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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Chapter Four: Story Three

“Mary, darling, I think we ought to do something special for the childrens’ birthday this year,” Charles said to his wife as they sat sketching side-by-side in the common study.

“With you so recently recovered?” Mary asked, tucking a strand of her dark-blonde hair behind one ear. She looked at her husband with the same striking green eyes she shared with their children.

“It’s not as if I’d need to dance the night away, so long as they do,” he replied with a smile. “And really, last year, with all their training and what-not, we weren’t able to raise as much of a fuss as ought to be made for a sixteenth birthday. After all, they only come of age once.”

“I can’t believe our children are already grown.”

“If I may say, my dear Mrs. Valentine, you do not look the part of a woman with children grown,” Charles said, leaning his head close to Mary.

“Oh Charles, you old flirt,” Mary said as she leaned in and kissed him. Charles lightly drew his fingers along her cheek and she closed her eyes. They stayed that way for a moment that lingered pleasantly in the quiet of the study.

Mary broke the silence first. “There is more to it than just making a fuss about their birthday, isn’t there?”

Charles grew thoughtful. “I’ve been concerned that they don’t see enough of the outside world.”

“Well, you know what happened with the outing to the theater just a few months back,” Mary pointed out.

“I know, and sometimes…sometimes I…well…”

“What is it, dear?” Mary asked gently.

“Sometimes I fear that we may have chosen too difficult a path for them. Growing up in the mansion like this…did they really have any choice about being involved with SPOT? Their childhood playmates were tentaclebeasts. I daresay their friends are still tentaclebeasts. Gigi told me about her efforts to give them tea parties.”

“Tea parties? Can tentaclebeasts even drink tea?”

“If they can, it’s beyond me how they manage. But do you see? She needs friends, human friends. And Brian, well, at his age, he ought to be having some laughs with other young fellows, getting into mischief, talking about the special girl he fancies and all that business. But he’s so quiet, so shy.”

“You were quiet,” Mary said, kissing his cheek. “And shy. It’s the quiet ones the ladies have to watch out for. He’ll manage when the time is right.”

“All the same, love, I just can’t help but wonder if we didn’t give them the chance for…well, for a normal life.”

“I understand, but, well…to put it plainly, our circumstances aren’t “normal”. If we weren’t in this household, if Albert hadn’t become involved with the tentaclebeasts, we’d be out somewhere in Aldershire, fearing the attacks and none the wiser about their cause.”

“And now we work as a family toward their resolution.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Mary said. “But I do think you’re right to worry a bit when our daughter is holding tea for tentaclebeasts,” and here she could not help but to chuckle.

“So this birthday. What about a proper ball? With all the trimmings.”

“A ball? Whoever would we invite?”

“Heaven only knows. Will Albert even allow outside guests?”

“If we were to hold it elsewhere,” Mary suggested, “it wouldn’t matter.”

“Where might we hold such an event?”

“Mightn’t your Aunt Mildred be willing to host the festivities?”

“It couldn’t hurt to ask, since she is family,” Charles said. “But we’d have to be rather careful not to discuss work.”

“Agreed. We wouldn’t want to offend, if she is so kind as to do us this favor.”

“I’ll ask if she would, and of course make it clear that we will handle all the expenses involved. I wouldn’t hear of putting her out for this.”

“Heavens, no, she can’t think we’re beggars.”

“Now, my dear, you must put that clever mind of yours to work solving the dilemma of the guest list.”

“Surely we will come to some solution, by then,” Mary said laughingly.

 

Chapter Four: Story Two

“You’re kidding, aren’t you?” Christopher said to Michael incredulously.

“Not in the slightest.” Michael calmly took another drink of his after-dinner brandy, which he and Christopher were enjoying in the gentlemens’ lounge.

“He hasn’t even made his Passage yet, and Uncle wants him out on a mission?”

“He will have made his Passage by then.”

“We should like to believe that he will have.”

Michael shrugged. “It’s not as if he’ll be Crossing or Interfacing. It’s probably the simplest mission we have to offer.” He felt a pain in the scarred skin on his face and winced, rubbing at it in frustration.

