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.