Project Super Nex, Chapter Ten: Quentin Medanar

“Wow,” Wyatt mumbled to himself as he circled around a research laboratory with vials, large microscopes, glass cases storing chunky minerals, rings of interwoven wires floating above stone slabs, and other materials. Afterwards, he entered a library, the largest one thus far. Dust layered the dog-eared books. Others looked clean as if they had arrived fresh off this morning’s printer run. They had many accounts on Cosmotic’s world circuits, groundbreaking inventions, SPACE Union and the six Intentions, and other subjects.
Wyatt pulled up a chair at a five-foot-wide desk in the center and poised a hand over its row of books; a pair of oaken bookends molded into heaps of triangles and cubes propped them up. From the middle he lifted out a maroon-leathered book with a blank spine and cracked it open to the first page, where Q.M. was written in thin, left-slanted letters. Before he knew it, his heavy eyelids closed, and he dropped the open book onto the desktop.
Sidney strolled in then, tilting her head at him with a little smile. “Wyatt?” she gently said, which made him snap his head up. “You were sleeping, right?”
“No!” He blinked at her. “Not sleeping. What makes you — ”
“I saw you close your eyes!” She laughed, holding her stomach. “Don’t try to fool me!”
“Um, my eyes, they weren’t closed for that long.” He turned in his chair and looked her up and down. “Where’d you get the new clothes?”
She gestured a hand to her clothing: a t-shirt with a faded decal of an astrolabe-like device, a violet denim jacket, and distressed jeans. “Quentin has a lot of closets. I’m telling you, this cavern is stocked. Everyone switched into fresh clothes. You could do the same.”
“Well, my attire has managed to stay pretty clean.” He gestured to his navy blue jacket and pants. “It seems Quentin’s clothes haven’t worn out over time.”
“I know, everything in this cave is ageless.” She paused. “Do you wanna take a nap?”
“No, no, I’m a bit too on edge from Quentin’s journal.” Wyatt picked up the journal from the desk and thumbed through it. “Here’s a quote by Yiezetch. ‘The most abhorrent evils of the universe are inflicted by people who are naively blanketed in their own goodness.'” Wyatt glimpsed sideways. “Yiezetch, always brightening the day. And then . . . the next entry is on February 24th, 2448, four years ago. It says, ‘I need to make use of my time while I’m trapped in this cavern. All of this makes me wish I had never agreed to partake in PSN. I know its inventors believe it could broaden Cosmotic, yet I can’t help but predict that Grimhet will smear it all.'”
“‘PSN’?” Sidney said, twirling her hair. “Project Super Nex.”
Wyatt said, “Interestingly enough, he predicts ‘that Grimhet will smear it all.’ That’s some foresight.” He traced a finger along the next line. ‘Now, Naazang is determined to kill me.'”
Sidney blushed. “Even this journal mentions him.”
Wyatt traced his finger along the rest of the lines. “He says that he could refashion the falling charges outside to construct an escape pod. His fluctuating energy core has rendered his Super Nex powers ineffective.” He held the journal closer to his widening eyes. “So he really did have them. And they were unstable.”
Sidney leaned closer, her eyes zipping left and right to read the entry. “You and Penelope mentioned his participation in PSN. You’re sure you don’t know much about him?”
“Well, I think he left the clinical trials during the second phase, when we were testing the virus on five hundred participants. I don’t why why he had to leave.” He readjusted his grip on the journal, drumming a thumb on his college ring. “It seems that on March 1st, he figured out the formula for an antiviral so he can treat a disease. He doesn’t specify it here.”
“The disease is probably what he died from in the first place, leaving him all shriveled and emaciated, like a spider liquified his insides and drained them out.” Sidney made a sharp sucking noise. “Spiders do that to their prey, you know. So do Betelarks.”