“Well, what Uncle wants, Uncle will get.” Christopher said with a shrug of his own.

“Why does it bother you?”

“You’re not one to beat around the bush, are you?”

“I never was before, and I don’t plan on starting anytime soon.”

“Well,” Christopher said, “I can’t help but notice that he made quite a show of delaying Eudora, but he’s awfully eager to accept this fellow.”

“I think we all felt a little odd about having a woman join Special Services,” Michael said. “Even if we did always have Gigi.”

“Yes, but Gigi’s not a…I mean…she’s his niece, isn’t that a bit different?” Christopher asked.

“I think that’s rather how all of us saw it.”

“But that can’t be his only reason, can it? You know him, always three moves ahead.”

“That’s what I can’t seem to get out of him. The rationale behind all of this. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was slipping. That there’s no rationale at all.”

“You can’t be serious,” Christopher said, surprised for the second time that conversation.

“There’s nothing to be serious about, yet. I don’t have any facts. Just a bit of doubt.”

“I suppose we’d best keep an eye on the old man then. Be a bit more aware of things. But Michael, in all honesty, what would we do without him?”

“Find a way to carry on. Like we always do.” Michael rubbed at his head. “I’m weary, my friend. I’m going to turn in early. Will you be sure to send Eudora to me for a briefing Thursday morning?”

“Of course. Will Mr. Simmons be there?”

“Assuming he makes his Passage tomorrow, yes.”

“Right then. I’ll let her know. Rest well.”

“Thank you. Good night.”

*    *    *

Eudora stood squarely in the doorway of the tentaclebeast quarters, hands on her hips. “Hello,” she said to the group. “I’m looking for Marauder.”

She didn’t have to wait for the others to understand her inquiry. Marauder floated smoothly towards her, coiling and uncoiling his tentacles.

“Would you be so kind as to accompany me for a practice session?” She gestured for him to follow her and took a step towards the door.

He blinked his eyes at her, first three, and then the other three. Or at least, it looked like a blink. Eudora noticed that the motion went from left to right, rather than top to bottom.

She gestured to him again taking a few more steps towards the door. Still nothing.

“I could have sworn this is how Gigi does it,” Eudora said under her breath. Finally, unable to think of anything else, she stood and held out her arms as if to Interface. Marauder flew to her shoulders, snapping into place before she could object.

Have it your way then, she thought. She was slowly becoming more used to Marauder’s sudden Interfacings, and his efforts to disorient her were becoming less effective.

I’d like to practice our exercises from training. Shall we begin?

No response from Marauder. Splendid, Eudora thought to him, refusing to be put off. Let us continue to the gymnasium.

At her thought of the gymnasium, Marauder sent a memory of the push-ups where she smacked face-first into the floor.

Yes. That place, Eudora thought, already fuming. No, this won’t do at all, she told herself. She took a deep, steadying breath, and imagined her most polite and cheerful greeting for attendees to one of her mother’s balls. Then she began making her way to the gymnasium. For his part, Marauder didn’t seem to be interfering, although Eudora couldn’t say how long it was taking her to get there.

She began with jumping jacks, their most common warm-up.

Some three jumps in, the nausea began. She forced her way through it. Then Marauder began tugging on her hair with his tentacles. She ignored him. The tugs grew more insistent. She gritted her teeth, feeling the suckers detaching from and re-attaching to the skin of her arms with a loud popping sound.

Marauder yanked one of her arms down when she had intended to raise it up. She stopped.

What? What?! Confound you, you beast, what is it?!

No answer.

This behavior is unacceptable, she continued. I won’t have it. I simply won’t. We’re the ones helping you, remember? So either you work with me, or you allow me access to one of your kind who will.

Marauder yanked her hair again, hard. Furious, she grabbed a tentacle with a free hand and pulled with all her might. She felt his shock and pain right before he broke off the Interfacing and leapt off her back. They stood facing each other, Eudora staring hard into those six eyes, fuming.

