“Yes! Freedom!” Shades crowed as he stepped outside the Centralict Library, and onto the street.
He and Bandit, and Max and Justin, at last reunited, and Kato, strode out the double doors at the entrance and down the wide stone steps out front. Having literally and symbolically left their former prisons behind. The Mall. Tranz-D. All of them were in high spirits just to see an open sky above them, except for one.
“Where the hell are they?…” Kato muttered.
No sign of Chase or George.
Meanwhile, Max was already filling Justin in on what had happened after they got separated. Like true adventurers, Shades reflected, already boasting of the perils they had faced. As they walked down the steps, Shades looked back, and a peculiar longing struck him. On their way out, he had a chance to glance among the stacks, seeing entire lifetimes of eras— centuries, if not millennia— sitting side by side on the shelves. To him, the library by which all others would be measured. For a moment, he felt a compelling urge to ditch his companions and go back in and just hang out for a while. A few hours, a few years, he was certain there were books in there he would never find anywhere else. Books he desired very much to read, and he vowed that if he ever passed this way again, he would stay, for a good long while.
For now, though, he had important matters to settle now that he was free.
While Shades arranged his settlement with the librarian, Justin went into one of the employee restrooms to clean up and change into his new gear. As well as use up an entire first aid kit and a half. They were the same strange clothes in which both Max and Shades were garbed, but he was elated just that they weren’t Cyexian, or rags, for that matter. Based on Max’s description of his friend, Shades had done his best shopping for him. The pants were a little long, but at least he could tuck them into his new Romper-Stompers— a surprisingly good fit— and although he had never seen underwear like the kind Shades presented, at least they were comfortable. Also included was a light, but warm, jacket that he could have used a couple weeks ago, as well as some other items he certainly wasn’t about to complain about.
Had suggested burning his old clothes, but that Shades person warned him from outside the stall that it would set off the fire alarms and draw too much attention. The mere mention of alarms was enough for him, and he settled for dumping them in the trash as Shades uttered a préemptive apology to whatever poor janitor happened to stumble upon it later. As long as he never had to look at them again; he was tired of being constantly reminded of his long-ended captivity. Besides, in a couple shopping bags, Max had brought him more stuff than all of his possessions in the Triangle State and aboard the Skerry combined.
During that same time, Max mostly kept a watchful eye on Kato, while she just stood around looking bored and irritated and impatient. Much as she was doing now.
“Now can we talk about the medallions?” Justin wanted, more than anything else, to simply get underway after so much dawdling.
“Now seems like a good time,” Kato replied, taking a good look up and down the sidewalk to make sure no potential eavesdroppers were loitering. At last, the second Tri-Medal… “We have other important things to talk about, but now is a good time. Mind if I have a look at that necklace of yours?”
“I guess…” Max and Shades said in unison.
Justin and Kato stared at Shades as he also took off a similar-looking medallion.
“You… you’ve got one too?” Kato had somehow hit the jackpot— two Tri-Medals in one day. She decided now that her harrowing experience in Tranz-D was more than worth it. “Can I see that for a minute, man?”
Shades shrugged and handed it to her.
Max almost said something, but kept his mouth shut, deciding for now that perhaps he may have overreacted to her being Cyexian.
Kato reached into the collar of her hoodie, fetching out a medallion of her own. As the three of them took turns examining them, Justin took a look at them as well. Even a cursory examination revealed them to have common origins: the same shape and color, and especially similar design elements, including the same style of symbols inscribed upon each of them, clearly part of the same original alphabet.
“Sorry about shoving everyone out so fast, but four-eyes there didn’t need to know about this…” And Justin had almost spilled the beans. The number of people she would have to cut in on this just jumped again, but she decided it was a small price to pay for what she had now. “These things don’t just fall out of the sky, Shades. Where’d you get this?”
“Some tourist-trap in Glacier Park about six, seven years ago…” What he wanted to know, after all these years, and especially in light of Max possessing one too, was what Kato knew that made her so excited about a fifty-cent trinket from another dimension. “What are these things?”
“Extremely valuable artifacts,” Kato told them, pausing for a moment to figure out what next to tell them of what she knew. As far as she was concerned, the fewer who knew the secret, the fewer rivals she would have to contend with. “As you can see, I have one, too.”
“Now we have all three…” Justin gloated, unable to believe how much his luck had changed in the last hour or so, that the first thing he would be doing upon regaining his freedom was going on a treasure hunt.
“The keys to an ancient treasure!” Kato finished, not to be topped.
“What treasure?” was all Shades could come up with to say.
“Yeah.” Though this had more than adequately piqued Max’s curiosity.
“Neither of you know what these are?” Kato asked.
Both of them shook their heads.
“I do,” Justin added.
