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Category Archives: Chapter Two

Chapter Two: Story Ten

June 7, 1883

Dear Mr. Hedley,

Having failed in my mandate to safeguard Mr. Charles Valentine on our most recent expedition this past June 2, and having additionally failed as Captain leading the team entrusted with the same, I humbly recommend myself unto you for such disciplinary action as you deem appropriate.

Sincerely,
Christopher Drury

* * *

Albert placed Christopher’s letter on his desk with a sigh, and rubbed his temples. The letter joined the official reports from both the initial mission and the recovery team. From all of it, he hadn’t been able to discern any reasonable way their position could have been given away to the attacking tentaclebeasts. Brian blamed himself for climbing the tree and perching to survey the landscape, but the other beasts hadn’t attacked him. They attacked Charles, on the ground. Gigi blamed herself for tripping over a tree root and crying out, but such a sound would surely not have been heard from any great distance. Numose confirmed that tentaclebeasts could travel quite rapidly if they wished, although giving Albert an idea of how far their senses extended was more complex, since Numose made no real differentiation between such things as physical sight and the “feeling” that another being was approaching.

Christopher, of course, simply blamed himself for being a poor leader. Albert shook his head. For such an honor-bound young man, you doubt yourself far too much, Christopher, he thought. I don’t need to punish you, I need you in the field. If I demote you for not knowing what you’re doing out there, then what am I to do with myself?

Albert contemplated the mission rotation he and Michael had worked out several weeks prior. Christopher and Gigi were fine to return to the field, and Brian had a bit more time yet to recover from his fall before he was needed. Really, nothing need be disrupted. Unless… Albert sighed again. Unless there really is something that happened to draw the tentaclebeasts, and I missed it. He resigned himself to re-reading the reports for the umpteenth time, hoping they might yield some new angle, and picked up Charles’ account while stirring a lump of sugar into his tea.

A knock at his study door interrupted his thoughts. “Enter,” he said, looking up from the report as his door opened. It was Michael.

“Good morning, Albert. Have a moment?”

“Of course, do come in, make yourself comfortable. Tea for you?”

“Thank you, but my business will take me elsewhere momentarily, with your approval. Miss Wright has requested another opportunity to Interface with a tentaclebeast.”

“I thought I had made it clear that she is not to train until a month has passed and she offers us a formal decision.”

“Well aware, sir.”

“Did she give a reason for her request?”

“She said that she felt it would be in keeping with your instruction that she is to learn all that she may of SPOT’s functions before she makes her choice.”

“How are the others taking the delay in her joining?” Albert asked.

“Well enough, I suppose, though I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t raised a brow or two. Christopher has made it clear that there’s to be no debate on her worthiness to serve.”

“Officially. And unofficially?”

“Unofficially, there are a few wondering if a woman can pull her weight. Gigi, of course, being an exception in their eyes.”

“As she is in so many circumstances,” Albert said with a wry smile, thinking of his niece. “Any doubts aside from that of her sex?”

“Not that I’ve heard. I think most of them are taking your harsh opinion of her as part and parcel of the admissions exams.”

“Very well. You may tell Miss Wright that her request is under consideration.”

“Thank you.” Michael looked at the stack of papers. “How is your review coming along then?”

“Agh, Brenton, for the life of me I can’t fathom what went wrong.” Albert ruffled the loose stack of papers on his desk. “None of them’s done a damned thing out of bounds. So Brian climbed a tree. Gigi gave a cry. Christopher dared walk some two minutes’ distance from Charles. It doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense that any of these things should have drawn the attention of the attacking tentaclebeasts.”

“I wonder…could they have simply felt their presence?”

“If so, then why the delay?”

“They finally wandered within range of their extra-physical senses?”

“A possibility. The intelligence that we have from the tentaclebeasts on this location states that it’s still firmly within friendly territory.”

“Yes, but we don’t understand how their world shifts. Perhaps what was once firmly and safely ensconced is now on the outskirts.”

“This is why I need Charles to crack the damned code,” Albert said with frustration. “And I pray this latest incident hasn’t addled his wits. For all our sakes.”

“Is he doing so poorly then? Dr. Hardale hasn’t allowed anyone except family to check in on him.”

“I think he’ll be alright enough, but I can’t say when or even if he’ll be able to cross again. Physically, he’s recovering slowly. He seems to be in some state of shock or confusion still, and that concerns me a great deal.”

They sat in silence, contemplating what the loss of their only cartographer would mean to SPOT.

“Every day,” Michael spoke up, “I see a dozen reasons to believe we’re lost. I look for the reason to believe we’ll succeed, and I hold fast to that one.”

Albert paused. “Thank you,” he said simply. “I don’t feel there’s really anything I could add to that.” They sat in silence for a few moments more. Albert thought of Michael’s injuries, of his fight back from the edge of death and madness, of how many reasons to succeed must have carried him through the dark times.

“If you don’t need me, then, I’ll convey your message to Miss Wright.”

“Please do so, and thank you, Michael.”

“I’m at your disposal,” he said with a smile and a slight bow as he took his leave.

Albert returned to the reports, and to the finding of reasons.

 

Chapter Two: Story Nine

Diary of Georgiana Valentine
June 5, 1883

That stupid, dumb, loathsome beast! I shall never forgive him as long as I live! First, he turns half-mad while we’re out on patrol and starts dragging me all sorts of senseless directions, preventing me from getting to Brian when he’s hurt. Then he dares—he dares!—to force us to cross against my will! I of course must write my reports of the mission and I simply cannot contain my fury to a sufficient degree in order to give any account of this ridiculous behavior. Had Father not been found so readily I would—well, I don’t know what I’d do to that beast, but he’d be quite sorry before I’d finished.

I’m certain his antics must be the reason we were discovered. The other tentaclebeasts must have felt the commotion and come running. Is it my fault Father was hurt? Please don’t let it be my fault. Is it the fault of that bumbling creature? I don’t know what got into him but I cannot recall ever having been so angry. And I haven’t the faintest idea what I should place into the reports. What really happened? What does it mean for…for me, for SPOT, for that stupid beast? I’d prefer not to think on it, but of course there isn’t much else to think on when they’ve shoved you into a box and you can’t even visit your own father and your brother sleeps more hours of the day than not and your mother hasn’t been to another world with you and can’t understand what it’s like.

