Project Super Nex, Chapter Fifteen: Sigint

Twirling her hair, Sidney said in a higher lilt, “Corbin?”
He started thumbing his phone. “No observations, no comments.”
“Agents! Are you still here? You must have found a realidorr.” Marsden boosted through the large opening with a jetpack. She gripped a poker in one hand and a sturdy W19 with two mottled tawny claws affixed to the barrel in the other. Two sentries hummed onto the stage with their own jetpacks. After the agents told her about the Antakliss, she ordered her sentries to bring down the body, whose jaws were frozen in a disturbing gape.
Corbin asked, “May you account for Mr. Medanar’s acquisition of the creature?”
“My Advisors filled me in on his links to numerous SPACE Union associates, ones that would’ve been useful for taking possession of this thing.” She clipped her poker and blaster to her uniform and used her phone to scan the Antakliss, which her sentries were holding up. “And the Hemisphere closed down for a renovation about four years ago, right before he vanished.”
Penelope said, “Obviously, that must have been when he did the job.”
“Obviously.” Marsden tapped the panels of genetic data on her phone, then sent a flick of a look at the gem in Wyatt’s hand. “Forging ahead never hurts. We would’ve arrived earlier, but the security system was sticky. It locked us out until we entered the override code.”
Wyatt asked, “How’d you know we needed help? We did call you, but the reception — ”
“We received your call, but something stopped it from connecting fully. There must be a virus in the system. Someone will review it soon. In any case, I’ve grown into my stripes well enough to know that stationing myself and my top claws in the places where sludge stinks the most is the best precaution, consistently. And wherever you six tread, the odor follows.”
Penelope defended, “At least we’re wiping up the mess and exterminating the sludgies.”
Marsden, while uploading a file of the Antakliss’s genetic data to Warbearer’s database, asked the team about their next step. Wyatt said, “We’ll uncover the last two gems from Alidiska Maj and Flordubul, then open the gateway to Lunatark. It’s simple enough.”
“I’m left to wonder whether it would be more beneficial to deploy agents who’ve been tossed out onto the fur fields more. You can uncover the gems, but teleporting all the way to an alternate dimension might be more than you can handle. If you don’t mind — ”
“We discussed this yesterday, Overseer,” said Wyatt. “We’re taking care of everything.”
Gene said, “If I may query, what qualms are clouding your opinion of our proficiencies?”
“Some of us Overseers prefer certain affiliates, like Second Mane Durko Stratton. He’s headed my elite claws for almost a decade. He’s essentially your crimson analogue, Durrell.”
The lightness on Sidney’s face washed away when her tight smile flattened out. “Wyatt is more than appropriate for his role in this alliance. You could put more trust in us.”
Brushing his bangs up over his head, Cooper said, “I like this team, Commander. I like it a lot. Ya don’t have to sweat one drop over us. Besides, Stratton’s full of hot gas.”
Wyatt looked Marsden in the eye. “You can kill Grimhet after Grimhet, scrub miasmas and goop off as many worlds as you want, but on our end we’re traveling to Lunatark. It’s our best chance to bring back an antiviral and overcome those beasts.”
Adjusting the W19 in her belt holster, Marsden waited to say, “Fine. It’s still up in the air whether this Lunatark is a real dimension. But before you do anything else today, Durrell, you need to go to Rad-Bio Laboratory for a checkup. Urewlil’s test results are cause for concern.”
Wyatt’s eyebrows arched up high. “When did she share that info with you?”
Sidney cocked her head at him, scrunching her eyes. “When did you even have a test?”
“To review the health of his signatures. It has to be shared in our network for the purposes of fluid communication. If Xavier hadn’t recommended Rad-Bio so persistently for the checkup, I would send Durrell to an outpost over in Towe Rallier.”
After Penelope handed over the realidorr they had just found — she still withheld the Alidiska Min gem and the portal disc — the agents left Terpisliope Hemisphere. On their way to the garage Sidney asked about Freye’s test, and Wyatt shrugged, pausing a moment to respond, “Like Marsden said, it was about my signatures, keeping track of them before Lunatark.”
“Want us to come with you?” Sidney offered. “I haven’t been there in a while.”
Penelope said, “We’ll all go with you. Then it’s either Alidiska Min or Flordubul.”
