“Thanks, Cassie,” Torque said. “My hands feel a ton better already. What’s in it?” She leaned against the rough, dark brown trunk of a towering pine tree. She was massaging a slick golden liquid between her wounded hands. The red-black burns scarring her palms crumbled off like the silver flakes of a scratch-off ticket. The scrawny girl with glasses shrugged. She knelt to the forest floor and returned the bottle of gold liquid back in her green backpack.
“I couldn’t find anything out beyond…,” Cassie lifted her hands for air-quotes. “…nanos and magic,” she said. “I guess it’s a secret the Academy wants to keep.” Torque nodded then stopped rubbing and looked at her hands. They were completely healed.
“Where’d your friend go?” Torque asked before the silence could get awkward.
“She brought me to have a picnic with the unicorns; but, then we found you,” Cassie said with a friendly smile. Torque immediately felt like she was intruding.
“I’m all better now, see?” Torque showed Cassie her healed palms. “You guys have your picnic,” she raised her hand in the air and wiggled her fingers rapidly. “I’ll go practice somewhere else,” she said. Despite her words and her digits waving frantically in the air; nothing happened. Torque still hadn’t completely mastered Traversing yet. Cassie giggled and shook her head.
“I’m still answering your question,” she said. “Cherry went to go get more supplies so you could join us.”
“Oh,” Torque said. She quickly latched on to the excuse and dropped her hand. “Yeah, I could eat. Thanks,” she said. After she accepted a wide, horizontal black hole appeared on the ground, then it traveled upward. It revealed a perfectly square dinner table as it floated up. The table was made of dark wood and it was surrounded by three chairs made from the same material. A tall brass candlestick sat on the middle of the table with a lit black candle resting in it. Torque whipped her head back and forth looking for Cherry.
“She’s not here?” Torque asked. “She put the table here perfectly without seeing it?” She asked in amazement. On her best days, Torque could open a portal to anywhere about half the time. Traversing was supposed to be easy for Estrellas, but she never thought it could be so effortless for someone. Cherry placed the table blindly from another universe. Cassie smiled. A smaller black hole appeared and rose from the table; it left behind three large pizza boxes.
“She’s really good,” Cassie walked to the table and sat down. She did not dig into the food yet, but she pointed at another chair for Torque. As Torque eased into her own seat a worrying thought struck her.
“Is she… in Star Brigade too?” she asked. She was relieved when Cassie shook her head.
“She’s uh…,” the fair-skinned girl bit her lip in thought for a moment. “She has a job that keeps her busy,” she said. “She’s not even a student at the Academy.” Another black hole left a basket of fried chicken on the table. Torque marveled at every delivery. The food containers landed flush on the table as if they’d always been there. They did not appear even a millimeter above the table needing to fall that last bit.
“She can probably teach me better than Dirge,” Torque considered how she might get Cherry to tutor her. Then, she wondered if Cassie was doing the same thing. Before she could ask, the white-haired girl appeared in her seat at the table; deposited by a black portal. She immediately reached for a box of pizza; Cassie joined in and grabbed some chicken.
“Oh, forgot the drinks,” Cherry said. She took a big bite of pizza as a black portal appeared and disappeared leaving behind a 3-liter soda. A second portal delivered a short stack of empty plastic cups.
“Okay,” Torque said. “How the hell do you do that so well?” she asked. Cherry smiled and the pizza bulged her cheeks out. Without saying a word she reached for a plastic cup and held it up. A small, quarter-sized portal appeared above the cup and began leaking soda into it. Cherry nodded at the 3-liter bottle and Torque looked. She saw a small black portal in the bottle draining the soda; her eyes widened. Cherry stopped the stream of soda, took a big gulp to wash her pizza down, then she looked at Torque. She shrugged.
“Don’t know,” she said. “I just do.”