I’ll ring for tea, and think on that instead. Forgive me, Mr. Diary, for not being better company at such a time.

* * *

Brian tossed about his bed fitfully, and no position was truly comfortable. He was covered head to toe with bruises. His head, shoulders, and arms where Sky had been gripping him so tightly, trying to hoist him aloft, were sore and stung him. Every little sting injected him with a fresh wave of guilt. Why was I so foolish? Father suffered for my antics, the team was in danger, we all might have died. It’s all my fault.

He remembered stepping off of the tree, so thrilled at the view, at the fact that Sky could hold him, at the way that it felt like he was flying under his own power and that Sky’s abilities were his own. He held out his arms and felt the breeze coursing over them, even though it had no relation to their hovering. “Remarkable,” he whispered.

That was when he felt it. Just off the edge of his awareness. A tinge in his stomach, a movement out the side of his eye. He turned his head sharply and saw an enormous tentaclebeast heading in the direction of their camp. It had to have been the size of a house, and just moments before it had been completely out of his field of vision.

“Father!” he shouted, trying to run to the scene, forgetting he was aloft.

That moment of forgetting was all it took. They were falling. He couldn’t walk on air and Sky couldn’t process walking and levitating at the same time. They strained their collective will, attempting to rise to the treetops once again, but it was no use. Brian wasn’t certain what happened just then, but they must have slowed their descent somehow, because he had not broken any bones during the fall. A miracle, considering the height of the trees.

He didn’t know how many moments had passed before Christopher was bending over him. “Valentine, we’re returning now. We must cross.” He and Boulder grabbed onto Brian and hauled him to his feet, supporting him. “You have to walk for me soldier. Come on.” Gigi rushed towards them.

“Brian!,” she cried. “Father’s still in there. We have to go back. This way!”

“Valentine! Stop! We’re crossing now!”

“But Father!”

“I’m coming back for him, but first I’m getting you home safe. Cross now, Valentine.”

“No, we can’t, he’s unconscious—” She faded from view as Inky made the crossing, and Brian had not even a moment to stare in awe before Christopher began to cross as well, still under Brian’s arm. Sky pulled them both through, and they had returned. Brian collapsed with the sudden loss of support, but Christopher was ready to help him find the floor with a minimum of additional bruises.

“This is no conduct for a soldier,” Brian started to say of himself, but the pain of his fall overtook him and the statement came out more like a moan. And Father? What about Father?

 

Chapter Two: Story Eight

June 2, 1883
Mapping Expedition to the Tentaclebeast World

Christopher had led his small team through the process of setting a small camp, of sorts, and establishing a baseline routine for the expedition. They travelled in a group of only four in order to remain as inconspicuous as possible. The three Valentines had been assigned together on this mission, something that happened rarely, and Christopher felt a bit out of place in the family atmosphere. His unease was apparent to Boulder, who said nothing. Almost as if Mary should be here instead of me, Christopher thought.

Days later, he would wonder if that very thought was where everything had gone wrong.

In his and Boulder’s minds, he felt the approach of Brian and Sky. Boulder experienced this as a sort of compression of all the feelings one might have over the course of a friendship, but gathered into a moment of recognition and expectation of reunion. This experience, he shared with Christopher, who felt the odd sensation of feeling warmer towards Sky than Brian himself, while at the same time viewing Brian in that friendly, younger brother light.

“Sir,” Brian said as he approached, Sky perched on his shoulders, “I have a recommendation for the mission.”

“Continue,” Christopher told him.

“If I were to scout things from a height, it might help us to get the lay of the land more efficiently. Request permission to do so, sir.” As Brian spoke, Christopher felt nothing from Sky except a sort of inaudible, low accompanying hum. Sky was the quietest of all the tentaclebeasts on their teams in that regard.

“Very well, that grove of trees there should suit your purposes, Valentine.” He gestured to some dense and tall trees, growing in odd, thick spirals around one another, just a few minutes’ walk away. “Don’t stray too far. We might have to depart in a hurry.”

“Understood, sir.” Brian made way to the grove.

Christopher checked in with Charles, who had spread out a map on a nearby boulder and was busy penciling calculations into his notebook. He had a strange three-part glass set out on the map. Each glass was rimmed with brass and attached to a central stick, with gears that allowed the glasses to be repositioned relative to one another. Each gear bore tick marks and numbers.

“A new device, then?”

“Indeed, one of my own creation,” Charles told him. “It’s to help in my latest round of calculations. If there is a difference between the locations in their world and ours, then there is a way to measure it, however complex. I must simply persist until the proper measurement is found.”

“What do you call your invention then?”

Charles shrugged. “I haven’t any particular moniker for it. For me, it’s simply one of my tools. Perhaps Mary will devise one. She’s clever with that sort of thing.” He paused, as they and their tentaclebeasts simultaneously felt the approach that was Gigi and Inky.

“Sir, Father,” Gigi said as she made her way to them.

“Anything to report, Valentine?” Christopher asked.

“Nothing unusual, except I haven’t seen my brother in awhile, sir.”

“He requested permission to do a little scouting for us. I sent him off to the trees to take the lay of the land from a higher perch.”

“Understood. Any further orders for me?”

“Continue your patrols unless your father has any errands for you. Have need of anything, Mr. Valentine?”

“Managing just fine here,” Charles said with a smile to his daughter.

“Very well, then I shall be at my patrols sir. Father,” she acknowledged with a nod.

“See you for supper,” Charles answered. Gigi marched off, with Inky clinging to her back and arms. Almost larger than Gigi herself, he took up her entire back and then some, and looked back on the two men with his deep, purple-black eyes, waving a tentacle to them and their tentaclebeast companions.

He uses your gestures so often now, Boulder thought in Christopher’s mind. Christopher could not puzzle out what, if any, emotion was attached to the observation, which left him at a bit of a loss to answer what felt like his own thought. That in itself was an odd sensation.

Christopher shook the feeling away and  focused for a moment on the thoughts that represented Brian and Sky. They were just barely within range, and he felt Brian’s exertions as he climbed a tree. Satisfied, he turned to Charles. “I’m going to keep an eye on the perimeter opposite Gigi. I should still be in range if you need anything.”