Wyatt’s eyes flickered over the others. “Uh, it’s just Rad-Bio. You don’t have to go — ”
“Why wouldn’t we? Rad-Bio Laboratory is at the nexus of microbiology and genetics!”
“The nexus indeed, brother,” Gene agreed.
Cooper said, “Yeppers, I’d like to have all the pure science completes engross me.”
Rubbing away that ache in his wrist again, Wyatt finally said, “I guess you can come.”
The others had a bit more energy in their amble to the garage. Gene was even skipping.
“Mmm, you know what I see in this lab?” Sidney asked with a breathy sigh, leaning toward a window that curved around a laboratory with worktables, scanners, a big freezer, and other equipment either covered in tarps or packed in clear boxes. Her head bobbed with the piano chords of slow jazz gliding along the corridor, which still had dots of ooze stains in the surfaces.
“Germs,” Penelope answered, wiping a smudge off the window. “Millions of germs. No, billions. Microorganisms harbored in pipettes, beakers, vials, vats, virtual computer models.”
“No, she’s referring to the research that abounds in this institution,” Corbin chimed in from the end of the corridor, scanning his phone at a snack machine for a packet of roasted nuts.
“That’s right, Corbin! I mean, you’re also right, Penelope, but science does abound here. I also appreciate how resolutely they’ve pursued ventures like PSN, no matter how radical others think of them. I can understand why Wyatt wanted to work here in the first place.”
“Pardon my interruption,” Gene piped up, stepping up to the snack machine after his brother tore open the nut packet, “but are you making a facile attempt to smooth out the spikes?”
Cooper thumped his shoulder, making him yelp. “Don’t be a Dawson-downer. Rad-Bio’s funky, sure, but it’s got Com’dore’s mentor at the wheel. No one else can be scientific and funky.”
“But can he maintain that when we’ll be under SPACE Union’s microscope, maybe for as long as Rad-Bio lives?” Penelope said, still wiping the window. “I can see Marsden and Foxer rooting for us to shut down.”
“Xavier has championed this lab in front of those Overseers before,” Sidney pointed out, eating a cinnamon candy from her sweets case. “Rad-Bio will live for a very, very long time.”
“And if it doesn’t? What then? Dr. Fulbright will probably be ostracized. With Rad-Bio on our resumes, the rest of us researchers might meet the same fate.”
“Come on, Penny, you have to be positive. I tell Wyatt that, but I’m not sure if he listens.”
While Penelope and Sidney debated, Gene had tried to open his packet of mint gum, but the foil edge would not tear off. Cooper failed to open it in spite of his biceps bulging as if he was hoisting a Goruly over his head. He called over Corbin, who was admiring a grainy painting of pale moths breaking out of vividly-colored cocoons. This caught the attention of Penelope and Sidney, the former cocking an eyebrow, the latter biting her lips together in a quivering grin.
“Are you seriously unable to open a snack bag?” Penelope asked, after Corbin had also failed to open the packet, making squeaky breathing noises that sounded like a tired badger.
“Penelope, we’re facing a packaging flaw,” Corbin responded. “Don’t interrupt us.”
She marched over to them. “Give it here.” She snatched the packet out of Corbin’s hands, clamped her teeth on the edge, and pulled back with a growl. But it did not open.
Cooper said, “Whaddabout your switchgun? Or Sid’s boomerang?”
Penelope glared at him. “We could. After all it doesn’t matter that they’ve been smeared with oozy blood from hundreds of Fisses, Haggas, Rampas, and other grimers.”
“Why don’t I try,” Sidney said. Penelope narrowed her eyes and handed over the packet. Then she pursed her lips when Sidney stuck her nail into the edge and used a sharp flick of her hand to rip open the packet. She returned it to Gene, who paled and mumbled with Corbin.
Mouth briefly agape, Cooper asked, “How’d you pull off that tricky trick?”
Sidney’s laugh crinkled her eyes. “I’m skilled at prying things open.”
Penelope wagged a finger at her, smirking. “Wisewonk alert!”
“I am grateful for your assistance,” Gene told Sidney, quietly chewing on a cube of mint gum. Then he motioned his packet at the door that was sliding open a few feet behind her. “And now they are present. Anything to note of your progression, Mr. Durrell?”
Wyatt was emerging into the corridor, followed by Dr. Fulbright, and replied, “Super Nex virus count’s the same, my energy is stable, Grimhet traces haven’t grown malignant.”
