Team SoNaR climbed five meters down into the planetarium’s basement, closing the trap door above them. They were now in a rectangular storage room stacked floor to ceiling with unlabeled boxes covering one of the walls.
“It’s chilly down here.” Maddy looked around the room. “What do you suppose all those boxes are for?”
Aaden studied the stack. There had to of been over a hundred boxes. “Hopefully we don’t have to dig through all of them to find the next clue.”
“Let’s look around and see if we find anything first,” Maddy suggested.
Team SoNaR searched all around the boxes, finding nothing at first. Deciding to move the stack away from the wall, the teens finally found what they were looking for: a heavy metal door that had been hidden behind the boxes. The EIS symbol was engraved near the door’s handle.
“You guys think the secret is behind here?” Maddy asked.
“Only one way to find out.”
Corbyn turned the handle and opened the door. The team was engulfed in darkness as they stepped through into the next room.
Mr. Zhang made his routine phone call. “Good morning.”
“Yes, it is. You have an update?”
“The kids made it to the next location without issue.”
“Good. They should have the secret in no time. Stay on them just to make sure they don’t slip up in the end.”
Blackness filled the room.
“Get the flashlight out before we close the door,” Corbyn told Maddy.
Maddy grabbed the flashlight and turned it on. Corbyn let the door close and the team heard a click. They looked at the door and saw the source of the click: positioned just below the door’s handle were two lights, green and red. Only the red light was on, indicating the door was locked shut.
“Looks like we won’t be going back the way we came,” Aaden said nervously.
“Let’s just hope that was supposed to happen.” Maddy shined the flashlight around the room. “Looks like we’ll be exiting over there instead.”
Corbyn and Aaden followed the beam of light. It was aimed at a second door on the opposite side of the room. The red light under its handle indicated it too was locked.
“We’re going to have to figure out a way to unlock one of the doors at any rate,” Corbyn stated.
Team SoNaR surveyed the room for a couple more minutes. They saw they were standing in a box-shaped, concrete room approximately ten meters wide, eight meters deep, and four meters high. The concrete walls were bare and uninviting. The team’s attention was soon drawn to the center of the room.
“What’s that?” Aaden asked.
The teens stared at a circular, stainless steel pedestal. It was resting on the ground. Less than a meter tall and approximately a meter in diameter, and free of any markings, the solid pedestal looked like an uncomfortable footrest. Encircling the pedestal were twelve circular floor tiles, each about the size of a dinner plate. Upon further inspection, the teens noticed each of the white tiles had a different symbol etched into it.
“Interesting.” Corbyn knelt down and rubbed one of the tiles. He stood up and stepped on it. Nothing happened. “Wonder what these are for?”
Maddy aimed the flashlight at the pedestal and saw an envelope, complete with the EIS stamp, resting on top of it. “There’s our answer. Who wants to get it?”
“Why don’t you?” Corbyn replied.
Maddy gave Corbyn an irritated look. “Because I don’t trust that pedestal is why.”
“I’ll get it,” Aaden said. “What could happen?”
Aaden’s question was quickly answered. The moment he grabbed the envelope, the room came to life. The pedestal slowly descended into the ground until it was level with the floor. At the same time, the twelve tiles began to glow with a brilliant white light that filled the entire room.
The team stepped back in alarm.
“I think we just began our next puzzle.” Aaden looked at the tiles in fascination. “There must be a mass sensor on the pedestal that registers when the envelope is removed.”
“And you asked what could happen,” Maddy muttered.
Shocked, the team stood together and stared at the tiles, each with one of the following symbols etched into it:
♈ ♊ ♎ ♒ ♋ ♌ ♓ ♍ ♐ ♉ ♑ ♏
“I don’t recognize any of these symbols,” Maddy remarked. “What about you guys?”
Corbyn shook his head. “Nope.”
“Actually,” Aaden replied slowly, “they do look kinda familiar. I know I’ve seen some of them before. But I don’t remember when or where.”
“Let’s see what’s in the envelope,” Maddy suggested.
Aaden opened the envelope, pulled out a piece of paper, and unfolded it. Team SoNaR read what was written on it.
Inheritors of the Secret must be able to:
Communicate in many different scientific languages.
As the water-bearer tends to the crop,
the twins gather fishes,
and the archer hunts the ram.
Step on each in the correct order,
And you may proceed.
Make three mistakes,
And your quest will end.
“Great,” Maddy remarked pessimistically. “This one is way out of my league.”