“I appreciate it, Mr. Drury. I’m going to head a little farther in this direction to take some new measurements. Gigi should be within close range.”

Christopher began to head off in the other direction, checking frequently for the feeling of Charles’ presence. It wasn’t as strong as the others—he was less capable at Interfacing, enough to disqualify him for Special Services, but not so much that he couldn’t sometimes cross for these occasions.

Stop being such a mother hen, Christopher told himself.

Boulder expressed some confusion at the expression. How is a human like a chicken? he asked, flashing pictures in Christopher’s mind of the henhouse behind Thousand Candles, and Christopher himself.

I’ll explain later, Christopher told him, his watchful eyes on the landscape. Do you feel anything? Boulder, and so too, Christopher, began “listening” with that sense of the air about one’s body.

He looked in the direction of the trees, where Brian had headed, and couldn’t contain his shock. There, just beyond the tree, was he—was he floating? Christopher shook his head, certain his eyes were deceiving him, when suddenly, he heard a scream that could only be from Gigi and felt a spurt of anger from her direction. He took off running towards her with all his might, feeling Boulder clenching his arms tightly, feeling bursts of action in the limbs enough for two beings, when his senses were suddenly assaulted by pain, nausea, a great crashing of breaking trees, and the backlash of a world gone black.

Charles. He ran.

 

Chapter Two: Story Seven

Gigi slept fitfully through the rest of the night, catching bursts of slumber from sheer exhaustion, then waking suddenly hoping for news of her father. When she woke, she dragged her weary body to the window between her isolation room and her brother’s, so she could see how he was doing. Glad to see neither of us has grown a second head, she thought, scornfully dismissing the need for 48 hours in a glass box.

A rapping on the glass near her door made Gigi jump. She turned to find Marcus waiting outside. He held a note to the glass.

“Mr. Valentine has been found; crossed at 6:18am. Recovering in isolation, tended by Hardale, resting.”

Gigi held up her index finger to indicate that he should wait, while she found some paper in a desk drawer and scribbled:

“Has the bleeding stopped? Does Hardale say he will recover fully?”

Marcus fetched a stub of pencil from his pocket and wrote leaning his paper on the window before turning the note around to Gigi.

“Bleeding is stopped, wounds bandaged. Hardale says we must let him rest.”

At Gigi’s crestfallen face he turned and wrote again.

“He’ll make it. Worry won’t help him. Rest is best for you as well. Is your brother awake?”

She replied:

“He has been asleep through the night as far as I can tell.”

Marcus wrote again:

“Have already told your mother. Pass on the news when he wakes?”

Gigi nodded in agreement. He gave a brief bow and took his leave down the hall. Gigi sighed a combination of weariness and relief as she climbed back into bed. Before she could give any real thought to her father’s condition, she had lapsed once again into a fitful sleep.

* * *

June 6, 1883
Isolation Room 4, Thousand Candles

Albert waited for Doctor Hardale to emerge from his examination of Charles Valentine before quietly entering. Although the 48 hour deadline had passed, Doctor Hardale felt Charles was too weak to be moved.

The Doctor emerged, and Albert asked quietly “How is he faring?”

“I won’t lie to you, Albert, he’s lost a lot of blood. But he’s got fight in him, and a lovely family. Gives him something to push for. I’ve noticed a bit of improvement since he’s been able to see the wife and kids.”

Albert nodded, then started to enter the room.

“Don’t be keeping him awake too long,” Doctor Hardale warned him.

“Of course not.” But I need some answers, Albert thought.

Charles was propped up on some pillows so as to sit comfortably in the bed, a pitcher and glass of water close by. Albert noticed his pale complexion and his hair hanging limply across his brow. “How are you feeling?”

“As well as might be expected,” Charles said softly. “But I know you, Albert. This is no social call.”

“I’m afraid not. I need to know what happened out there. From all of you.”

“I don’t remember much of the attack. I was hit before we knew we had been discovered. After that, well, I was unconscious.”

“Do you remember anything of the beasts that attacked you?”

“I did not see them…but I…felt them.”

“What did you feel?”

“I felt their understanding of their own world, as if it had been funneled into my mind. It was most extraordinary. I finally understood what we’ve been doing wrong. It’s all about the buildings, Albert.”

“The buildings? The tentaclebeasts have no buildings.”

“That is precisely the crux of the matter.” Charles was becoming rather animated as he continued, gesturing broadly with his hands. “We have buildings here, but they have no buildings there. But were we to create them, it’s like…like…tacking down a woman’s skirt to the dance floor.”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”

“Right now, she dances on and on, spinning madly, everywhere she damned well pleases. But buildings! Buildings would make her hold still for just long enough…” He trailed off has he became slightly out of breath.

“Pray don’t over-exert yourself.”

“I…right. What had you asked me again?”

“I think it’s better if you rest. I can ask you more of your recollections at another time.”

“But the buildings, Albert. It’s really important.”

“How are they important?”

“If we were to go to the tentaclebeast world and build a great many buildings, in the same places they are here, that is the key.”

“How are we to accomplish such a feat? Look what happened when you tried to stray just a bit from known territory over there. Why, we can’t even transfer enough materials across to create buildings. It was difficult enough to create a simple platform.”

“Yes, yes, but the spinning, Albert, and the movement is the entire difficulty of the matter. My maps are worthless. How can we win a war we can’t see?”

“We’ll work it out. But we can’t do it without you. We need your skills. Rest. Get well. We’ll talk more later.” Albert said this last quite firmly, hoping to stop Charles’ ramblings.

“I…well, I do suppose I am tired,” Charles said weakly.

“Right then. I’ll be on my way, so you can sleep.”

“But the movements, I felt them…”

“I know. Just sleep. You can tell me all about it later.” He closed the door quietly behind him.

 

Chapter Two: Story Six

Eudora was walking down the hallway when she noticed Michael.

“Mr. Brenton, so sorry to bother you at a time like this, but could you tell me what’s happened?”

Michael turned very slowly and looked at Eudora. He seemed disoriented for a moment. “Something’s…happened?”

“Are you alright, then?” Eudora asked, looking at him with some concern. She didn’t notice any odd glowing or sparks about him.

