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.