Corbyn was confident in his team. “We’ll be fine. Since when did we let a puzzle get the best of us?”
Maddy appreciated his optimism. She smiled warmly.
For the first time since the quest began, Aaden did not feel any jealousy from the interaction.
“My guess is that the bolded words in the clue correspond to some of the symbols on the floor,” Corbyn said. “We just need to figure out which symbol corresponds to each word, step on that tile, and unlock the door.”
“Without making three mistakes,” Maddy clarified. “This isn’t the time to be careless.”
“True,” Corbyn admitted. “Any ideas Aaden?”
Even though the meaning of the symbols was on the tip of his tongue, Aaden shook his head. He knew the fact there were twelve of them had to be significant; he just couldn’t figure out how or why.
“Okay.” Corbyn thought for a moment. “Maybe we should start by figuring out which symbol corresponds to the water-bearer first.”
“Why that one?” Maddy asked.
“Because the clue says that we have to step on the correct tiles in the correct order, right?” Corbyn studied the tiles carefully. “Because the water-bearer is mentioned first, that’s probably the first tile we need to step on.”
Suddenly, the meaning behind the symbols hit Aaden squarely in the head. “These are the twelve symbols of the Zodiac! I knew I’d seen them before!”
“But aren’t the symbols of the Zodiac based on astrology?” Maddy asked skeptically. “I thought we’re supposed to be focusing on astronomy.”
Corbyn looked confused. “Aren’t astrology and astronomy basically the same thing?”
Aaden shook his head. “Not even close. Astrology is considered by most scientists as a false science. It basically says the position of celestial bodies can predict things like future events, people’s personalities, and so on. Astronomy is the actual scientific study of those same celestial objects. The chemistry of stars, the physics behind orbits, things like that.”
“Okay,” Maddy said, “I’m confused, then. If we’re supposed to focus on astronomy, why would we have to know astrological signs?”
“Because the signs aren’t just useful in astrology. They also represent the actual constellations astrology is based on. Think of them as another language of astronomy.” Aaden took a moment for his statement to sink in.
“Which is what the clue means by different scientific languages,” Maddy concluded. “So, if I’m following correctly, each of the symbols represents a different constellation in space. And we need figure out which constellation symbol represents the water-bearer first.”
“And do you know which constellation that is?” Corbyn asked hopefully.
“Not a clue. But I can rule out one of the tiles to get us started at least.”
“Which one?” Maddy asked.
Aaden pointed to the one with the ♉on it. “This symbol represents a bull. It’s the constellation Taurus.”
Maddy nodded. “Makes sense. It sort of looks like a bull’s head with horns.”
“But as you can see,” Aaden pointed to the ♌, “not all symbols are so obvious.”
“Let’s hope the symbols we need do look like what they represent then,” Corbyn replied. “Any suggestions for the water-bearer?”
The team looked over the tiles. Maddy eventually pointed to the ♒ tile. “That one kinda looks like waves of water.”
“Could be,” Aaden replied. “Should I try it?”
Maddy and Corbyn agreed. Maddy held her breath.
“Here goes nothing.” Aaden stepped on the tile. It instantly turned green.
“I’m guessing green is a good thing,” Corbyn said with relief.
Maddy exhaled. “One down, four to go. Which one is next?”
“The twins,” Aaden replied. “Is there a symbol that looks like twins?”
Corbyn pointed to the ♋. “What about this one?”
“Could be,” Aaden said. He thought for a moment then agreed.
Corbyn stepped on the tile. It turned red.
“I’m guessing red is bad thing,” Aaden said.
“Okay, no more of that,” Maddy declared. “One mistake is enough.”
Being even more careful, Team SoNaR worked its way through the remaining four symbols. Eventually, with much thought and discussion, they decided the most likely symbol for the twins was ♊ (“it looks like a two and might symbolize two human beings”), the fishes ♓ (“it looks like two fishes side-by-side”), the archer ♐ (“for its resemblance to a bow and arrow”), and the ram ♈ (“it looks like a ram’s head with spiral horns”).
Following the order of the clue, Aaden cautiously stepped from tile to tile. Fortunately, every single one turned green. As soon as he stepped on the final tile, the red light on the door’s lock across the room changed to green. The door that Team SoNaR had originally walked through remained locked.
“Good job.” Maddy picked up the team’s backpack. “Moving on?”
The teens walked across the room. Maddy turned the door’s handle; it opened easily. After walking through and letting the door close and lock behind them, Team SoNaR was again standing in a room bathed in darkness.