“Ah, yes, I’m fine, just distracted. On my way to the mission room to assist Albert. I really must hurry. You can come along, just be sure to stay out of Uncle’s hair.”

“Do you know what’s happened?”

“Something amiss with the mission. It could be anything, really,” he said, talking as they jogged to the mission room. “Waking half the manor like this…could be a drill, could be an injury, could be anything that significantly deviates from the mission plan or poses a threat to the team.”

They arrived at the mission room, and Eudora was shocked at the scene before them. Albert stood, interfacing with a tentaclebeast not of her acquaintance, over Mary, armed to the teeth and tending to Brian. Brian was laying on the floor battered and bruised, his head and shoulders cradled by Sky, who hovered over him as the Doctor, Nurses, and Aides went about their duties.

Gigi stood beside them, having apparently just come through and broken away from Interfacing, and she shoved Inky violently away from her. “That’s my father!” she screamed. “You dumb beast, take me back!” She launched herself at him, pounding with her fists, and Inky made no movement to protect himself, but winced under the blows.

“Georgiana, control yourself!” her mother ordered, as Christopher intervened between the screaming young woman and the tentaclebeast. He took her wrists.

“Valentine! Halt!” Gigi stopped fighting, fuming and out of breath. “I’m going back for him, Gigi. We don’t abandon our men.”

“You most certainly will not,” Albert told him. “You’re wounded, and so is Boulder. You’re in no state to cross.”

“Sir!” Christopher cried, “we can’t leave him behind.”

“That’s why Livingston’s team is going back for him. You are to stay where you are, soldier, and that’s an order.”

“Yes, sir,” Christopher acknowledged, still breathing the fires of the battle he’d just left.

Richard Livingston entered the mission room with four more men, all bearing tentaclebeasts, and turned to Albert. “We’re ready, sir.”

“You need to know,” Christopher interjected, “that Mr. Valentine is…unconscious.” Mary’s eyes widened and she gasped. Christopher turned to her. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Valentine, I was going to go back—”

“Stop, Captain Drury. No one’s loyalty is questioned here. Valentine, Inky has sustained the least damage. Interface with him again and instruct him to convey your last location to Livingston’s team.”

“Yes, sir.” Gigi promptly obeyed the order, though the look she gave Inky caused him to wince once more.

“I don’t understand,” Eudora said quietly to Michael. “Why didn’t Mr. Valentine’s tentaclebeast convey him back to our world?”

“When you’re unconscious,” he told her, “you can’t Interface. You can’t cross.”

“Why didn’t they revive him?”

“Fainting while Interfaced is very dangerous. Reviving an individual who has Interfaced is more dangerous still. Christopher had to leave him, to bring the others back.”

Eudora looked at him for a moment, remembering Albert’s story of how Christopher had gone back for Michael himself, in similar circumstances.

“Cusp understands the location, sir,” Richard said to Albert, referring to the tentaclebeast Interfacing with him. He had a large, striped spiral shell of burgundy and cream that balanced on Richard’s right shoulder, with many small brown tentacles that clung to the back of Richard’s neck.

“Good. You are authorized for crossing. Send one man back for reports at regular intervals. I want to know the status of your search at all times.”

“Yes, sir. Men, let’s move out.” Richard and his team stepped onto the simple raised platform in the middle of the mission room and concentrated. Within a moment, they seemed to slowly fade from view, as if seen from underwater more and more faintly until they were gone.

“Must they be on the platform to cross, then?” Eudora asked Michael softly.

He turned to her and his eyes flashed a deep, dark purple for a moment, and Eudora blinked in surprise. The moment she did, the blue had returned to his eyes. “No…” he began, trailing out his statement thoughtfully, “…no. They do not. It provides a fixed point between the two worlds, an area of reference. Something that exists at once in their world and our own. Without it, they could become hopelessly lost.”

“Mary, how is he?” Albert asked, referring to Brian.

“Doctor?” Mary asked, turning to Doctor Hardale, who had just completed his examination of that very patient.

“He’s been knocked around, and he needs his rest. No bleeding, no broken bones. I suspect he’ll be himself in a couple days. It’s you I want to have a look at, young man.” This last he directed to Christopher, who grudgingly submitted himself for an exam.

“I’m fine, Doctor, really.”

“You have your say on the battlefield; I have my say here. Nurse, fetch me a basin and some clean rags. Let’s tend to these wounds.” The nurse quickly brought the needed items and began efficiently cleaning each wound after the doctor had inspected it.

“I’ll be expecting full reports from each of you later,” Albert told them. “For now, rest, let the medical staff perform their duties. I will send Marcus with word at each report. Brenton, with me,” he said, and Michael gave a nod to Eudora before crossing the room to confer with Albert.

Eudora looked about for an opening to offer her asssistance, but the medical team was highly effective. She saw Gigi and Mary hold one another at Brian’s side, clearly afraid for Mr. Valentine, and couldn’t help but think of her own father. The tentaclebeasts had moved to surround Boulder, and Eudora observed one of their kind carefully taking the limp tentacles across his own. He extended another tentacle to pat about Boulder’s head, as if feeling for bumps or wounds.

Realizing she could contribute nothing of use at that time, she turned back to her quarters, awaiting whatever news the rest of the night might bring.

 

Chapter Two: Story Five

June 3, 1883
2:05am

Albert waited impatiently in the mission room as Marcus stammered through his third explanation of what had happened.

“And then he, he just wasn’t here, when I returned, he—vanished. And then you arrived, sir.”

“You are quite certain that he gave you no description, no hint whatsoever of events?”

“None, sir.”

“Go wake Richard, have him make ready with the team on the alternate shift at once. Then wake the other medics, their assistants, the girl who washes the linens, everyone. I want all of them at the ready, and I want a crisis team in here five minutes ago.”

“Yes, sir.” Marcus rushed out of the room.

Albert consulted the map Charles had left of their projected mission area. If they even crossed at this point at all, Albert thought, calculating the best way to send a rescue mission. The maps weren’t about navigating the land of the tentaclebeasts itself—that they knew, and could project into the minds of agents they Interfaced with. It was the correlation between the two worlds that was the difficulty. How to protect human beings when we don’t know what areas of their world will affect ours.

“Albert,” Mary said quietly as she entered the room. “Where are my husband and children?”