“That’s just ’cause I told you, shorty.” Kato could see Justin hated it when she pointed out his height. “Those medallions hold the keys to the treasure of a lost civilization,” she told them. “We don’t know all the details, but I’ve researched it enough to know that these inscriptions tell of the location of hidden treasure. That was why I came to the Centralict Library in the first place. The fact that they exist is proof that they’re part of something.”
“But let me guess. You still can’t translate it, can you?” Shades wanted a plan. He put his own medallion back on. She would of course have to cut them in on the action, but he wanted to see if she knew what she was doing. On one hand, her explanation of his medallion’s origin seemed to ring true in a way he couldn’t quite articulate, yet he still wanted to make sure he wasn’t about to set out on a wild goose chase.
“Well, that’s why we’re here,” Kato said. Justin had been so excited, while this Max seemed somewhat standoffish, and then there was Shades, who seemed less inclined to listen to her than the others. “With the Centralict Library at our disposal, there’s gotta be something about the Tri-Medals. There ain’t a better place in the world to find it than right here.”
“Then why are we standing outside?” Max asked, now that he thought about it.
“Come on guys, quit askin’ stupid questions!” Justin pleaded. “You’re in, right?”
“Maybe you’re right…” Max conceded.
“Any friend of Max’s is a friend of mine,” Shades said. “If Max trusts you, I guess I do, too.” After all, Max had known Justin longer, but he felt that his friend was being uncharacteristically prejudicial about Kato just because she was Cyexian, and he hoped he would give her the benefit of the doubt as Justin apparently already had. Besides, he told himself, if all else fails, I’ll only be out fifty cents. Still, who’d’ve thought it could be so valuable? Only in the Sixth Dimension…
After thinking it over for a long moment, he told her, “There are two people in this world who are very important to me, that I’m searching for, and searching for this lost civilization should allow me to travel to a lot of places. We’ll give it a try, but if things go sideways, we reserve the right to go our separate ways. Also, if I find any clues to my friends’ whereabouts, I will also opt to drop out of the hunt to search for them. If that happens, we can discuss what to do with my… Tri-Medal.” Trying to wrap his tongue around the word. “How does that sound?”
“Okay,” said Max, glad to know that Shades hadn’t forgotten about his own friends in the midst of all this talk about adventure.
“As long as the three of us get a fifty percent cut of whatever we find,” said Justin, sealing the deal. “After all, Max and I already agreed fifty-fifty.”
“Deal,” Kato agreed.
“Now what?” Justin asked.
“Now we find out where those lazy bums wandered off to,” Kato replied.
“Oh yeah, I forgot all about them…” Justin mumbled.
“What lazy bums?” Shades asked.
“The ones who were traveling with me,” Kato informed them, realizing that, in her excitement over finding two Tri-Medals at once, she had forgotten about her friends. Who she had hoped would be loafing around somewhere near the entrance yet weren’t. “The three of us call ourselves the Triad. Chase is about your height, Shades,” pointing to him, “with red hair, but he likes to wear a wide-brim hat. He wears a big coat and carries a lot of guns. Kinda has a thing for weapons.
“My other friend, George, well, he’s a strange one. He’s a little taller than you, Justin,” smiling as he glared at her again, “with wild, scruffy-kinda brown hair. He’s got these eyes that always seem to be staring off into space. He may not be very bright, but for some reason, he’s a whiz with computers and mechanical stuff. I don’t know how he does it. I would ask, but he can’t talk. At some point before we met him, somebody cut out his tongue.”
“And where are these friends of yours?” Max intoned.
“That’s what I want to know,” Kato told them. She should have known Chase had other places in mind when he declined to help her research. “By now I suppose they’ve found some kind of trouble to get into… They know I hate it when they do that without me.”
“Why do I get the feeling you’re asking for help?” Shades asked.
“I suppose I am,” she confessed. “The two of them are my team, so you can see how I can’t go anywhere until I’ve found them. The sooner we do, the sooner we can start searching for the treasure.”
“It’s not like we have anything better to do,” Shades told her.
“You did help Justin.” Max remembered his mother telling him that, even though the Islanders had their disputes with the clans of those waters, he should not judge all Cyexians he met by their deeds, that Cyexians had even helped her and Dad a few times along the way. “We should at least help you find your friends.”
“Yeah, you’re right, Max.” Justin really wanted to get going, but he was sure that having Kato’s friends along would improve their chances on the way. “Let’s go.”
“But where do we look?” Max pointed out.
“Let’s split up,” Shades suggested. “We can cover more ground that way. We’ll each check around a different neighborhood at the same time. Then we all meet back here in a couple hours and compare notes.”
“Sounds like a plan,” said Kato.
“Let’s go already,” Justin insisted. A Layoshan and a Cyexian joining forces. Justin never thought he’d see the day. Now I have seen it all…
And so they split up to help Kato find her missing friends.