Wyatt gave her a funny smile. “I know. My parents love spiders, my mom in particular.” He returned his attention to the journal. “Quentin wants to travel to the right location to perform a medicinal procedure. On March 5th, he drew up maps to record a path toward the place where the antiviral can be created.” Wyatt mumbled some entries before he said in a louder voice, “I’ve worked on the project for most of its lifetime. I should know more about him.”
Sidney asked, “Wyatt, are you very, very sure you don’t know why he left PSN?”
Wyatt tapped his hand on the journal, slowly, repeatedly. “Now that I think about it . . . Owen Foxer gave a little detail about Quentin having to drop out for, for classified reasons.”
“Classified reasons? Doesn’t that euphemism always comfort people.”
Wyatt rose from his chair, still holding onto the journal. “Let’s tell the others about this.” When he and Sidney came out to the main cavern, they saw Corbin and Gene mumbling to each other and tinkering with their salvaged metal and wiring. Penelope was seated at a table near the entrance, perusing a novel with two saffron-spotted hyenas passant guardant on the dust jacket. Cooper wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Wyatt asked, “Why is the door closed?”
Penelope didn’t look up from her novel when she explained, “I found a crank mechanism at the front to close it. We don’t have to stress out about intruders anymore.”
“And Cooper, where is he?”
“He’s using the wondrous facilities,” answered Corbin, cupping his hands over his phone.
Gene said, trying to pry Corbin’s hands apart, “He was exuberant to relieve his bladder.” In a quieter voice, he said, “Corbin, surrender the device!”
“I’m capable of repairing this,” Corbin objected, struggling to swat away Gene’s fingers.
When Cooper sauntered out of the bathroom and brushed his hands together, he grinned at Wyatt and Sidney. “Wy, Sid, nice to see ya back in Com’dore Central. So, what’s that book?”
Wyatt relayed the journal’s info and Foxer’s reason for Quentin’s disappearance, which made Corbin ask, “If he was so determined to escape, why didn’t he open a portal?”
“If Quantax, the glorious inaugurator of experimental physics, has not yet surmounted the impediments of this field with its plethora of technology,” Gene pointed out, “Quentin Medanar could not have achieved the same goal with scant supplies.”
“Scant supplies? I disagree, brother.” Corbin stuck a hand into one of the circular wall recesses and drew a foot-long, gleaming pale blue tube. “Take this, for example. The metal is unfamiliar, warm, unyielding, possibly a derivative of the artificial thermsium that Cerebral once produced. It’s reminiscent of an old-fashioned flashlight, except the batteries are missing.”
Sidney piped up, “Guys, why don’t we let Wyatt read more of Quentin’s journal.”
They quieted down as Wyatt turned the pages every few seconds. “His entries describe his inventions and his experiences in Cosmotic. Oh, here’s a Raellem poem. ‘Throw off the — ‘” Wyatt’s eyebrows shot up his forehead one moment and arched together the next. “Um, never mind. A bit too risqué to read it out loud.”
Sidney peeked at the poem. “Why’s it — Wow!” She pressed a hand into her mouth to hold back a laugh. “Wow, that is, uh . . . wow. Xavier Wiley’s poems are a lot less salty.”
“Bookmark the page for me,” Penelope said, still reading her novel. “I’ll check it later.”
Wyatt almost turned over the page corner, but Sidney grabbed his hand to stop him. “Wait.” On a worktable was a pad of neon green sticky notes, so she stuck one on the page.
“Okay then,” Wyatt said, raising his eyebrows at her, thumbing through the pages. “This is Quentin’s last entry, on April 2, 2448. He’s mentioning that his powers have decreased greatly, and he doesn’t think he’ll build his antiviral in time. But he . . . he left behind a trail of clues.” He took a couple seconds to zip his eyes over the next sentence, biting his lip. “‘When you connect the main hub worlds, you will find the (Lavisi Zeal) to combine the portal pieces.'”
For the first time during this meeting Penelope darted her eyes away from the novel, put it on the table, and rose from her seat. “Portal pieces? What the muck is Medanar talking about?”