Albert looked at his sister and saw that she had dressed in tough leather overalls and a plain white shirt, and carried an assortment of guns, explosives, and other weapons, not to mention a look of steely resolve.

“We’ll find them,” he told her firmly. “Will you wait here while I consult Numose?”

“Of course. Go. I’ll resupply them when they come through.”

Albert looked at her carefully. Will she try to cross? But no, she can’t be hiding a tentaclebeast in her pocket. He nodded. “I will return shortly. Don’t let them cross back until I’ve seen them myself.”

“Understood.”

Albert departed for the tentaclebeasts’ quarters.

* * *

Eudora woke as she heard a ruckus in the halls. Voices, rapid footsteps, and shortly, bells clanging up and down the halls. By the dim moonlight streaming through the window in her quarters, she was able to see to strike a match and light the lamp on her bedside table. She carried it to the door and opened it. Support staff were emerging from their quarters—Eudora wasn’t housed with the Special Services team yet.

“Begging your pardon,” Eudora said to Rachel, a nurse’s aide in her mid-twenties who was one of her “neighbors” in this wing, “but what seems to be the matter?”

“Most likely that something’s gone amiss with the mission. We have to be at the ready to receive wounded. Forgive me, but I must be off.” She proceeded down the hall with a basin and a bundle of linens.

Eudora went back to her room and quickly dressed in the plainer, more practical of her gowns. Then she made her way to the mission room.

* * *

Albert was able to find Numose in the common room, alert rather than in that odd dozing state that passed for sleep in the tentaclebeasts. Numose was shaped differently from other tentaclebeasts in that he seemed to be turned on his side, his tentacles emerging vertically from his center like sunbeams instead of hanging down as with others Albert had seen. “I would consult with you, if you are willing,” Albert said, holding out his arms and giving a slight bow.

Numose stretched out a long tentacle, thicker than Albert’s own arm, to accept. They Interfaced and Albert thought back to the maps he had examined, showing Numose the area of the mission. Then he shared his recollection of Marcus’ stammered accounts while he rolled out of bed and went to the mission room. Finally, he sent, questioningly, the thought of a rescue mission, and Richard’s team.

If the others are there, Numose told him, we will feel them, within a distance. Numose sent the impression of the distance rather than a number.

What wounds do you think most likely? Albert tried to picture the different sorts of attacks SPOT members had encountered in the past: squeezing, crushing, burns, shock, and so on. Numose struggled a bit with the communication as Albert visualized things he had not directly seen.

Numose sent Albert images of battles he had engaged in, where tentaclebeasts fought with various magical-looking means, flashes of light and flame, as well as invisible crushing force. Albert could not help but to think of the team, his family, burned and crushed. Hastily, he shoved the image out of his mind as Numose winced.

We need to coordinate rescue efforts, Albert thought as he turned their steps towards the mission room.

 

Chapter Two: Story Four

Log of Captain Christopher Drury

Time Trials
May 21, 1883

Begin: 8:05am
Estimate: 5 minutes
Actual End: 8:57am

Begin: 9:00am
Estimate: 5 minutes
Actual End: 9:29am

Begin: 9:33am
Estimate: 15 minutes
Actual End: 10:08am

Begin: 10:12am
Estimate: 25 minutes
Actual End: 10:17am

Begin: 10:25am
Estimate: 10 minutes
Actual End: 11:03am

* * *

Christopher sighed, rubbing his forehead after the tentaclebeast he was working with drifted away from him. I’m not getting any closer, he thought, reviewing the entries. He stood up from the simple wooden chair in which he’d been sitting. Behind him was a clock, and in front of him, a table and his log book. For each trial, he would note the time at which he began Interfacing, and then attempt to separate after a specified amount of time. Then, he checked the clock again to see when he actually returned. And always, the entries had little to do with one another.

Originally, he’d made the trials with “Boulder”, as Gigi liked to call him, the tentaclebeast that Christopher Interfaced with for missions. But that one—Christopher was dissatisfied with the appellation “Boulder”—brought him no closer to estimating his time spent Interfacing than working with any other tentaclebeast.

He stood and waved to the tentaclebeast, indicating that they were done for the morning, and gathered the logbook to convey to Mr. Charles Valentine, resident cartographer. Not that this is going to be of any use to him, Christopher thought. He felt tired. Much more tired than a couple goes at Interfacing should merit, he told himself. He turned his steps towards Mr. Valentine’s study, near to Albert’s but a bit of a ways from Mrs. Valentine’s workshop. Her rooms were set off from the rest on account of the great din her efforts were wont to produce.

Charles knocked on the door. “Come in,” was the reply.

He entered an office at once very different from and very similar to Mrs. Valentine’s workshop. Maps, more maps, and the tools of map-making took the place of the more forceful tools of Mary’s trade. The primary difference, however, was in the presence of the room’s chief resident. Whereas Mary’s exuberant, intense, and focused personality spilled out over her very worktables, Charles had a quiet demeanor, and he gave the impression that he was at once in the world and outside of it.

“Good day, Mr. Valentine.”

“Good day, Christopher. How are you getting on then?” Charles pushed up his gold-rimmed reading glasses on his long nose as he looked up at his visitor.

“Oh, right enough, I suppose. I have the time trials you requested.”

“Ah you do? Good then. Shall we have a look?”

Christopher placed the logbook on his desk and opened it to that day. “I’m no closer to estimating it correctly, I’m afraid.”

“Ah, you may not be, but if I can find the pattern behind all of this, that might give us something.” Charles poured over the log with interest. “I’m quite excited to make another survey. I’ve been hounding Albert about it for months. Really, the longer I have to wait in between missions, the harder it is to correlate everything.”

Christopher mentally weighed the importance of Charles’ work against the difficulties of protecting him on a battlefield and chose to remain silent on the subject.

“Well, I can’t say I see it as of yet,” Charles continued. “But I’ll get to work on it. Thank you for bringing this by.”

“My pleasure. Will you be needing more trials?”

“If you can fit them in. I know you’re busy, though…”

‘Busy’ doesn’t begin to describe it, Christopher thought. “Not a problem. I’ll have more on your desk tomorrow afternoon.”

“I’m in your debt, Captain Drury. In the absence of field-work, this is the only data I have.”