For the final time, Sarah called Isaac.
“Thanks for keeping me in the loop this week.”
“No problem. Mom’s improving slowly. She still might be sent home in a day or two.”
“That’s great. We can’t wait to have you back.”
“If everything goes as the doctor hopes, it shouldn’t be too long. I’ll let you know either way.”
“Thanks, Sarah. Give your mother my best.”
“Will do. Talk to you soon.”
Successfully through the first test, Team SoNaR was again standing in another pitch-black room.
“Flashlight?” Corbyn said.
Maddy turned the flashlight on and moved the beam around the room. The team saw this room was similar in many respects to the room they had just left. It had two locked doors with red lights: the one Team SoNaR had just walked through and another on the opposite side. It was also made of concrete in the exact same dimensions as the previous one. And another stainless steel pedestal, identical to the previous one complete with an envelope on top, was in the center.
Despite the similarities, the room had striking differences as well. For one, there were no circular tiles surrounding the pedestal. Additionally, the concrete walls were not bare. Instead, what appeared to be over a hundred projectors, their lenses aimed in all different directions, were embedded in the walls.
“Let’s do this.” Corbyn walked to the pedestal and grabbed the envelope.
The room transformed. While the pedestal lowered into the ground, light flooded the room as the projectors turned on. Image after image began to seemingly pop up out of nowhere all around the team.
“Holograms,” Aaden said as he admired the array of three dimensional images that filled the interior of the room. “Of different galaxies.”
Indeed, well over forty holographic images of different galaxies were suspended in midair throughout the room. The effect was stunning. Every single image appeared to defy gravity as it hung in front of, on top of, and behind Team SoNaR.
Aaden was entranced. “How cool is this?”
He reached out to touch one of the holograms. Just as he was about to make contact, Corbyn ordered him to stop. Aaden jerked his hand away reflexively.
“Why not? They’re not gonna hurt me.”
Corbyn held up the piece of the paper he’d just taken out of the envelope. “This is why not.”
Aaden read the next clue. Maddy looked over his shoulder.
Inheritors of the Secret must be able to:
Make the most logical decisions when given many to choose from.
Touch 1st a creature that loves water before land;
Touch 2nd a head-piece known as a “shade maker”;
Touch 3rd the ones that remain joined after birth;
Touch 4th the rotational structures found on a leisure vehicle.
Touch each in the correct order,
And you may proceed.
Make two mistakes,
And your quest will end.
“Thanks. I got a bit too excited by all the images around us.”
“Many to choose from,” Corbyn noted.
Aaden nodded. “And we need to touch four specific ones in the correct order to move on.”
“This isn’t going to be easy,” Maddy realized. “Any ideas, Aaden?”
“Do you recognize any of the galaxies at all?” Corbyn asked.
Aaden shook his head. “I do know that galaxies typically fall into one of three main classes. But I don’t know the actual names of most of them.” He pointed at a galaxy that was in the shape of a hurricane. “That one’s a spiral galaxy.”
“Kind of looks like the Milky Way,” Maddy noted.
“Exactly. And if you look up to the left, there’s a galaxy that’s really bright and sort of looks like an egg. That’s an elliptical galaxy.”
“What’s the third one?” Corbyn asked.
Aaden looked around. He found a galaxy directly above Team SoNaR’s head. “The shape of that galaxy isn’t a perfect spiral or a perfect ellipse.”
“It’s sort of irregular and all over the place,” Corbyn noticed.
“Right. That’s a lenticular galaxy. It doesn’t really have a definite shape, though it sometimes gets confused with elliptical galaxies. It all depends on the angle the telescope photographs it.”
“But you don’t know the name of any of them?” Maddy got back to the point of the room’s clue.
“No. But….wait…” Aaden did a double-take. “You guys see that?”
Maddy followed his gaze. “See what?”
“That galaxy over there. It doesn’t really look like it fits into any of the classes, does it?”
Corbyn and Maddy studied the galaxy. It was shaped far different from the spiral, elliptical, and lenticular ones Aaden had just pointed out. It had a circular and very bright center cluster of stars, a ring of stars surrounding the center, and numerous rows of stars extending radially from the center cluster out to the ring.
“I don’t get it,” Maddy replied. “Why’s that galaxy look so different?”
Aaden shrugged. “No clue. Probably worth paying attention to though.”
Maddy looked confused. “Why?”
“Because of its weird shape. Try looking at it as if you were looking at a cloud on a sunny day.”
