Dineen is with it enough to transport back outside of the facility, but that’s about the extent of her abilities. She doesn’t even seem to recognize us at all. We try for hours, but nothing any of us do seems to have any effect. Naph is right. There’s no telling when she’ll snap out of this, and until she does we’re stuck here. Our only alternative would be to drag her back to the Arco and beg Tern to fix her. Even if we trusted Tern which I don’t, we don’t know if Dineen got the override key. If I can’t help Dineen, at least I can search for answers in the research center. Zeet agrees.
“I don’t like Naph being in there alone,” he said. “Myra-Blythe and I will keep trying to help Dineen. You go and help Naph.”
“Okay, we’ll check back every few hours,” I answer. “In the meantime, check to see if Dineen packed anything to keep her hands busy. That helped the last time this happened.”
I join Naph back inside the research facility. I try my best to ignore the gruesome video clips from the monitor. It’s easier without Dineen there. I find Naph examining the dozens of black pillars that fill the main room. Each one is about ten feet tall, cool and smooth to the touch. They all have small silver plaques with names etched on them. Naph is able to open a control panel on the front of one of the pillars, but the tech inside is beyond even Naph’s brain power. There are three doors at the far end of the room. While Naph is busy with the pillars, I decide to work on opening doors. I start with the middle one. It has a code panel much like the one at the entrance, but the code Jasom gave me doesn’t work on it. I spend hours trying every variation of numbers I can think of with no luck. I go at it with my axe, but I only succeed in dulling my second best blade, and getting a weird look from Naph.
“It’s not like you’re having any more luck than I am,” I retort.
“On the contrary, I’m compiling a comprehensive list of names to compare with the names on the burial markers outside the building,” he replies.
That doesn’t make any sense to me. Does he think the pillars are some sort of graves? Why would they put a marker in here if they were already buried out there? Besides it would take days to comb through all of those names.
“Count me out!” I tell him. “There’s no way I’m wasting my time with that. I’m going to get through this door if it’s the last thing I do!”
“Suit yourself,” he shrugged.
Turns out I’m right. It takes me almost two whole days, but I finally get the code right. I run outside to tell the others. Unfortunately, I startle Zeet and he dumps his oat mush on Dineen’s head. She doesn’t notice; she continues working on the fourth scarf she’s made in the last three hours.
“Oh good she’s still—“ I bite my tongue at Myra-Blythe’s frosty glare. “I mean it’s good that she’s still knitting. I’m sure she’ll be back to herself in no time, but in the meantime I got the door unlocked, and I didn’t even have to use my axe this time! Come and see!”
After some debate the others figure Dineen isn’t going anywhere, so they follow me inside. I can’t wait to see what’s behind the door. We go through the open door down a long hallway to another locked door.
“So how did you get in the last door?” Naph asked.
“Well, I just keyed in this code—“
The next thing I know, I’m back at the entrance to the center.
“Well, that worked great!” I mutter to myself.
I make it back to the door in time to hear Zeet panicking about how the door had murdered me.
“Relax! I’m right here. The stupid control pad sent me back to the entrance,” I explain. While I was gone, Zeet found a small window to the right of the control pad.
“I think this is some kind of control room,” Zeet tells me excitedly.
“What makes you think that?”
“There’s a sign right there that says CONTROL ROOM.”
He points to a sign barely visible through the tiny window.
That’s it! We have to get through that door. We all take turns trying to get through the doors, with no luck. We actually run out of Atoms and have to start dragging them back to the entrance. One by one the others give up.
“Come on! We can’t give up now! Naph! Don’t you want to find out what’s behind this door?”
“Do you know the definition of insanity?” Naph asks.
“What do you mean? I’m not crazy. Sooner or later this has to work!”
Hours later, I finally call it a night and return to the campfire. The others are all staring at a rusty old Atom that is half hidden in the grass.
“It moved,” Myra-Blythe tells us. “I know I saw it move.”