Wyatt angled the journal for everyone to view a drawing of a five-inch-long gem shaped
like an octagonal column. Wavy lines were engraved between the evenly-spaced edges. He read a sentence under the image. “‘Match the realidorr gems to open your path to Lunatark.'”
Sidney’s broad grin crinkled her eyes. “Wow, this is like a treasure hunt! I’m not very able when it comes to puzzles, unlike my parents — my mom enjoyed anagrams and riddles, and my dad loved sudoku and crosswords — but still, I’ve always been fascinated by treasure hunts.”
Corbin said, “In this case, the revered Super Nex antiviral represents the treasure.”
Wyatt paced back and forth as he held the journal and occasionally ruffled his hair. “It’s in this Lunatark location, and we have to locate the components to open a portal. But how do we find these components in the first place?”
Everyone had a moment of thought before Penelope returned to her table, wiped her book clean, and said, “Let’s think this out. We need to connect the hub worlds and combine the gems at Lavisi Zeal. In case you didn’t notice, it has parentheses on both sides.”
“Why’s that flipper separated from the rest of the riddle?” Cooper asked.
“Your guess can’t get any crappier than mine. As far as I know, we have three parts of the puzzle to find: portal pieces, main hub worlds, and Lavisi Zeal.”
Wyatt gave Cooper the journal when he asked for it. Squinted one eye at the drawing, raising his other eyebrow, Cooper asked, “What’s a Lavisi Zeal? I keep mentally scramblin’ the Lavisi part into Silvia. Sounds like a metal or a mineral to me.”
“‘Zeal,’ ‘great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective’,” said Gene.
Penelope taunted, “Oh, aren’t you alert with your vocabulary? Can you define ‘geek’?”
Sidney told her, “Give them credit, Penny. They’re human dictionaries.”
“Finally!” Gene cried. “Thank you for making an avouchment of the worth in our gifts.”
Penelope said, “But aren’t you good at puzzles, anaquotes and such? You said — ”
“No, no, this is the exception, an exaggerated enigma,” Corbin replied, and Gene nodded.
Wyatt broke the short silence. “Sidney, would your father look at this as an anagram?”
Her mouth twisted into a tilted question mark. “Maybe. But let’s skip that for now, see if we can collect hints from the rest of the riddle.” Fidgeting with an amethyst-beaded chain around her neck, half-hidden by her jacket collar, she took the journal from Cooper and flipped through the pages, inhaling a small breath. “Right here.”
Everyone gathered around her, and Penelope asked, “What is it?”
Sidney pointed to a sentence written along the page’s bottom edge. “It says, ‘Add my diagrams, subtract the filler lands, and equal them to their final map.'”
Penelope growled and took the journal from her. “And the riddles keep on rolling.”
“Is this turnin’ into math?” Cooper groaned. “Never liked ‘rithmetic. I flunked truckfuls of those blue books back in grade school. Got much more on the ball in high school.”
“This is not true arithmetics,” Corbin observed. “This is a mere vehicle for the enigma.”
“We have diagrams to deal with now, and we have filler lands, which we’re supposed to subtract,” Wyatt said, returning to his back-and-forth pacing.
“The ‘equal them to their final map’ segment is ambiguous to me,” Gene said, clasping a pale hand around his pinky. “How should we define that?”
“I don’t know yet. Let’s discover the actual diagrams first.”
“Diagrams!” Cooper yelled.
“Don’t shout, we’re right here!” Penelope scolded, taking a hard step away from him.
Cooper’s brown eyes lit up as he waved for everyone to follow him into the map room. Penelope grumbled to herself when Wyatt declared, less loudly, “Diagrams!”
Sidney hopped two times. “All right, we’re getting somewhere! We’ve gotta figure out the parts about connections, filler lands, main hub worlds, and realidorr gems.”
Cooper observed, “Notice the gem sign on ev’ry map, always outside the world, near the rim. An’ the marker in each world looks like a zoomed-in, birds-eye image of a spot.”