Pushing up his glasses, Dr. Fulbright said, “In other words, solid as a rock.”
Cooper gave Wyatt a strong high-five. “Goody! Next, dig up more shiners!”
But an oval of glimmering hexagons lit up in the window down the corridor, warping the view of the laboratory behind it, quickly darkening, spinning into a vortex, ejecting a nebulous figure with a spiral of dust. Its boots silently landed on the floor. Its own shadow seemed to wrap around its humming body in a hood and a cloak. It extended an arm and fired a nub of a dart out of its wrist, too rapidly for Wyatt to project a forcefield. It pierced the side of Gene’s neck.
“Gene!” Corbin shouted as his brother sucked in a wheezy breath, stiffened his body, closed his eyes. He collapsed into Corbin’s arms.
The intruder immediately hurled small, amorphous masses of metal that whirled around the agents and Dr. Fulbright, lacerating them with long claws. Four of them engaged in a short tug of war with Penelope over the satchel, jerking her to the floor, ripping it out of her grip, returning to the intruder. More of them swarmed around Wyatt’s forcefield, occupying the group long enough for the intruder to pocket the amber key. Its expression was unreadable through its stony eyes, darkness masking the rest of its face. It searched the satchel a moment more, then stuck its arm out front to call back the claws. After they absorbed into its wrist, it lunged forward and punched the forcefield, shattering it, propelling everyone down the corridor.
“What the grim are you?” Penelope shouted, her voice as sharp as her switchgun rapier.
Dr. Fulbright struggled to get up, giving a grunt. He pushed up his halfway-fallen glasses, eyes flaring when the intruder raised its arm at Penelope. “Get out of here! Get out now!” he exclaimed, standing up, tearing off his glasses, motioning them forcefully at the intruder.
Taking a step back, lowering its arm, blinking, its shadowy mask momentarily thinning, it murmured something and then darted back into the vortex. It shrunk into nothingness, leaving a pale gray blotch on the window. Everyone remained frozen for a few moments, Gene stiff in his brother’s arms, Dr. Fulbright staring at them with lost eyes, Penelope calling an ambulance.
By the time Gene was hauled into one for Galen Hospital, long blobs of white had spread in the skin around his neck. The dart was still stuck in there; Corbin had tried to pull it out, which only enlarged the blobs. Gene’s hands were folded over his chest as it rose and fell with every shaky breath. The ambulance zoomed down the road with its long blares and yellow-red flashes of light, the others following in their mobulars.
By the time they crowded into the waiting room, Corbin was already there, pacing back and forth, muttering multi-syllabic words. He didn’t look up the first few times they said hi. Penelope had to grab his shoulder and wave a hand in his face, saying, “Corbin Thistle, Cosmotic to Corbin Thistle, we’re here, we wanna know how your pest of a brother is doing.”
Sidney said in a voice as light and strong as the fabric of Torchen robes, “Penny.”
Puffing air from her nostrils, Penelope pulled up Corbin by his shoulders. “You don’t want to turn into a camel, do you? No, I don’t think so. Stand up straight.”
“The doctor will arrive with the results. Sit, stand. Either choice is acceptable,” Corbin said, returning to his back-and-forth pacing as the others shuffled into their seats.
“He’s going to be okay,” Wyatt said. “Galen’s the place to go to. Right, Penelope?” He sent a little smile her way, but she was too busy peering over her glasses at a tan stain on the seat of a chair to notice. He turned back to Corbin. “How was he before he went in?”
“Breathing once every ten seconds or so. Dramatically reduced heart rate. Discolorations of white spreading through his head and upper chest. No prognosis was given.”
Sidney said, “It’d be great for us to think of some prayers for him. That would help.”
“Sure, good wishes for Genie.” Cooper closed his eyes and repeatedly knocked his fists lightly on the armrests. “Goody wishes, happy stars, lucky coins.”
They focused on just that sort of good fortune for Gene for a minute before his brother, standing right behind Wyatt’s chair, said, “Why didn’t you shield him?”
Dr. Fulbright said, “The forcefields are not instantaneous, Corbin. They vary with each person’s reaction speed and how energized they are at the time.”
Wyatt shook his head, pulling off his college ring. “No, he’s right.” He awkwardly twisted around in his chair and looked up at Corbin, jiggling the ring inside his fist. “I should’ve done more to protect your brother. But that thing came out of the vortex . . . Anyway, I’m sorry.”
