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Jen leaned over the edge of the fountain, watching the argument. She probably should have gotten out of the fountain, but the water was just the right pleasantly cool temperature. Besides, she was already sopping wet, so there wasn’t really any point in getting out.

“Hey,” she said to Mrs. Sharma. “At least this place doesn’t seem so bad!”

Mrs. Sharma turned toward her.

“It doesn’t seem so bad, but we’re on a strange alien world. Who knows how dangerous it is here? Who knows whether some extraterrestrial predator is stalking us right now? Or whether the plant stuck in Angelina’s hairpin is poisonous to the touch?”

Angelina brushed wildly at her head until she dislodged the leaf that was stuck there.

Jen didn’t understand why Mrs. Sharma was so focused on what bad things might happen. If they had to get stuck on an alien world instead of going home, Angelina could have picked a worse world to accidentally take them to. At least they’d ended up somewhere with plenty of air, lots of pretty plants, and a very refreshing fountain. They could have ended up on one of those planets that rained glass or something.

“Why don’t we just focus on the bright side?” said Jen. “We’re all alive, we’re all safe, and this place is way nicer than where we were before. We were already in a dangerous place. At least now we’re in a dangerous place full of pretty flowers!”

“She’s right,” said Sam. “We could have ended up somewhere like Venus where it rains sulfuric acid.”

She gave him a smile. Having his backup was a relief. She wasn’t sure if she was imagining it, but things had felt weird around him since they’d run into each other in the Pit. It didn’t surprise her– they were all trapped in a strange reality, he’d lost his fingers, he’d developed some kind of superpowers–but having him back her up felt like reassurance that none of the weirdness had affected their relationship.

“Thanks, Sammy! See? We just have to–“

“Tut, tut, Samurai,” interrupted Lachlan. “Surface temperatures on Venus are about 475 degrees, and sulfuric acid evaporates at 300. I’d think a brilliant man of science such as yourself would know this.”

Well, he hadn’t exactly interrupted her. She didn’t think he’d even heard her. Somehow, that was worse.

“Actually, the surface temperature of Venus is closer to 900 degrees, which you would know if–“

“It’s 475 degrees Celsius, which is 887 degrees Fahrenheit,” Mrs. Sharma said, mercifully interrupting whatever weird nerdy banter was happening. “Enough about Venus. We’re obviously not on Venus, and if we were, we’d be instantly crushed to death by the pressure before we had time to worry about sulfuric acid. Let’s worry about where we actually are. And more importantly, how to get home.”

“Well, we know there have to be people here, right?” said Jen. “Someone had to have made this garden.”

“That depends on how loosely you define the word ‘people’,” said Mrs. Sharma. “Yes, someone made this garden. That doesn’t necessarily mean a human being made this garden. Other realities are home to all kinds of life forms. We could have fallen into a world full of Zogzheshes. Or any number of things.”

“Well, it looks like it was made to a human scale,” said Chelsea. “At the very least, they’re probably human-sized.”

She gestured toward a bench made from the same stone as the fountain, piled with silky-looking pillows that matched the colors of the tiles they were standing on.

“Even if they’re not human, we know they have to be… I don’t know the word for it in English.” Angelina pursed her lips. “Intelligent like a human. They’d have to be to build all this and make it pretty. Maybe we could get help from them.”

“The word you’re looking for is ‘sapient’, and you’re right,” said Mrs. Sharma. “Getting help from whatever sapient lifeforms live here might be our only option.”

“Let’s hope they’re friendly,” said Sam.

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