Wyatt said, “Maybe they indicate which planets or moons the realidorrs are hidden on.”
Cooper flashed double thumbs-ups. “Completes.”
While Wyatt took pictures of the maps with his phone, Gene picked at a hangnail on his thumb and said, “I would favor a chance to query Mr. Medanar as to how we should discriminate between these worlds, how we should properly select them.”
“He left the answer here,” Wyatt said, his eyes darting all over the maps, faster than ever. “Maybe those signs serve more than one purpose.” Everybody stepped closer as he unpinned the maps and laid them on the floor in three neat rows with six maps each, arranged so that the gems were vertical. Wyatt stood back and motioned for his team to do the same.
“Any flashes about this yet?” Cooper asked.
Wyatt didn’t speak before he kneeled down again, overlapping maps, spreading them apart, rotating them. Then Penelope said, “You’re aligning the gems.”
“Connected!” Sidney breathed, kneeling beside Wyatt.
After a few more map shifts, Wyatt rose to his feet, his lungs drawing deep breaths as he crossed his arms. “On second thought, this might not work out so well.”
“Why?” Gene said. “The arrangement of the eighteen cartographic documents appears shrewd. They share the crystal structures. It corresponds with Quentin’s riddle phraseologies.”
“But dealing with eighteen maps will make arranging the drawings close to impossible. We need to arrive at the order Quentin wanted us to put these in order to create another picture.”
“Formin’ a picture now? Outta these other funky maps?” Cooper asked.
“Didn’t you get that in the first place?” Penelope ignored Cooper’s pout and turned back to Wyatt. “Maybe we have to cut out some maps, the nulls.”
“Nulls? What are those?”
“You know, fakes,” Sidney explained, ahead of Penelope. “A null in cipher terms is a dummy letter in the puzzle, something to throw off enemies who intercepted the message.”
Penelope chimed in, “The riddle did mention subtracting the filler lands. But how do we know which ones to remove?”
Wyatt turned his head back to the maps and pushed aside one of Metacaract. Under this was the Militin map. A gem in the upper-left corner matched the version in Quentin’s diary. “There has to be some clue to differentiate the drawings.” He pushed aside maps and peered at the different gems. Moments later he straightened his back and turned his head to the team, his eyes shining with intensity. “Does anyone have his journal?” Penelope, having it tucked under her arm, handed it to him. “Thanks,” he said, going to the page with the realidorr drawing. He propped open the book in one hand, turned it towards the team, and tapped the drawing with his other hand. “See those wavy engravings?” They nodded, and he continued, “A few of the maps have them. Other versions don’t have them, they’re smooth.”
“What’s brought to light when you exclude the latter group of maps?” Corbin asked.
Wyatt returned the journal to Penelope and separated the wavy-lined realidorr maps from the smooth realidorr maps. He moved around the six final maps and frowned after a minute of unsuccessful arrangements. “But the crystals are all . . .”
“We’re on the right trail,” said Sidney. “We added up maps, subtracted filler lands, linked the right portal piece drawings. We are very, very close to forming the bigger picture.”
Cooper asked, “What else’re we flubbin’ up?”
Wyatt stopped shuffling around the maps when Gene squatted down next to Sidney and
said, “Pardon me for interrupting, but what are those markings on the opposite side?”
Wyatt furrowed his eyebrows at markings barely seen through the thin papers — written on the back. He turned them over, repositioned them, flipped up their corners every few seconds to recheck the crystals, his face tensing with renewed energy. The others saw portions of the large map that kept their hearts thumping and their mouths slightly parted and made them gather closer around him. He accepted their suggestions on how to lay the maps. He paused when Sidney said, “Lavisi Zeal can be unscrambled into Silva Zalie, as in Z-A-L-I-E.”
Penelope shook her head. “Who is that, the latest number one pop star?”