“Never seen it before, but gotta be Grimhet, ya know, ’cause of the vortex,” said Cooper.
Penelope wiped off a stain-free chair and sat down. “If I ever run into it again, I’ll give its ass a booting. It’s all the way down there with Gargant and all his minions on my grime list.”
Dr. Fulbright used the lapel of his lab coat to wipe his glasses clean in methodic circles. “It had no right to open a vortex in my lab,” he said, his tone as heavy as his eyes.
Sidney told him, “You have to upgrade the security.”
He nodded and swiped through a web page on his smartglove. This made the others begin to skim magazines or check their phones, except for Corbin, who kept pacing. Then Dr. Lungan, who had treated Wyatt after the Rad-Bio incident, entered the waiting room. “Corbin, your brother is recovering. But he’s extremely tired, so I suggest you see him for only a few minutes.”
Some brightness rushed back into Corbin’s eyes as he drew in a breath and scurried after Dr. Lungan, the others a few steps behind. In Gene’s room, Corbin gave him a big hug. “I’m so tremendously happy that you’re healthier.” Gene gave a weak smile. Corbin unwrapped his arms, then hugged him again. “A whit of shock is lingering, but I can’t express why. It’s intangible.”
Dr. Lungan went to the bedside table and picked up a little box with a clear cap clasped over a short needle. The rest of it showed dark globules floating in a red solution. “From the toximeter data,” Dr. Lungan explained, “it seems that a large dosage of mykaspix, about ten granum, had entered his body. Have you heard of it?”
Dr. Fulbright, nodding with Wyatt and Penelope, said, “It’s a Grimhet poison.”
Dr. Lungan said, “Yes, it’s modified from a tree fungus found exclusively in the Orbis Vloris world circuit, especially on Flordubul. It strangles your respiratory system within an hour, even less depending on how much is absorbed. It concentrated so rapidly that I had to administer double the standard dosage of vitair.” He turned to Gene. “One-tenth granum of mykaspix is still clinging to the capillaries in your neck. I’ll prescribe you more of the vitair to expunge those last drops of the toxin. You can pick it up when we discharge you in the morning.”
When Gene opened his mouth, all that came out was a noise comparable to the whine of a sick rat. Everyone moved back fast or covered their ears, except for Corbin, who moved closer and hunched over his brother’s almost-inaudible words. He quietly replied, “No, no, that isn’t acceptable. You have every privilege to stand by our side.” He told the others, “He’s convinced we shouldn’t let him hamper us from uncovering the last two realidorrs today.”
Wyatt said, “No, I think it’s best for us to leave that for tomorrow. This is a joint effort.”
Cooper said, “You’ll be with us all the way when we portal to this freaked-up Lunatarky.”
Corbin’s nose twitched. “Thank you, Cooper, for those rousing words.”
The group said their goodbyes and started to herd out of the room, but Gene beckoned Dr. Fulbright with a low, raspy call of his name and a weak wave of his hand. Lifting his head an inch off the pillow, his lips moved without making a noise. He held a hand over his throat, waited a second to swallow, and croaked, “Elevate Rad-Bio’s anti-Grimhet measures. It is essential.”
Cooper let out a snort. “Huh, like we didn’t catch that after the huge-o break-in.”
Dr. Fulbright said, “I swear to the bounds of Cosmotic, the security will be upgraded to the highest level.”
Dr. Lungan spoke up, “It’s worth noting that Wyatt Durrell enters this hospital, then Gene Thistle. It makes me wonder . . . What I mean to say is, the rest of you need to be careful.”
“We know!” Corbin, Cooper, Sidney, and Penelope said in unison.
After Cooper mussed Gene’s hair, the group finally left. During the walk, Wyatt reminded everyone that the spy had stolen the amber key out of the satchel. Cooper asked if the realidorr and the disc were gone as well, and Penelope said, “I would never lose them that easily. I had them hidden in my jacket for times like this. They’re in my mobular now.”
“You didn’t keep them in the satchel? What about the maps?” Wyatt questioned.
“Same thing, in my mobular. It was strange, I had a little feeling, an instinct to do that.”
Sidney smiled. “Always gotta follow your instincts!”
Cooper patted his belly. “Your gut’s a lot wiser than a slug of neurons.”
