For over a year, Professor Agatha Ng worked from sunrise to sundown, trying to discover the link between the hourglass in the Harenian text and the recent occurrences: the Zucarrum attack, Dion’s ominous declaration, and the sudden integration of the Nature Spirits. And here she stood, mere meters from the entrance of Sparkle-licked Spring, a location so remote and mysterious that it was literally shielded from outsiders by a powerful spell. And a spell, of all things! No amount of education or experience could have prepared her for all that had happened since her arrival on the lonely asteroid, Cruithne.
Her eyes traced the edges of the forest and over the beautiful flora. Flowers of ruby and sapphire and other lively greenery mounted themselves in a tangled mesh between the trees, forming a stunning wall offering additional protection to the captivating spring. A wall. Ng’s lips stretched to an expressionless, straight line. To any outsider, the vegetation intertwined in the lattice seemed to have a destiny devoted to providing structure and strength to the protective barrier. But those who know… They know that the flora is only acting in accordance to basic biology; the towering forest trees block the undergrowth from sunlight. So, to survive, the vegetation grows toward the sunlight on the outside of the spring, to continue photosynthesis. Nothing, no matter how powerful or sustainable, can resist the basic principles of survival.
The recognition evoked a flashing flurry of images inside her mind, each one leading the previous around a circular path. It was as if Agatha were peering upward into a mobile of precious reminiscences, memories she avoided since she departed Earth.Tears flooded her eyes as she submitted to the repressed thoughts and feelings. A familiar scene then appeared to her, reanimating from thick blotches of senseless color.
She didn’t believe in true love, and she was quick to criticize any of her peers that succumbed to such petty and immature claims. Love was only a result of certain chemicals and hormones reacting in the body of a human being. More importantly, love was a distraction; it caused irrefutable errors in essential work, ruining progress and soiling evidence. Granted, she was bound to the rules of human biology, as everybody else was, but that was why she vowed to never allow herself to feel, to care.
Feelings would just get in the way.
And then she met him. He was the newest intern at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), studying Aeronautical Engineering. At twenty-one, he earned his undergraduate degree, and hoped to land a job with NASA when he completed graduate school. But what fascinated her about the new intern was not his notable courage and aptitude, but rather it was how much he reminded her of her own self. Sure, he could never outwit or surpass her strength when dealing with vast amounts of nearly incomprehensible data, but she sensed potential in him.
On the contrary, however, the way he talked, the way he moved – every piece of his being was a mystery to her. And she did not take a liking to submission. She would crack this enigma of a man, just like the other mysteries she solved. To her, the young man was much more than another manila file on her desk. He was perhaps the only human being who could understand her “sophisticated babble” – as several of her co-scientists called her dialogue.
The first day she saw him, he could have been considered another high school student on one of the tours; he wore khakis that appeared to be several sizes too large, a plaid shirt hung loose and untucked over this thighs, and a blue and black cap turned backwards. His sharp-rimmed, crystalline glasses supported his intellect where his other apparel failed, however. Tufts of feathery, amber hair
rebelliously escaped through the bottom of the hat, giving the young man an even greater sense of youth. His eyes, the color of sifted, damp earth in a fertile field, peered into the scientist’s sapphire.
He approached the female scientist, hands folded neatly at his gut, calm and confident. All the other interns could not even look her in the eye without breaking a sweat, but this one appeared as if he had already known her. It was like he had everything preplanned in a fail-proof strategy that he devised on his short walk to meet the prestigious scientist. Then, in a single gesture, he offered her his hand; he was expecting a welcoming handshake. “Hello, my name is Matthew Brays, and I believe I am your intern for this term.”
She did not return the friendly gesture, and remained perched with arms folded tightly across her chest. Her position caused her white coat to grip her body, uncomfortably revealing her toned figure to Matthew. She noticed his open expression shift slightly. It wasn’t a significant change, but such a small change this scientist was trained to record. Perhaps her arsenal built with a degree of
distance and intelligence would not break the defenses of this new intern. She would bring a slimy weapon she never imagine she’d use; she would intimidate her way into the softer core of Matthew. It was a game.
“I’ve read all about you, Matthew. I am Agatha Ng, chief scientist and experimenter here. I believe you are capable of great things. But, should you have an inkling of a hope to achieve success, I advise you not to disappoint me,” Ng stated blatantly. Matthew smiled, seething with determination. “Oh, I assure you, Professor Ng, everything I provide you will be nothing short of perfection…”
Ng interrupted, agitated, “I am no professor. Please, call me Dr. Ng.” She paused to remove a pen and small notebook from her lab coat pocket. “But for now, I request that you please return to the interns’ office. I will call you with your first assignment.”
The two parted ways, with Ng’s expression as blank as the open notebook she held in her hand. Matthew never stopped grinning. He was going to enjoy this internship much more than he expected.
“Agatha?” Callie waved a hand in front of the face of her friend. “What’s wrong?”
The professor broke from the trance to wipe the tear that had fallen onto her cheek. How could she have been so stupid?
Turning to her confused acquaintance, she muttered, “Nothing. Let’s go.” And so the duo walked forward, inching closer to the refreshing spring and closer to the answers that had eluded them for far too long.