“‘Silva’ is what Zalie called Flordubul. It’s from the Teönor dialect, meaning ‘forest.’ As for Zalie, that’s the last name of Neymar Briggs Zalie, the explorer who mapped Flordubul. He’s one of the few Starsapiens who fluidly communicated with Gnomivy.”
“Let me see.” Wyatt restarted his map-shifting until he recognized the forest planet. He whispered in amazement, “Flordubul.”
“Or to be more specific, Gnomivy.” Penelope leaned down and pointed at the tiny gems collected around an exquisitely-detailed drawing of the cabin in the center of the sentient plant.
“Finally!” Cooper threw his hands into the air. “I thought it was a stumper without end!”
Wyatt smiled a little. “Maybe the cabin is our gateway to Lunatark.”
Gene pointed out, “Unless we can project ourselves outside of our physical restraints, we cannot travel to the abodes of these portal gems. First, we must depart this planet fragment.”
“We’ll escape,” Sidney assured him. “How many places do we have to explore?”
“Six,” Wyatt replied. “Militin, Flordubul, Vestral, Octoberry Trails, Alidiska Maj, and Alidiska Min. I don’t think we’re fit to uncover the realidorr here.”
Penelope said, “Definitely not. So we need to find the portal pieces, connect them at Gnomivy, and open a portal to Lunatark. And that’s where we’ll find our Super Nex antiviral.”
“Wait, we should not ignore this.” Corbin stooped over the Alidiska Min map and pointed at a mountain chain named Filocht. “See these markers? They indicate the realidorr.” His finger moved up a short line on the paper to a little box with Q.M. written in it. “Mr. Medanar’s initials.”
“Filocht,” Penelope said, half-glaring at Corbin and his finger-snapping. “We’re inside . . . You’re saying he put a gem in this cave? Buried it somewhere with all his odds and ends?”
“‘Trickery of A Deity’ is inscribed in the corner of the map,” said Sidney, biting her upper lip. “It’s a book, I saw it — ” With an unintelligible noise of joy she dashed out of the room.
“And off she whizzes with ideas!” Cooper joked as everyone hurried after her.
In one of the mini-libraries they watched her search shelves, pull out a thick hardcover with both hands, hug it to her chest, and heft it to a reading table. “Thanks,” she said when Wyatt pushed some books aside to make room, and she plunked it on the tabletop. Flipping through the pages, she mentioned, “I own a first edition of this. I disagree with the chapters about Teönor’s nonexistence, but the other parts that discourse metaphysical theories are intriguing.”
“Discourse metaphysical theories,” Corbin and Gene mumbled in unison.
Wyatt said, “How could a book become a hiding place? It’s not as if the pages can — ”
“Not the pages.” Sidney clamped all the pages in one hand, holding them upright so that the covers laid flat on the table. She used her other hand to pick at the inside of the front cover, a four-inch-thick board wrapped in lime green cloth. Pulling away a corner of the paper glued onto the board made Corbin and Gene gasp. This didn’t stop her from peeking into the space beneath the paper and shaking the book.
“Not there,” she mumbled, switching to the back cover. That was where shaking the book made a muffled bu-bummt leak from the open corner. She stuck in her finger and hooked out a small object of shimmery greenness seconds later. “Everyone, I present our first realidorr!” she announced with theatricality in her lilt, holding it out on her palm.
The others couldn’t take their eyes off the realidorr, a stunning gem, an octagonal bar that measured five inches long and three inches wide. Wavy lines were etched between the geometric edges, as expected. A sign of four concentric circles was incised into both ends. The twinkling interior seemed to pass on its self-energizing light to the polished exterior.
Cooper fist-pumped twice. “Our first shiner, an’ we’re not even outta Quen’s cavern!”
“I used to do that all the time, hiding stuff in thick hardcovers,” Sidney brought up.
Penelope took the realidorr off her palm. “We have to find five more of these? I hope Medanar isn’t pranking us.” She peered over her glasses at the concentric circles. A growl passed through her scowling lips. “One down, at least.” She put it in her pants pocket.