“And not only that, but this is how the universe works, too. You have the power to make a choice, and whatever happens, there’s an ultimate reason behind it.”
“Ooh, Sid, better put away your soapbox. Not in the mood for this.”
After Sidney chortled him off, Corbin said, “How disappointed our Grimhet lackey must be to obtain only the key.”
Sidney’s smile faded slightly. “Those damn keys are important to Grimhet for a reason, a good one. I’m curious to know what it is. But we’ll know when the time is right.”
“Time is right,” Corbin grumbled, plunging his hands into the hip pockets of his pants.
When they exited Galen Hospital and began walking to the autocab booth, Dr. Fulbright said, “The big day is coming. Two more realidorrs, and you can travel to Lunatark.”
“Depending on how the mission progresses, I would like to go there tomorrow,” Wyatt said, looking around at the agents. “Are you ready for the trip?”
“Does Ivermact shlep a triple-neutro and a W-19 on all her treks?” When Wyatt looked off to the side with a certain blankness, Cooper concluded, “The answer: a smack-solid yes!”
“Welcome back, Miss Sidney. You have two messages on your voicemail. Would you like dim lights, a brewing of Ushi Vermillion jeih, and songs by Marnie?”
“Perfect, Summit,” Sidney chirped, smiling as a C-shaped light darkened its amber glow in the living room. She put her cubekey and her phone on a desk in the entry hall, inhaling the bitter spices breezing out of the kitchen, listening to the dusky vocals paired with the ghostly notes of a d’ivoir — a piano-like instrument with three keyboards and spirally reeds.
“Here is today’s news,” resumed the computerized voice as Sidney kicked off her wet shoes, hung up her damp jacket, and squashed a spider on the floor with a squat boot. “ASRM Cytobanks has submitted to the Benevolence Treasury of SPACE Union for obstruction on federal funding towards Rad-Bio Laboratory. Hubiragen supporters will hold a stance against Rad-Bio Laboratory in Steurap tomorrow. Degrees of Six will interview the acclaimed geneticist Dommel Trimpel, where he will express his criticism against Dr. Grant — ”
“On the other hand, please skip it. Listening to this crap the day before I go teleporting to an alternate dimension is not a great idea.” Sidney cleaned up the smeared spider from the floor and the sole of her boot. As she recapped her day for Summit, she gazed at a large wall print of a dancing silhouette caught in time-lapse motion; its arms were arched at sharp angles, depicted in the middle of a rapid spin that made its body appear blurry. Drooping feathers covered it from head to toe against a background of fat, creamy drops.
Sidney pulled herself away from the print to take slow, dull steps into the spacious living room. A coppery statue of a nude humanoid with an eagle’s head stood on a plinth in the center, holding a Y-shaped staff in one hand and a decagonal mirror in the other. Spread out behind its back were two feathery wings, each with a series of five horns running along the upper edges, their curved tips facing forward. Other figurines of the humanoid and bestial types were posed in display shelves. More prints — tornadoes, crashing waves, zooming spacecrafts, flittering bats, and other animate beings — created similarly to the silhouette dancers were scattered across the walls.
“What a day,” Summit said after Sidney’s recap. “Are you ready for tomorrow?”
“Positively ready. To my surprise, it’s Wyatt Durrell who worries me.” Passing a full shelf of phonodisks in her purple-banded socks, Sidney cracked open the balcony door and closed her eyes against a warmish breeze drifting in from the misty outdoors. Curls and stripes of neon hues reflected off the wet buildings and streets in her zone, one of many on the planet of Ovsecuu. Twirling her zigtail, she said, “He’s upholding this shell, masquerading it as invulnerability. I’m very, very close to certain the other agents aren’t suspecting his act.”
“What if he’s not acting? Your profiling isn’t flawless,” Summit said as patches of bright violet dots flickered through the dim room and hovered around some of the curios in the room, like a mobile sculpture of shiny amber pebbles levitating inside a wire cube or a lit-up rectangle in the wall that projected a 3-D hologram of Sidney as a child and her warmly-smiling parents.
“Actually, my profiling is top-slot.” The haze between the bustling street below and the whirring maglev track above billowed onto her balcony, making her back up into the penthouse.
A drumming rumble and then a sharp peal of thunder preceded Summit’s announcement. “Overseer Sumi Olympus would like to speak with you.”