“Okay,” Maddy replied. “Still not following.”
“What do most people do when they stare at clouds?”
“They try to figure out what the shape of the cloud looks like,” Corbyn said.
“Exactly. Do the same thing for that galaxy. What do you see?”
Corbyn and Maddy finally caught on.
“It kind of looks like a bicycle wheel,” Maddy said.
“Exactly.” Aaden smiled. “I think you just solved the fourth line of the clue. Touch 4th the rotational structures found on a leisure vehicle. It has to be this galaxy since it looks so much like a bicycle wheel.”
“But before we touch this image,” Maddy said, “we need to figure out the other three galaxies first.”
“Makes sense now,” Corbyn said. “So what’s the first line talking about?”
“I vote we sit down and figure out all four lines before we start walking around,” Aaden suggested. “I don’t want to accidentally bump into the wrong galaxy or anything.”
Team SoNaR found a small space to sit together. They spent nearly twenty minutes puzzling over the first three lines to the clue. They ultimately decided that the first line referred to an amphibian (“they begin as water breathers before changing into air breathers”), the second to a large hat (“a head-piece that creates shade”), and the third to Siamese twins (“two organisms still joined after birth”).
“All right,” Maddy said. “Now we need to carefully walk around and find the galaxies that look like these objects. Aaden, you search for one that looks like a frog, toad, or salamander. Corbyn, you search for one that looks like a large hat of some sort. I’ll search for two galaxies that seem to be joined together somehow.”
“Sounds good.” As Aaden stood up, he slipped and stumbled forward.
“Be careful!” Maddy reached to steady him.
But it was too late. Aaden brushed up against a galaxy whose image hovered not far from where Team SoNaR was sitting. The image of the galaxy distorted. Seconds later, it was no longer recognizable as a galaxy. Suddenly, the image went out.
“Now we know what it looks like when we get one wrong,” Corbyn said.
“I’m sorry.” Aaden’s shoulders slumped. “I didn’t mean to.”
Maddy took a deep breath. “We know. But that means we can’t make another mistake now. Be super careful.”
With extraordinary caution, Team SoNaR walked around the room. They studied the various holographic images, looking for galaxies that resembled the objects discussed in the clue. Maddy eventually saw one that looked promising.
“Check this one out.” She pointed to a galaxy hovering just above her head.
The twins carefully maneuvered through the room and joined Maddy. They looked at the galaxy. It was an image of two spiral galaxies that were connected together by a thin arm of stars.
“Siamese twins,” Aaden said with a gleam in his eye. “Good job, Maddy.”
“Two down, two to go,” Corbyn said.
Team SoNaR split up and searched through the remaining holograms. Aaden soon found an image that seemed to fit the first line of the clue. He called Corbyn and Maddy over.
“No way,” Maddy exclaimed. “It looks just like a tadpole.”
Aaden grinned. “Complete with head and tail. Amphibian galaxy?”
Corbyn and Maddy agreed.
“This is the first one we’re supposed to touch,” Maddy said. “Are we sure this is the one?”
“I haven’t found anything else that looks even remotely like an amphibian. There’s only one way to find out.” Aaden hesitantly reached towards the hologram and touched it with his finger. The Tadpole Galaxy (as it is known in astronomy) distorted to the point where it was no longer recognizable. The teens held their breaths. But instead of going out, the hologram eventually came back into focus. It was now much brighter than before. Maddy, Corbyn, and Aaden all sighed with relief.
“Good job,” Maddy said. “Three more to go.”
“Next is a galaxy that looks like a hat,” Corbyn said.
The teens continued their search. Sometime later, Corbyn spotted something.
“Look here.” Corbyn pointed to a flat galaxy that had an unusually large bulge of light in the center. “What do you think?”
“Looks like a hat with a large brim to me,” Maddy said. “What do you think Aaden?”
“I think so,” Aaden replied.
“Should I?” Corbyn asked.
The team finally agreed to test the hologram. Holding his breath, Corbyn touched the image of the Sombrero Galaxy. Team SoNaR was two for two.
Corbyn breathed out deeply. “Two more to go.”
Team SoNaR walked back to the Siamese Twins Galaxy. Maddy touched the image. It was correct, leaving only the image that Aaden had originally discovered left.
“Do it,” Maddy told Aaden. “Since you’re the one that found it.”
Aaden smiled and touched the image of the Cartwheel Galaxy. With all four holograms touched in the correct sequence, the red light on the next door turned green. The team opened the unlocked door and stepped into a third darkened room.