“It’s not moving now,” I point out.
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Naph answers. “Some Atoms have been known to start up without an Orber. We should keep an eye on it in case it wakes up.”
He looks at Zeet.
“You never know. This could be Evelis.”
Zeet volunteers to take the first watch. He’s convinced that there’s an undead bard out there somewhere that will give free magical music lessons to anyone who can catch him. I think it’s a little mean of Naph to take advantage of Zeet like that, but if it gets me more sleep maybe I can get Zeet to take my watch too.
Around midnight or so the Atom actually does power up. Naph wakes the rest of us up and introduces us to Biddi. Biddi looks like an eight or nine year old boy. He is skinny with freckles and piercing gray eyes. His fiery red hair sticks straight out from his head in all directions. The back of my neck gets tingly when I stand too close to him.
“Hi, Biddi, nice to meet you.”
He twitches and bolts of lightning shoot out from him.
“What did you do that for?” I demand as I pick myself off of the ground.
He grins. “No reason. I just like electricity.”
He starts twitching again. This time Zeet ends up face first in the dirt. This has to stop. Maybe we could tire him out. I point to a tree a solid distance away.
“Do you think you could hit that tree from here?” I ask.
He shoots out a massive stream of electricity.
“That’s really cool!” I encourage him. “Now how long can you keep that up?”
Five minutes later, the tree is a smoldering pile of ash and Biddi shows no signs of tiring. Naph speaks up.
“Hey Biddi, can you show us your pillar?”
“What do you mean his pillar—“
Myra-Blythe cuts me off.
“Naph are you crazy!” she demands. “Electricity around all those pillars? Do you even know what that might do to all the circuitry in there?”
Naph and Biddi ignore her and head to the facility. I’m still reeling and not just from Biddi’s shocks. Who is Biddi anyway?”
We enter the room with the pillars. Biddi immediately walks to the fourth row of pillars and stops at the third one from the left.
“Yep. This one’s mine,” he says.
The plaque on the front confirms it.
“Does lightning do anything to it?” Naph asked.
“I dunno,” Biddi shrugs. Then a bolt of electricity even larger than the last one erupts onto the pillar. All of us are knocked to the ground by the force, and Biddi’s Atom shuts down completely. The pillar is completely intact. There aren’t even any scorch marks.
“Why did you do that?” I yell at Naph. “What’s the matter with you? You could’ve gotten us all shut down. And now he’s gone again. How we find out what’s going on now!”
“Well, now we know the pillars are indestructible and Biddi’s no longer a threat.”
He refuses to say anything more, and I stop talking to him before I strangle him.
Thankfully, the next morning, Bidi is up and running again. He follows us back into the facility. The clips are still playing on the monitor. He points to the woman in the first clip.
“That’s Nadine,” he tells us.
The second clip starts playing. The air around Bidi begins to crackle and spark.
He points to one of the sleeping children in the clip.
“That’s me,” he whispers.
“How can that be you?” I wonder.
“It is me. Here I’ll show you.”
He shows us how to open another door. What’s behind it is horrifying. It is the same room from the second video clip. The one with the sleeping children, only it looks ancient. The beds are all rusty, and the linens have rotted with age and mildew. I don’t understand. Bidi is an Atom, not a human. The child in that clip must have died centuries ago. Bidi twitches frantically and we can all hear a faint hum emanating from him. We lead him out of the room before he zeeches everything in sight. As soon as we reach the campfire, Bidi lets loose. Flickers of lightning dart out in all directions. One of them hits Dineen. She yelps.
“Oh, hi Nadine!”
“I thought so,” Naph says with quiet satisfaction.
“Nadine? What does he mean—“
Suddenly the pieces of the puzzle seem to fall into place all at once. But I can’t quite believe it. Not yet.
“Bidi,” I ask, my voice shaking. “What happened to your parents?”
The question is too much for Bidi. He completely shuts down.
What happened to my parents? What happened to me?...