added. “A surprise? What could… Mom and Dad!” In the air above them, the girls saw a big hot air balloon. It had a bright yellow happy face painted on the side. The girls watched it shoot up to a higher elevation, and then two figures jumped out of the basket. BJ and Jekka gasped, then sighed in relief as they saw a pair of parachutes open. A few seconds later, Mrs. Boomer gently landed on top of the E.R.I.N. Mr. Boomer waved with both arms as he came down alongside the sub and splashed into the water. They both unhooked their parachutes at the last second so they wouldn’t get tangled up, and one of the Coast Guard ships peeled off to pick the parachutes up. “Hi girls! Sounds like your trip was even more exciting than ours!” said their mom as she sat down on the

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top of the sub’s dome. Her voice sounded strange through the submarine’s walls. “Hold on, I’ll be right down.” She kicked off and slid backwards along the sub’s curved exterior, landing backside first in the water. Then she opened the hatch, and in a flash BJ and Jekka were getting a pair of very wet hugs from their very wet, very happy mom and dad. The girls rode back to Cliff Haven in Air Force Blue, with their parents, grandparents and uncle. Grampy joined them at the house later, after returning the Lucky Duck to its hanger. Dr. Van Der Warden Velden towed the E.R.I.N. back to Burlington, using the Melosira. Pop Pop invited Dr. Van and the whole ECHO team to come over for dinner. The grill was hot by the time they arrived, and everyone settled in to comfortable chairs in the back yard, surrounded by the garden. “So, tell us all about it,” said Prof. Markster, stroking his beard. “What did you see?” In between bites of hotdog, BJ and Jekka took turns telling their story, each filling in details the other overlooked. “Did the video camera capture anything?” asked Jekka, as they finished.

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“Ah, I’m sorry to say no,” said Dr. Van, wiping a bit of mustard off his cheek. “Just lots of black, then it apparently turned itself off. We’ll have to fix that before we send it out again.” “Bummer!” said Jekka. “I wish we’d got proof about Champy.” “I don’t,” said Uncle Q, to everyone’s surprise. “In fact, I’m actually a little bit glad you didn’t come back with proof. “Champy has been a wonderful mystery for hundreds of years. He has sparked people’s creativity and imagination, and that’s a really very super much a lot good thing. The world doesn’t have enough mysteries, if you ask me, and I’m not sure I want this particular one solved anytime soon.” He took a long drink of his soda, then added, “So don’t feel bad.” BJ and Jekka thought about that for a second, then pounced onto Uncle Q and hugged him tight, almost knocking him into a tall clump of purple cone flowers. “Thanks, Uncle Q,” they said together. “And we did see him! I mean, we did see Champy,” Jekka added.

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“You did indeed, and that’s a very special thing. Nobody can ever take that experience away from you.” The phone rang. Mimi got up to answer it while Pop Pop sliced the delicious smelling apple pie from Rolf’s orchard. BJ was determined to make up for the pie she’d missed last time. Mimi came back, carrying the phone to the backyard. She handed it to BJ. “It’s for you and Jekka.” The girls looked at each other in surprise, then huddled around the earpiece, holding it so they could both listen. “Hello?” said BJ. “Hello girls,” answered a familiar sounding voice on the other end. “This is Mrs. Rose Marie. I was listening to WIRY and heard about the adventure you had on the lake today. I’m so glad you’re doing well. And speaking of doing well, I wanted to let you know your loon friend is making a great recovery. I’ll probably release him in a day or two, and I hope you can stop by before then.” “We will,” BJ answered. “Thanks for letting us know.” “Bye!”

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“These are for you too,” Mimi said as she took the phone back and handed over a stack of mail. “Boy, first a phone call and now the mail. It’s like you live here or something.” Everyone chuckled and the girls took a look at their mail. They each had a final postcard from their parents. BJ’s showed a picture of the planet Earth, and a note from her dad said “I wonder where they stood to take this picture. Do you think they used a really big camera?” Jekka’s postcard had a picture of a group of nuns in habits, playing with hula hoops. Her mom’s handwriting on the back said “The world is full of surprises, isn’t it? Even nuns doing the hula hoop.” There was also an envelope addressed to the Boomer Sisters. The return address in the corner said New York City. BJ opened the envelope carefully, and read the letter out loud. Dear girls, I hope you are having a great time in Cliff Haven this summer. I’m sure you are seeing lots of fun things and enjoying the lake. Have you read any good books?

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I have a bit of a mystery on my hands at the moment. I’ll tell you all about it in person. It would take too long to do it in a letter. We’ll talk with your parents about when you can come visit me here in New York City. Come soon. I could really use your help. Love, Mimi D “I wonder what the mystery in New York City is,” said BJ. Jekka turned to her parents and asked, “When can we go there?” “Soon, I’m sure,” Mrs. Boomer replied. The sun had disappeared behind the trees, and the evening was starting to get cooler. Out of the corner of her eye, BJ saw a small, sudden movement among the flowers. She turned to get a closer look, and saw a big, fat toad sitting in the garden. It turned its head to look at her, blinked twice, then hopped under a hosta leaf. BJ settled back into her chair and looked at the garden all around her. Mr. and Mrs. Boomer were telling

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everyone about their hot air balloon trip. Jekka was eating another piece of pie. With her family all around her, a successful adventure behind her, and a new mystery to look forward to, BJ felt a warm glow of happiness run through her. And even though her parent’s story was exciting, she fell asleep in the garden before it was finished.

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Author’s Note Benedict Arnold’s gunboat, Spitfire, sank on Oct 11th, 1776, during the Battle of Valcour. For her protection, the location and depth of the Spitfire has not been released to the public. The depth and location referenced in chapter 14 where the girls saw the shipwreck is actually at the edge of Burlington Bay, nowhere near the site of the battle.

Also, the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center is a real place, but as far as I know it doesn’t have a secret basement full of silly-face-making scientists, robot fish and experimental submarines. However, all the scientific and historical stuff mentioned in this book - the hypolimnion, the Rosenflanz technique for sintered materials, transparent alumina, the un-extinct coelacanth, finding zeuglodon fossils in Vermont, Osa’s Ark, Samuel De Champlain seeing a strange lake creature in 1609, etc.- are totally real. Isn’t that cool?

The book The Case For Champ, unfortunately, hasn’t been written yet – maybe you could do that for us some day. As for Champy himself, all I know is people have been talking about him for a very, very long time…

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About The Author Dan Ward is an electrical engineer, an Air Force officer and an amateur juggler. He lives in Central New York with his wife and two daughters. This is his second novel for kids. You can find more of Dan’s books at Rogue Press www.lulu.com/RoguePress

About NaNoWriMo Like the first Boomer Sisters book, The Boomer Sisters Meet Champy was written during November, which is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It is a lot of crazy fun to write a novel in 30 days, and everyone is invited to join in. You can find more details at www.NaNoWriMo.org. There is even information for kids and teachers who want to use NaNoWriMo in the classroom.

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