“Very well, then,” Eudora said quietly. “I’ll give you time to think about that.” She turned her back on him and left the gymnasium.

 

Chapter Four: Story One

“Another applicant,” Albert said to Michael as they entered his study. “Is there a rush on for tentaclebeasts? Do we have some kind of increased stock market value that I was unaware of?”

“Couldn’t tell you, but it is odd,” Michael said, taking a seat and leaning back, arms folded behind his head. “I can’t imagine anyone has actually taken our side.”

“No, I can’t imagine that either. All the same, he’s a strong lad, for a butterfly collector. Christopher said he did well on the physical battery.”

“Are you thinking to accept him, then?”

“Well, that’s up to the board, isn’t it? Not me alone.”

“Be honest with me, Albert. Would we really take someone over your objections?”

“You accepted Eudora.”

“You admitted that you had no concrete reason to object to her joining. But that’s beside the point. I was asking what you think of Mr. Simmons.”

“As long as we’re being honest, then, I ought to point out that I’m not really in a position to reject anyone.”

“Is he so bad as that?”

“Not at all. I think he’s a fine lad. Nothing exceptional, but nothing too terribly wrong with him either.”

“Why the reserve, then?” Michael asked. “Shouldn’t you be pleased to have another for our Cause?”

“I am,” Albert said.

Michael arched a brow. I’m not exactly convinced, he thought.

“What do you make of the fellow?” Albert asked.

“I think he’s strong, intelligent, willing to do the job. All around, rather commendable.”

“Bah, I am getting to be an old man, Michael. Old before my time. Much more fuss, and I’m liable to turn into a nanny.”

“Now there’s an image.” Both men laughed. A moment later, Michael continued. “Have you had a look at the paper lately?”

“Been rather occupied with other things. Something I should be aware of?”

“There’s a man claiming he’s discovered a way to warn of an impending tentaclebeast attack. He’s taken out an advertisement in the paper. I don’t think anyone’s taking him seriously; there’s no proper articles about it.”

“Indeed? Did this fellow happen to disclose just how his miraculous discovery works?”

“Not a word. That, he promises, will be revealed at a special demonstration for an audience of a select few. You have to contact him to obtain an invitation, and he said that “only those with a serious interest need apply”. My guess is, he’s seeking investors.”

“We need to get someone to that demonstration. Someone who knows what we’re looking for, and who won’t attract undue notice.”

“Christopher?”

“Not after the theater incident. I doubt the public will have forgotten that.”

“Miss Wright, perhaps?”

“Perhaps, although a woman alone would attract nearly as much notice as a known SPOT agent. She’d need an escort.”

“If you’re already of a mind to accept Mr. Simmons, then perhaps it can serve as part of his training.”

“But they’re both new. Can we really trust them to bring back the information we’ll need?”

“If you didn’t already trust them, Albert, they wouldn’t be here. And really, who else do we have to send? Your family’s all known to belong to SPOT. I’d stick out in any crowd, SPOT or no. Any agent who’s had leave has had a chance to be recognized.”

“You’re right. We need them to do it because they are new.”

“I’m afraid there’s no way around it,” Michael said. “At least, not so far as I can see.”

“We’re in agreement there. Will you take care of it?”

“Consider it done.”

“Thank you. Anything else I might have missed in the paper?” Albert asked.

“Governor Clark is up for re-election. The papers are predicting he’ll make a clean sweep of it.”

“Who’s his competition then?”

“Thaddeus Blackwell. Don’t know much about him, I’m afraid.”

“Like as not the voters don’t either. Not to say that I’m on personal terms with Governor Clark, either.”

“Have you two ever butted heads?” Michael asked.

“No, or at least, not directly. I can’t imagine that our lives have been made difficult without his knowledge or approval though.”

“I wonder…” Michael trailed off.

“What’s that?”

“I wonder what we’d say of Governor Clark if there were no such thing as SPOT. What might we judge our candidates on then? Have you noticed that it’s all we talk about?”

“I don’t suppose I had given it any thought.