“Let’s not forget who you’re working to help, now,” Christopher chimed in amiably. “We’d be “lost” without you, Mr. Valentine.”

Charles laughed. “I do believe you can make a joke of anything, Christopher.”

“Nah, that’s not me—you’ve gone and confused me with Albert.” Charles laughed harder as Christopher took his leave.

He yawned as he shut the door behind him.“There’s no rest for the wicked,” Christopher said aloud to the empty hallway. “Time to round up the team for a surprise run around the grounds.” He could hear them groaning and complaining already as he headed for quarters.

* * *
June 3, 1883
1:49am
Mission Room, Thousand Candles

Christopher tumbled through the portal, bleeding at his left shoulder, left hip, and right calf from an assortment of wounds. Boulder, the tentaclebeast on his shoulders, clung tightly to his right side and hung limply from his left. Marcus, a member of SPOT’s support staff, gaped wide-eyed for a second before rushing forward with a medical kit.

“Dear God,” Marcus started, “what in the name—”

“Not me, Marcus. Go get Albert. Get him now.”

“Sir, you’re wounded, and protocol de—”

“Marcus, now.”

“Yes, sir.” Marcus dropped the kit and ran to wake Albert.

Christopher waited until Marcus was through the doorway, then Interfaced with Boulder once more. Return, he thought, and Boulder’s agreement was simultaneous. They crossed.

 

Chapter Two: Story Three

Michael opened his eyes and he was not in his own world, nor even in his own body. At one moment, he had been following Eudora to the common study, and at the next, he had returned to the world of the tentaclebeasts from which he had been absent for so long.

He hovered above the ground, his long tentacles curling and unfolding beneath him as he slowly floated forward. I have tentacles? Who am I? When he thought of “I” the mental image of Michael Brenton was replaced by that of a tentaclebeast, but even that word evaporated into meaninglessness in this new identity, this new “I”.

The landscape that stretched out before him was mountainous and craggy, with dark unforgiving peaks, and valleys that appeared as if the ground had been torn open and filled with stars. The old “I” stared in wonder while the new “I” settled into familiarity.

Another tentaclebeast approached him, though he felt its coming long before they saw one another. Sight was rather irrelevant to communication when one could feel the thoughts of one’s companions.

They’re coming, the messenger thought simply.

How many? Michael thought back.

A dozen, maybe more.

How large?

Dukes, at least, maybe a Prince.

Michael felt the messenger’s fear, but instead of allowing his own to echo back and amplify it, he kept his feelings in check, and sent back a thought of steadfastness.

We will stand here.

As you will it to be.

* * *

Richard was first to the common study when Eudora began shouting, and saw Michael having one of his fits on the floor. He whipped off his belt and folded it in his hands, then knelt beside Michael and held the belt between his teeth.

“He’s going to be alright, Miss. This is what happens, from time to time.”

“Is he hurt?”

“No, he’s just taken one of his fits. He never remembers them, after.” He steadied Michael’s head as best as he was able.

Sally rushed into the room, followed by Albert.

“You rang, ma’am? Sir?” Sally asked, casting a worried eye on Michael.

Albert assessed the situation and patted Sally’s shoulder. “It’s alright, dear. Would you send for Doctor Hardale to look in on him?”

“Straightaway, sir.” Sally departed.

Albert approached Michael, whose fit was subsiding, the scars he bore returning to their normal color as Richard removed the belt from his mouth.

“Anything different this time, Richard?”

“No, sir. Not a terribly long one, I’d wager.” He had let Michael’s head rest on his leg, to keep it from banging on the floor, and Michael started to turn it a little as he came around.

“Can you see to him while Miss Wright and I give him some privacy?”

“Not a problem.” Michael groaned a bit and Richard patted his shoulder. “Hang in there, fellow. You’re alright.”

“Miss Wright, would you please accompany me?” Albert graciously offered an arm to help her from the floor.

She accepted, her hand steady despite the shock of the situation. “Thank you, Mr. Hedley.” She cast a nervous glance over one shoulder as they left the room. Michael was groaning a bit as he came to.

Albert guided them to his study and pulled out a chair for Eudora, which she accepted with thanks. “I’m sure you’re wondering what that was all about. I apologize; I should have provided you with some kind of warning. Out of respect for Mr. Brenton, his ailments are not something we discuss.”

“I understand. He’ll be alright then?”

“It’s funny, sometimes, how the simplest questions are often the most difficult.” Albert sighed and ran a hand through his greying dark brown hair. “I wouldn’t ordinarily discuss the private lives of our other members. However, considering the decision you have before you, I feel it’s important to be frank with you. We have no more idea whether Michael will be “alright” than we do for ourselves. His injuries were sustained in battle, as I am sure you have already surmised. He and the tentaclebeast he had Interfaced with were struck by a type of energy from another beast, something that resembled a bolt of lightning. The tentaclebeast was killed instantly, and Michael sustained serious burns.”

“How was he able to return, if his tentaclebeast was killed?”

“One other member of Michael’s mission survived: Christopher. He hid Michael’s body in a safe place and returned here to fetch another tentaclebeast to bring him back. Interfacing after that injury was…excruciating…for Michael…” Albert trailed off, and Eudora did not press for more details. An uneasy silence hung in the room as each contemplated Michael’s plight.

“Recovery took a long time, and even Michael understood he could never return to the field, even before we knew about his fits. He accepted that with a certain grace, although I’m certain it must have been a crushing blow. But his expertise was far too valuable for us to lose. He agreed to stay on with us. To see it through.” Respect and gratitude were as evident on Albert’s face as they were in his voice. “Soon after his recovery, the fits began. From what we can tell, they do no direct harm, though we try to protect him from injuring himself when they occur.”

“They’re so…dramatic…for something that does no direct harm. What causes them?”

“We don’t know. We can only assume that they’re tied to his injuries, but beyond that there appears to be no specific trigger.” And no cure, he thought with frustration.

“Thank you for your forthrightness, Mr. Hedley.” Eudora was reminded, briefly, of her brother’s death, when she was only seven years old. She had the image in her mind of holding her weeping mother’s hand, and puzzled for a moment over why that felt so similar to this moment.

“I only hope that it served a purpose. You understand, of course, that this conversation goes no further.”