Wyatt asked, “Who says you get to keep it? A more protective — ”
“Let her keep it,” Sidney interrupted, sending Penelope a cheeky smirk.
“All right, well . . .” Wyatt returned to the map room. Everyone wordlessly followed him. He looked at the number- and letter-scribbled papers on the walls. “Penelope, please take a look at those, see if they match the coordinates on the maps. Gene, Corbin, keep up the electronics work. See if you can get a call through to SPACE Union.”
Corbin raised both hands heartily into the air like a superhero about to fly off into the sky. “Yes, let us commence forth!” He scurried out of the room and called behind him, “Rush, Gene!”
“It’s not like you’ve gotta step on the gas!” Cooper sang out as Gene shuffled out.
Penelope, Cooper, and Sidney stayed in the map room with Wyatt. Sidney said, shooting a look at Cooper, “It’s a blessing that we came across Quentin’s puzzle, eh?”
Cooper guffawed. “Ha ha, don’t prove your theory about the beautiful universe and its intertwined strings of events. I mean, we’re still crammed in this cave. While it’s techno-loaded and fancy and smells like my gaming hub, it makes my butt cheeks itch. If I were to give it an emoji rating, it’d be a freaked-out face, ya know, with the buggin’ eyes and clenched teeth.”
“If we survive the night,” Penelope remarked, “upgrade it to a flat-mouthed emoji.”
The cavern was active for hours as Gene found a bracelet that tracked Super Nex energy stats, which he gave to Wyatt. Tapping the circular face turned it from silver to turquoise and popped up a hologram of a number and a cobalt figure. Because Wyatt’s energy was low, the number was three and the figure was almost transparent. The team also opened a secret stairway that led to a second level with six bedrooms and much more electronics, books, and furniture to go along with the possessions downstairs.
They were even about to embark to a reserve of Super Nex energy that Corbin found on a scratched-up computer tablet. The reserve was named RCH-18 on a map of Alidiska Min and was about two miles away. What made them hesitant to go outside were the arches of indigo and green lightning rapidly flipping back and forth in the sky, rolling out deep rumbles through the rippled clouds. Then an indigo curve plummeted from the sky, exploded on the ground, and split into multiple bolts, one of them firing at the open cavern. The agents had to lunge aside to avoid the whining bolt, which shattered one of the amber light-panels in the ceiling.
“Okay, we’ll hold off on the trek until tomorrow,” Wyatt said, getting up, pulling the lever to close the entrance before more bolts could enter.
Penelope appointed herself as head chef and the others as assistants to cook a dinner of wheatfowl and spinach salad, pork with sautéed Gollinger apples, and chocolate bread pudding. Everyone found it delicious, especially Corbin and Gene, the former calling it “a love letter to the omnivorous deities of nourishment.”
After they washed the dishes, Wyatt offered to stand guard for a few more hours while the others slept. Sidney asked, “Shouldn’t you sleep too?”
“I won’t do anything strenuous. I’ll enjoy a book during the time.”
“And your arm?”
“It’s okay.” He rolled up his sleeve and tapped the edge of the bandage. “Still healing.”
“If you want a military thriller where a vengeance-driven spaceship lieutenant hunts an anti-Warbearer serial killer for the murder of her commander, read Vermillion Pacifist,” Penelope suggested, pulling the book out of a shelf. The dust jacket was fittingly vermillion.
Wyatt accepted the book and said goodnight to everyone before they headed upstairs. He poured himself a glass of vinneum, a thick aquamarine liquor that was popular on Utherwold, his birthplanet. Dinisis – 2420 was stamped on the bottle label in golden cursive.