“Olympus? Damn, what does she want? Ah, tell her I’m almost there.” Sidney darted into the kitchen and waited for the jeih brewer to beep twice before she slid out the pot and twisted a pin on the underside. A brownish-white mist wafted out of a vent on each side of the pot, and she poured the bitter-smelling jeih for herself. It bubbled thickly with deep brown chunks sticking to the lip of the mug. She ambled back into the living room and took a seat at her workstation.
“Ms. Appleton,” Olympus said, her voice resonating from a holographic circle of light floating above the tabletop; shelves filled with computer tablets and flash sticks stood on both sides of the workstation. “Are you free at the moment?”
“Yes,” Sidney replied, keeping as cool of a voice and as steady of a face as possible. She cupped the mug in her hands and swirled around the increasingly-thickening jeih. She did this up to the point where all the liquid condensed into a klink-klinking mass of dense chunks flaking at the jagged edges, something akin to crunched pieces of raw chocolate.
The holographic circle expanded into a broad screen to display Olympus on one half and Foxer on the other, his collar rolled down. “He insisted on joining us, Miss Appleton,” Olympus claimed. “He feels you can understand the scope of his thoughts if he delivers them directly.”
Sidney plucked a jeih chunk out of her mug as Foxer said, not decreasing the iciness in his voice one bit, “Your team, what the universe is dubbing as the Stalwarts, needs to be replaced by a squad of our own specially-trained affiliates.”
“I see.” Popping the jeih into her mouth and chewing it hard for a few moments, Sidney flicked her eyes over what she had painted on the walls — brass and gold stars between smoke-blanketed planets and their fragmented moons. She sat forth in her chair and put her mug on the tabletop. “You have to realize that my teammates and I have accomplished incredible things. We have surmounted a great variety of obstacles, and it’s due to two things. One, our skills and our cores, we mesh well together. Two, Wyatt is leading us. He has a singular viewpoint — ”
“If I may interrupt, Miss Appleton, I have begun to doubt — ”
“No, Professor, you should feel confident in Wyatt. He’s the pillar that we stand on. If he weren’t present, our team would not be as stable, to put it bluntly. In the end, I think you know deep, deep down that we are the best Stalwarts you could ever deploy.”
Foxer said a few seconds later, “Bilden Bourke would be an eligible nomination.”
Sidney crunched down two more jeih chunks.”Weren’t you listening to what I said?”
“Bourke has been deployed on hundreds of planets and moons across Cosmotic, turning him into an agent of versatility. That flaring look in his eyes does remind me of Flame.”
“If the media mouths are correct,” said Sidney, “Bilden Bourke was charged for being an Arca double agent and a freelance mercenary for underworld organizations like the Riven Ring.”
“Arca hasn’t existed since Warbearer quelled it under Overseer Marsden’s — ”
“Summit.” Sidney glanced up at the ceiling as one of the angled panels glowed brighter than the others. Then her eyes returned to Olympus and Foxer’s faces in the hologram. “Excuse her. Anyway, if you’re so confident that you can cast your own affiliates into the unknown, even though you’re certain as to how my team deftly handles chaos, then that’s your choice to make. I can’t control it. Bilden Bourke, sure, he’ll survive a long time. And wasn’t Marsden fronting for one of her own affiliates, a Durko Stratton?”
“He isn’t suitable,” Olympus said under her breath, glimpsing down briefly. Then she lifted her chin, directing the tip of her pointed nose at Sidney. “You genuinely believe in your task force.” After Sidney nodded and munched some more jeih, Olympus said, “Janus and Freye seem to be of the same opinion. Owen, if we could convince the last two of them . . .”
“Those claims against Bourke are based on circumstantial evidence.” Foxer never toned down his eyes, but his lips parted for a second. “If you believe in your team . . . We will see.”
After Foxer’s face vanished from the hologram a moment later, Olympus and Sidney said their own goodbyes and officially concluded the videoconference. Sidney was left to tug off her socks and mumble, “Replacements, substitutes, eligible nominations. None of that matters.” She plodded out onto the balcony with heavy feet, gazing over the still-misty zone, regularly chewing her jeih. A quick flicker caught her peripheral vision and made her turn to the far-off sources: signal dishes swiveling on top of streetlights, emitting zigzagged patterns of dotted lights. She focused on them for a moment more, then turned her head back to the outdoors and picked the last jeih out of her mug.

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