“Eh, it’s nothing,” Michael said.

“No, no, you raise a good point,” Albert interjected. “After all, one mustn’t lose sight of what one is fighting for.”

“But it’s also unrealistic,” Michael pointed out. “We can’t undo our knowledge of tentaclebeasts, of their world, and its effect on ours. It’s changed us, forever.”

“Quite right.”

“So for us…elections will always have to do with tentaclebeasts.” Michael laughed, shaking his head. “Absurd notion!”

“Yet true nonetheless.” Albert looked at his hands, lost in thought for a moment.

“You know…perhaps it’s not all so bad,” Michael said.

“What then?”

“Knowing new things. Being changed. After all, it is an entire new world to explore.”

“Mr. Valentine would agree with you there. Doctor Hardale can scarcely keep him in his sickbed. If he had his way, he’d be off exploring and charting and building, and goodness knows what else.”

“We might have more applicants to SPOT, if we could convince others of that.”

“What, you mean advertise? Like the man with the “great discovery”?”

“It couldn’t hurt, could it?”

“It wouldn’t be the craziest thing we’ve tried, not by half. See to it, would you?”

“It would be my pleasure.”

“You’re full of useful suggestions today. Thank you.”

“Is that different from any other day?” Michael asked with a grin.

“Incorrigible boy. On with you, then.”

“Sir, yes sir!” Michael saluted as he left the study.

 

 

Chapter Three: Story Nine

“Are you alright then?” Gigi asked Eudora after training had finished.

“Oh yes, I’m fine. Just glad that’s over. And I’m sure it is too,” she said, indicating her tentaclebeast counterpart, who was hovering a few feet away. He seemed a little disoriented—at least, Eudora dearly hoped he was disoriented, if not worse, from the experience.

“Oh, so you haven’t a name for him yet? You ought to choose something.”

“I can think of a few names,” Eudora said dryly.

Gigi laughed. “So bad as all that, then?”

“Well, it certainly wasn’t easy. But then, it’s not meant to be, is it?”

“You know, with that skin on his back…it looks like a wing, or a cloak. He looks like a highwayman from a novel.”

“Marauder,” Eudora said.

“Yes, like that. A pirate, maybe.”

“That’s what we’ll call him. Marauder.” Eudora looked at the newly-nicknamed tentaclebeast, but he made no acknowledgement of her pronouncement.

“Marauder. That’s interesting. Violent name,” Gigi observed.

“It suits him. Well, I suppose I’d better change for supper.” Eudora thought sadly of the hot bath that wouldn’t be waiting for her this time. Her cold washbasin and pitcher would have to do.

“Right. See you then.” Gigi bounded off and Inky followed close by. Eudora marvelled at the apparent friendship between the two, and how Gigi could still be so full of energy and enthusiasm when she felt drained, sore, and battered from her close encounters with the floor. Shooting a glare at “Marauder”, Eudora began the trip to her quarters when she encountered Michael in the hall, carrying a pile of books.

“Good day, Miss Wright. How did you find the training today?”

“Oh, it was fine.” How I do wish they wouldn’t ask, Eudora thought. “Doing a little light reading?” she asked, indicating the stack in his arms.

“I’m just fetching a few I thought might be of use to Mrs. Valentine. A bit from some old military generals about the weapons they used in the last war.”

“In Urotisha? Well, I do suppose the world of the tentaclebeasts is an exotic one.”

“Filled with restless natives, even. But, anything that helps her efforts helps our efforts. Have you met Mrs. Valentine yet yourself?”

“Just briefly at dinner. I understand she’ll be part of my weapons training though.”

“Indeed. Mrs. Valentine doesn’t trust anyone but herself to teach new recruits to shoot. Nor old ones either,” he chuckled.

“If what I’ve seen her daughter do is any indication, I’m sure she’s a thorough schoolmistress,” Eudora remarked. “I’d best not keep you, with a burden like that.”

“Not at all. And Miss Wright?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you.”

“Whatever for, Mr. Brenton?”