Wyatt began to read the novel in spite of his eyelids falling and flapping open over and over again. His nostrils took heavy sniffs as his head leaned forward and then jerked up. He came very close to knocking his head on his vinneum glass a few times. This lasted for an hour until he suddenly sat upright and opened his eyes wide, which was when he began to truly read the novel. After he finished the first chapter with a nod of approval, he rested it on the table and drew his phone to take a picture of the cover. He made the error of tapping a button that turned the camera around, showing Wyatt’s face on the screen instead of the book.
Before he could reverse this, he looked at himself in the camera and thought, What are you doing with your team in Alidiska Min? Your powers are gone, you can’t help them get off this wasteland, and you’re impeding the mission. You couldn’t even focus your powers on stopping Gargant from trapping everybody. See? This proves the only reason you’re here is because of your superpowers. Without them, you’re a husk. You deserve to be substituted with someone who could control their superpowers with much more skill than you. It makes you want to abandon the assignment, doesn’t it? It’s not worth the time and the pain and SPACE Union’s nagging.
Wyatt rapidly blinked at his phone, tightly furrowed his eyebrows, and shook his head. No, none of that’s true. I’m not abandoning the assignment. I’m not abandoning them.
He rested his phone facedown on the table, massaged his shoulder, and read the book for another half-hour. Then his eyelids became heavy again as the book slipped out of his hands and thudded on the table. He shook his head and mumbled, “A cup of roasted pecans. Sprinkle the pepper.” Then he heaved himself out of the chair in response to the pad of footsteps from the stairs. He drew a poker and a Frosmo from a shelf, stalking down the cavern. He held up the weapons, then released a short yell at the same time as Sidney, who emerged from the stairway’s dim lighting. She whipped a boomerang out of the back pocket of her pajama pants, but she didn’t hurl it after recognizing Wyatt.
“Close one, Durrell!” A half-laugh burst out of her, and she slipped the boomerang into her pocket. “The lamp behind you kind of masks your appearance, gives you an eerie halo.”
Wyatt dryly smiled. “The poker and the gun probably didn’t help.”
“You could’ve knocked out intruders. But hitting you again would . . .” She winced and shook her head. “Never mind. Going to bed yet? Is your arm okay?”
He yawned a little. “I’ll go to bed soon. Vermillion Pacifist is quite the page-turner. And my arm is fine, you don’t have to keep asking about it.” He pointed at the large mushrooms hung upside-down amongst the puffy clouds on her t-shirt. “I like that. From Quentin’s stock?”
“Yep, they’re beautiful plants, the Hyp species that grows in the skies of Vestral.”
“He left behind quite a bit of clothing. So, what brings you here in the first place?”
“One, to check on you. Two, the bathroom.” She spun around and sped into the facilities, calling from inside, “I can still hear you, though, so if you wanna keep chatting. . . .”
“Um, okay.” Wyatt raised an eyebrow as the trickling began. “I haven’t done much other than sit here, read my book, and secure the chamber.”
“That’s good. You’ve had a chance to relax.” The trickling resounded by itself for the next few seconds until she resumed, “How are your powers so far? Are your hands glowing yet?”
“Not yet.” Wyatt glimpsed at his phone on the table. “I don’t know how it disappeared, though. It did seesaw in the trial participants, but even then it rarely occurred. Their powers never, ah, never ceased like this. I don’t know, maybe something infected me at the gaderch.”
“No, your powers have come back, remember? And you’ve done a great job using them!”
Wyatt rubbed his neck. “But I want to serve this team with more than my powers.”
“Sure you are. You’re serving this team with yourself, which is even better.”
Shaking his head, pulling off his college ring to try bending it between his fingers, he asked, “Do you normally go to the bathroom for this long?”
“You should see how long I do this if I’ve held it in for more than three hours. Nothing compared to Cooper, though.”
When she came out half a minute later, Wyatt slipped his phone into his pocket and said, “It’s strange, isn’t it? How I got my powers, I mean. These Grimhets — ”
“Turning into energy orbs, I know. Penny told me. And I don’t think it’s strange at all. He wants you to be a part of this. He put you on the board, and he can use you to affect the game.”
