“How was your break?” Cindy asked.

“Meh. Kinda boring,” Bryce replied. “Jefferson and I got into a big fight and weren’t talking to each other for a bunch of it. But we’re back together now.”

Cindy smirked, then looked to Madison. “And yours?”

“It was a shit show,” she said.

“Oh, no! Tell me!” Cindy leaned forward across the cafeteria table in rapt attention.

“I had a big fight with my biodad.”

“What about?”

“He tried to get me to stop looking into the story. I guess his heart is in the right place. He’s worried about my safety. But he went about it the wrong way and I got pissed.”

“Bummer,” Cindy said.

“How about you? What’d you do over break?”

Cindy’s face lit up. “I made bank. Lots of people home and looking for something to stream, I guess. It’s going to be a good quarter for me.”

“Quarter?” Bryce asked. “What are you talking about?”

Cindy looked at him, then at Madison. She pursed her lips.

“Cindy has a little business outside school,” Madison said. “That’s probably all you need to know.”

“Whatever,” Bryce replied, already looking down at his phone.

“So what’s going on with the case?” Cindy asked.

“I talked to Mr. Black,” Madison said. “He told me a lot of stuff, some of which is probably true, and some of which is probably bullshit. I’m trying to figure out which is which.”

“Tell me more!” Cindy pleaded.

“He says all those warehouses around the world are for disaster relief. He said they’re stockpiling stuff so they can help people, like the Red Cross. But on a much bigger scale.”

“Three orders of magnitude bigger,” Cindy said.

“What’s an order of magnitude?” Bryce asked, looking up from his phone.

“A factor of ten,” Cindy explained. “So three orders of magnitude just means a thousand.”

“Why didn’t you just say a thousand?” he asked.

Cindy rolled her eyes in response. “So anyway, I guess that makes sense. And the guns are in case the people they are helping get greedy?”

“I assume so. And maybe the gold bullion is in case they need to trade for resupply,” Madison guessed.

“So what part do you think is bullshit?” Cindy asked.

“He made it sound like they are preparing for a big disaster that might happen eventually. He rattled off a bunch of possibilities. But those things aren’t necessarily going to happen any time soon. I mean, sea levels are rising, but the Atlantic isn’t going to be in Illinois. And wildfires are a big deal out west, but they don’t happen in farm country. I guess we could have more floods, but that’s nothing new around here.”

“Maybe they are planning for the long term,” Cindy said.

Madison shook her head. “Too many perishables. I mean sure, you can stockpile blankets and stuff for years and years, but they are collecting food and medicine. That stuff expires.”

Cindy nodded. “Oh. Yeah. I see what you mean.”

“I have a clue, though,” Madison said brightly.

“You don’t,” Bryce replied, not looking up from his phone. “You have a meaningless doodle.”

“What?” Cindy asked.

“Do you know anything about the Star Wars franchise?” Madison asked.

“Star Wars? I’ve seen a lot of the movies,” Cindy said. “But I’m no expert. I know some experts, though.”

“You do?” Madison asked with excitement.

Cindy turned to face her old table. She waved and they waved back. “Yeah, like a whole table of them. Want me to introduce you?”

“Yes, please,” Madison said.

“Come on! They’re cool people,” Cindy said, sliding out from the table. She led Madison over to her old table. Bryce stayed behind playing on his phone.

“Everybody, this is Madison. Madison, this is everybody,” Cindy said. The people at the table waved and greeted her unenthusiastically. “Madison has a Star Wars question.”

Everyone at the table looked at the same boy, who was grinning. “Bring it!” he said.

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