“For not having any pity in your eyes, when you look at me. There’s not a person here who can look at me, without being put ill at-ease from my scars. Not that I blame them, of course. But thank you, all the same.”

“It’s not a thing that needs thanking. All of us have scars, Mr. Brenton. Some are seen, and others, unseen.”

“That’s very wise, Miss Wright.”

“Thank you.”

“Good day, then.”

“Good day.” They turned their separate ways down the hall.

* * *

Christopher knocked gently on Charles’ door. He expected the man to be asleep, and was about to walk away when he heard Charles call him in.

Charles was sitting up reading a book, which he put aside as Christopher entered. “Ah, Christopher, how pleasant to see you. Do come in.”

“Mr. Valentine, I’m very pleased to see you so much improved,” Christopher began.

“Now, now, there’s no cause to be so formal. I know why you’re here.”

“You do?” Christopher asked.

“You are here for the same reason each of my children has been here, and I daresay you were only delayed this long by Doctor Hardale’s insistence. And I must tell you, there’s no need for an apology.”

“I failed in my mandate to provide for your protection, sir.”

“Oh Christopher. I’m a grown man, and I have been involved with this lunatic’s venture even longer than yourself. I know well the risks, even if I don’t handle them as well as you younger ones. Now come, sit, tell me what’s been happening. I’m religiously shielded from all actual news and urged to focus on my recovery. But I daresay I’m no invalid yet.”

“We’re training as usual. Mr. Hedley finally relented and allowed Miss Wright to join in.”

“No doubt that has delighted my daughter beyond measure.”

“Quite,” Christopher said with a smile. “Also, we’ve a new applicant.”

“Indeed? What sort of fellow?”

“I haven’t learned much of him yet. Young man by the name of Gideon Simmons, from here in Thorthrope. Describes himself as a “student of the natural sciences”.”

“Is he looking to join the support staff, then?”

“No, he’s most insistent on applying to Special Services. Mr. Hedley’s letting him have a go at it.”

“And how is my son doing?” Charles asked. “He visits, but I can hardly get two words from him about his own concerns.”

Christopher hesitated a moment. “He seems to be a bit troubled, doubtless by your, uh, incident.”

“Troubled in what way?”

“A touch more hot-headed in training. Nothing out of the ordinary for a healthy young man though.”

“I well remember myself at his age. You may not think it to look at me, but I used to have quite the temper back then.” He took a sip of water from a glass at his bedside. “Thank you for your news bulletins, Christopher. Do stop by more often. You relieve my tedium. It is so dreadful to be forced into idleness like this.”

Christopher observed the books and papers stacked about Charles’ bed. “I daresay you have not been so idle as all that, Mr. Valentine.”

He chuckled. “This is nothing for me. I need my office. I need my work. But my wife and my doctor, well, you’d think I’d been flown straight back to my childhood.”

“They’re right. I ought to let you rest. Take care of yourself.”

“Of course.”

“And Mr. Valentine, for what it’s worth, I am sorry.”

“No one is perfect, Christopher. Trouble yourself no further.”

“Thank you, sir,” Christopher said as he departed, still thinking of Mr. Valentine’s wounds.

 

Chapter Three: Story Eight

“Here’s the thing,” Christopher told Eudora prior to Interfacing practice. “You don’t realize how big tentaclebeasts actually are.”

“Are they different over here than over there?”

“No, or rather, not like you’re thinking. The ones we work with don’t actually change in size. But, compared to most of their kind, they’re tiny. Insignificant, even. That’s why they were losing the war, badly enough to seek any help they can find.”

“What is the tentaclebeast war about, then?”

“Same as any war I suppose. Two groups who want to rule the same patch of ground. Tentaclebeast society is all about size and strength. The big ones get to have what they want, and the little ones have to wait for the table scraps. The little guys decided they didn’t like it anymore. So they told the big ones they’d had enough. They were ignored. So they fought it out. Except, something had changed. There were of course all sorts of tussles and scrapes before. That’s how they determine rank.”

“Like wolves in a pack?”