“Of course. I will be better prepared, should something like this occur in the future.”

“Of course you will. I daresay even otherworldly sparks leaping from a man’s skin could not surprise you more than once.”

He’s probably right about that, Eudora thought, arching a brow.

 

Chapter Two: Story Two

Brian Valentine looked carefully about the gymnasium to ensure it was empty before gesturing to the tentaclebeast behind him. “This way, Sky.” Sky had a bright blue body shaped like the top half of a sphere, with many long, slender tentacles hanging down. Atop the sphere portion of his body was a blue fin with a rippled fuschia edge, resembling a mane or comb. He glided smoothly behind Brian, matching his steps by swaying his tentacles around his body, as if a wave were continually passing around him, circling again and again.

Brian moved quickly to the back of the gymnasium, where doorways led to several practice rooms. He opened one, a wrestling room with canvas pads laid out on the floor, and waited for Sky to float inside before quietly shutting the doors. Taking a jump rope from a corner, he used it to tie the handles together.

“Alright. Let us begin.” Standing in the center of the room, he held out his arms. Sky moved behind Brian and rested against the back of Brian’s head, extending two thicker tentacles to wrap many times around his right arm, ending by the wrist, and two likewise on the left. Then he settled his weight against Brian’s head, neck, and shoulders, and allowed their minds to join.

Brian shut his eyes, taking in the cacophony of tentaclebeast communications and untangling that mass into individual threads, distinct and quieter, then quieter still. He felt as if he were an extension of Sky, and Sky an extension of him, all at once. When he opened his eyes, he saw from his own pair, as well as from Sky’s four—Sky’s being two in front, and two behind. Even after a year on Special Services, it was an odd sensation. Though sometimes, it seems more strange to see less, he thought.

To Us, yours is strangeness, Sky added. Sky thought of a sort of box, in darkness, with only one side opened to the light.

Brian thought of a horse wearing blinders as it drew a carriage.

Is a horse like a bird? Sky asked Brian. Brian realized that he had been thinking of a horse “flying like the wind”.

No. But we will be like a bird, Brian thought, trying to show Sky the difference between the two in his mind.

Begin? Sky asked, tensing his tentacles around Brian’s arms in a sort of pulsing motion.

Brian concentrated on the part of his mind that was Sky’s thoughts, trying to see his own body as additional tentacles that swayed and rippled like Sky’s did. He felt the air around him as if he were naked, rather than feeling the fabric of his clothing.

Sky tensed, pulling on Brian’s arm’s and hair. The spherical part of his body contracted, squeezing Brian’s head like a hat a size or two too small.

They moved forward, Brian’s feet rising up on tiptoes and starting to drag along the floor instead of walk. Faster, smoother, Brian’s feet just started to leave the floor, and as he noticed it, the moment he felt that sensation, they hit the wall. Losing concentration all at once, they tumbled to the mats on the floor.

Brian blinked from the sudden loss of vision in their rear eyes, currently blocked by the floor mat. They struggled, but it wasn’t clear at first whose body was supposed to get them off the floor. Sky eventually pulled back to a normal Interfacing, and Brian was able to bring them upright.

Sky! You got my feet off the floor! Astonishing! Brian thought his congratulations to Sky.

Quietly, Sky cautioned, sending Brian a thought of the other tentaclebeasts in the background. They both paused in their thoughts, listening, but none of the other creatures seemed to have taken notice of Brian’s exultation.

Again? Sky asked.

Begin, Brian thought.

* * *

“This, of course, is the main dining hall, which you are already familiar with,” Michael said to Eudora as he led her on a tour of Thousand Candles. “We try to take meals as a group, but the reality of our commitments tends to mean things are done in shifts. For holidays and such, we dine together though. Uncle insists.”

“Uncle?” Eudora asked.

“Ah, yes, it’s the custom around here to call Albert “Uncle”. I wouldn’t say it to him personally though.” Michael looked for all the world like a schoolboy caught in a prank, and Eudora couldn’t help but to chuckle.

“That’s an unusual nickname. How did he acquire it? He seems to me to be more the father of this group.”

“Well, Albert is actually Gigi and Brian’s uncle. But I don’t think you’ve met them just yet, right?”

“No. Mr. Hedley wants to introduce me to the team formally at supper tonight.”

“You’ll understand, once you’ve met Gigi, why everyone would take on her names for things. She has such a great enthusiasm for everything; it’s hard not to be affected by it.”

“It’s difficult to imagine Mr. Hedley with relations at all.” Eudora flushed. “That didn’t exactly come out how I meant it.”

Michael laughed. “It’s alright, I understand just what you mean. Albert can get rather wrapped up in his own seriousness sometimes. The work we do affects each of us differently.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, what is your role here?”

“I once was Captain of Special Services, as Christopher is now. These days, I’m more of a planner…sort of an assistant to the “big general”,” Michael winked, “and a mentor to the kids on the team. Albert and I confer on mission planning, and then I work with Christopher to train the team, ensuring they’re prepared to accomplish those missions.”

“Sounds like an awful lot of responsibility.” I wonder at his calling them children, Eudora thought. He doesn’t look so old as that.

“Truly? To be honest, I never viewed it in that light,” Michael said thoughtfully. “Now before I take you on to the conservatory and gardens, let us return to the common study. It’s a nice central landmark to help you find your way about the rest of the manor.”

“I think I might be able to find it from here, if you’ll allow me to make the attempt.”

“By all means. It’s the only way to learn.” He stood aside, gesturing for Eudora to take the lead.

“Hmm, turn here…and here…now straight back this hall…” In short order they emerged in the common study, where Eudora had made her Passage. “I’ve found it!” she said with pride, as the first real, full smile crossed her face, that she could recall, since her arrival at Thousand Candles. Beaming, she turned to Michael—

—as he collapsed to the floor, stiff as a board, the purple scars that covered half his face and body lighting up as if they concealed flames within. Sparks flew off of his body as he convulsed, his whole body shaking and contracting in fits.

“Help!” Eudora shouted. “Somebody, please, help us!” She dove to the carpet by Michael’s side, kneeling over him, with not even the faintest idea of how to assist. She noticed one of the tassels such as Albert had used to summon servants hanging near a bookcase, and she dashed over and tugged on it several times, then ran back to Michael, still convulsing on the carpet. “Help! Please, help us!” she shouted.