It took Wyatt a moment to absorb the calmness on Sidney’s face and the confident lilt in her voice. “What, you think Gargant has a bigger scheme in store for me, or for us?”
Sidney’s eyes flicked down to the floor, then back at Wyatt. “Not Gargant. Naazang.”
“Gargant’s apprentice? What is it you have against him?”
Reaching up for an amethyst-beaded chain looped around her neck, running her fingers along the jewels, she said, a little quietly, “This isn’t the right time to talk about that.” Then she chuckled from out of nowhere and raised her voice. “Penelope talks about you a lot. She tells me how hard you’ve worked for Project Super Nex, how you’re on top of things at Rad-Bio.” Her smile quivered as she suppressed a laugh. “She once remarked that you’re a male analogue of herself. You know, the competence and all.”
Wyatt leaned back against the table and said, “You two seem very close.”
“Well, yeah. She was my guardian for ten years. My parents assigned her to that role.”
His eyebrows shot up. “She adopted you? I never knew that.”
Sidney’s smile faded. “Yeah, my parents died when I was little.”
“Didn’t you have any relatives who could care for you?”
“Well, an uncle on my dad’s side died from a burst aneurysm. Another uncle died with honor on an Web operation. My aunt broke her spine. As for my mom, two of her sisters died in the 2432 bombing on Halcyonic Foundation. Brain cancer did it for her third sister.” Her eyes dropped to Wyatt’s shoes. “I know, I’ve dealt with more death than the average person.”
“I’m really sorry about your relatives.”
She reached up to her neck and tugged the amethyst-beaded chain, lifting out a violet-speckled amber pendant from under her t-shirt. “A gift from my parents. Haven’t worn it much till recently. I’m glad I brought it today. It’s made from the first batch of synthetic Gigalek that Web ordered. My parents said it’s a treasure.”
“Is it any different from those amber keys or the pieces from Geanthoff?”
“Somewhat.” She released the pendant to let it rest on her chest. “Now, let’s get back to my main point, that you’re not here solely because of your superpowers. Another person might choose to conquer the universe or, Teönor forbid, join forces with Grimhet.” She overlapped her hands over her pendant. “I’ve always found this to be relaxing.”
“This?” Wyatt copied her gesture.
“Yep, exactly. What are you feeling right now?”
“The thump-thumping of my heart.”
“Great! First off, it means you’re alive and well. Second, it’s very, very soothing to feel your heart. A little exercise you can do anytime you feel stressed. Helped me a lot in the past.”
Wyatt closed his eyes and let his mouth loosen into a small smile. “It does feel nice.” He opened his eyes and gave her a solemn nod. “Thank you, Sidney.”
She beamed and lowered her hands. “Anytime. Need more of my advice?”
“Not for now. This helped you a lot in the past?”
“I dealt with some issues back then. Penelope supported me the whole way through, but I don’t know if her crazy brothers exacerbated my general tension. They’re good people — ”
“She never mentioned them? Huh. Well, yeah. Duncan and Roame. Oddballs, to say the least.” She chuckled. “But while they’re crazy, the parents were . . . crazy, if that makes sense.”
Wyatt waited a moment to reply, “It actually does.”
“And the sister was quiet, observant of her surroundings, a classic introvert. And wise, very wise. It was always enjoyable to talk to — ” Sidney suddenly covered her mouth with one hand, her eyes widening. “Um, try not to tell Penelope that I mentioned her sister.”
“Okay. Why can’t I mention her sister?”
“There was, uh, a situation. She doesn’t come around anymore.” She looked back at the staircase. “Guess we should go back to bed, huh? And make sure to keep quiet — ”
“About the sister,” Wyatt finished. “I can do that. Now, let’s see what tomorrow brings.”
“I was gonna say something like that!”
“Oh, really? One of us could’ve said, ‘wryneck!'” Wyatt joked, and Sidney chuckled again.

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