 

Chapter Two: Story One

Dietary Requirements for Members of SPOT Special Services

The following common items must not be consumed by members of SPOT Special Services, as they will cause difficulties with the Interfacing process. These items are in the pantry for the common enjoyment of such SPOT members who are not themselves part of the Special Services division, so it is necessary that you attend to your meals carefully to ensure that you do not consume such items as are listed here.

Pork, bacon, ham, and any other meats derived from swine
Mint, including raw, cooked, teas, and candies
Ginger, including gingerbread and other baked goods
Peppers
Lemons
Limes
Special Note: Oranges are acceptable, despite their being a citrus fruit.

The list of restricted items may change at any time, so if in doubt about a food, consult your division leader.

* * *

Eudora read over the list of restricted food items, wondered at it for a moment, and set it aside, another mystery to be pondered and questioned as she grew accustomed to life at Thousand Candles.

There wasn’t much to arrange in her quarters, since she had brought so few personal belongings with her. She had a single trunk with her, into which was packed two dresses, a night shift, a set of undergarments, two pairs of slippers, a few pieces of jewelry, a hat, a bonnet, her winter cloak, gloves, four pairs of stockings, and some personal mementos, including a small album with pictures of her family. There was also her needlebook and a small selection of threads and buttons for mending her clothes. Aside from this, she had only what she had worn on her person, including her boots, and a small purse of money that she had earned herself from the sale of needlework. Only what is mine, Eudora thought as she put her clothes away in her new room, and nothing else. No claim that can be laid on me by Mother, nor anyone.

She thought back to her family, to the house on Winter Street, her sisters and baby brother, her mother, her fa—must not think of Father, she told herself, hanging her stockings with determination. She set the picture album carefully on her bedside table, and in its drawer placed such jewelry as she had.

I wonder what they’re doing right now, she thought. Probably readying themselves for breakfast. She pictured her tall, regal mother pouring the tea with her own lily-white hands, and her sisters carefully passing the cups. The breakfast table was covered in a lace tablecloth crocheted by their grandmother, Virginia Dreesman, then carefully placed in her daughter Caroline’s hope chest with lavender sachets, for the day that she married Edward Wright. Eudora remembered running her hands over it as a girl, feeling the ridges and holes formed by the thread, and remembered how impeccably white the servants kept it under her mother’s direction.

Then, the snow-like white of her imaginings was stained with blood, and her father lay dying over the breakfast table, rather than where he’d actually died, the angry red spoiling both tablecloth and Mother’s hands alike. Eudora’s chest grew tight and tears welled up in her eyes. She sat on the bed and pulled a handkerchief from her pocket. It was smooth, unused, perfectly folded. She pressed it delicately to her eyes, trying not to redden her face or mar her ladylike demeanor, as she’d been taught. Going to the washing table, she poured a little water into the bowl, splashed it onto her face and hands, and dried them with a towel. She smoothed her hair and her dress, and then, satisfied that everything was in order, proceeded to breakfast.

* * *

After he had taken his breakfast, Christopher Drury walked over to the workshop of Mary Valentine. He found her, as usual, hard at work, drawing on a stack of very large sheets of paper, her eyebrows knit together in concentration under dark blonde hair which was swept up in a fetching and sophisticated twist. Handsome and witty, Mary could turn many a young man’s head, despite her eccentricities. Could, that is, were she not already taken, and if she ever left her work.

Christopher knocked politely at her already-open door. “Good day, Mrs. Valentine. You asked to see me?”

“Splendid! Christopher, come right in. And haven’t I already told you to call me Mary?”

“At least several times, ma’am.” Christopher chuckled at their usual exchange.

“Well then, please do!” she said with a winning smile, still bent over her work. “Come see this.” She waved an arm to gesture him into the room.

Christopher smiled as he entered the room, full of Mrs. Valentine’s peculiar blend of workstuffs. All about the room there were bits of metal here, tools and drawings there, books lining the shelves—anything that might aid in her work. The room wasn’t disorganized per se—Christopher had seen Mary lay her hands on anything at a moment’s notice—but it was certainly her own personal blend of organized chaos.

He looked over her shoulder. The drawings seemed to be of  a sort of star-shaped device. “What’s this?” he asked.

“Personal armor. I’m trying again.”

“You think we might actually be able to get it across this time?”

“The key is Interfacing it with the tentaclebeasts. I think the problem is that they don’t have a mental concept for clothing, so it’s difficult for them to hold onto when they cross. If we can devise something that seems more natural to them, more in tune with their style of thinking, I believe we’ll be able to bring it over.”

“So we’re to wear this?” Christopher turned his head, trying to see how it could be worn.

“Yes. I’ve added joints here, here, here, and here,” she said, gesturing with her pencil, “so that you can retain flexibility. Think of it as a sort of case that turns you into a tentaclebeast—one that can walk.”

Christopher looked at the joints with a sense of unease he couldn’t quite place. Almost as if I’ve seen them somewhere before

“I’ve asked you here because I was hoping you’d do me the honor of modelling the prototype,” Mary continued. “You know best what you and your team need, and you can give me the most valuable insights. Do you have some time free to work with me on the pieces as they’re constructed?”

“Certainly,” Christopher said, shaking off the odd feeling. “I couldn’t turn down an invitation tied so closely to my own interests.”

“Splendid, splendid. I was fearful that training your new recruit might take up all of your spare moments.”

“No, she’s not quite ready for that yet. Uncle wants her here for a month before she begins formal training.”

“That long? What is that brother of mine thinking this time?”

“I’m not certain. If he has reservations about her, he hasn’t confided them in me.”

“Like as not he’s just being a cautious old fool, as he always is. Mind you,” Mary continued with an impish grin, “he was a cautious old fool before he was ten years old.”

“I’ll be certain to tell him you’ve said so,” Christopher said with a wink.

“Oh, you ruffian!” Mary batted at Christopher with a roll of drawing papers. “Out, out with you, scoundrel! I’ve work to do.” They both laughed.

“Good day, Mrs. Valentine,” Christopher said with an elaborate bow.

“On with you, then, you silly boy,” Mary laughed, already back to her drawings.

 
 
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