“Precisely. But this time, instead of the loser accepting defeat, and instead of lone struggles for individual rank, these smaller tentaclebeasts banded together, and attacked in groups. And kept on attacking. They weren’t willing to accept things as they stood any longer.”

“But they couldn’t defeat the larger ones?”

“No. And when I say larger…well, some that I’ve seen, they’re the size of a house.”

“A house? This house?”

“Not so large as that. But a more modest dwelling, certainly.”

“How could something small enough to ride on our shoulders have a prayer against something like that? They must be mad.”

“Maybe they are. But they’re also the only ones who offered to help us. The larger ones, if they even know we exist or that they’re harming our world, don’t care. It’s inconsequential to them.”

“And do we do anything to harm their world?”

“Not that we’ve been able to tell, so far. But who knows? When it comes down to it, we have only made the acquaintance of very few tentaclebeasts. We of course don’t know precisely how many there are, but our allies have made us to understand there are a great many.”

Gigi entered the room, with Inky riding on her shoulders. “Reporting for training, sir,” she said to Captain Drury.

“Very good, Valentine. Since you’re early, show Wright to the tentaclebeast quarters to pick up her partner.”

“Sir, yes sir. Right this way,” she said, gesturing to Eudora.

“Uh, sir?” Eudora said to Christopher before they could go.

“Yes, Wright?”

“I was wondering if I…might request a different tentaclebeast counterpart this time, sir?”

“Sorry, Wright, but unfortunately there are no other volunteers.”

“Sir, you mean no other tentaclebeasts will work with me, sir?”

“Correct. But I wouldn’t trouble myself about it, Wright. Better get a move on so we can begin training.” And indeed, Richard and Douglas were entering the room, tentaclebeasts at the ready.

“Sir, yes sir,” Eudora replied as she’d been taught. The military customs were coming to her slowly after a lifetime of ladylike training. Gigi nodded and Eudora followed her to the tentaclebeast quarters.

“It’s nothing personal, on their part,” Gigi volunteered helpfully.

“Thank you.”

“No, really, I mean it. The others probably just feel you’ve been spoken for. They’re very conscientious of rank, amongst themselves.”

“So my current counterpart is highly situated amongst his kind?”

“Something like that…it’s more that they feel for whatever reason that he’s a right to work with you first.”

“So glad he’s grown attached,” Eudora said under her breath, not with a little sarcasm. Gigi either didn’t hear or chose to ignore the statement, and they were soon to the tentaclebeast quarters. The creature she had worked with before was waiting, his burgundy tentacles stretched out behind him supporting that odd “cloak” he’d shown before, six eyes watching her with an unblinking stare. She pushed aside her unease.

“Good day…” She realized she had no name for him. “Good day to you. I should like to Interface with you now, if you are agreeable,” Eudora said, as she held out her arms.

The creature wasted no time, but wrapped a tentacle about her arm, snapping the other into place as he landed hard on her shoulders. She felt the discs on his tentacles sucking and releasing her skin, in a rippling pattern, going painfully up and down her arms.

She had steeled herself against making any sound, but she didn’t expect Interfacing to hit her so quickly. It surged into her consciousness like a wave at the ocean, and her mind was transported back to trips to visit her grandparents, on her father’s side, at their island home outside Listle. She could feel the sand under her feet, and then she was playing in it, making a castle she’d made when she was six. She felt the grainy, wet stuff between her fingers as she sculpted it, smiling up at her older brother, John—

John, you’re dead. This isn’t real. She imagined an enormous door slamming on the scene, much as she had with the memory of her father’s study, and seethed at the beast on her shoulders.

“Eudora? Eudora? Are you alright? We’ve got to go to training.” Gigi was looking at her with concern. As Eudora gained a bit of control over her senses, she noticed the feather-light touch of Inky, politely at the outskirts of her joint mind. Did he see what happened? she wondered.

“Eudora?” Gigi asked again, reaching out an arm, but stopping short of touching Eudora’s shoulder, conscious of the delicacy of the situation.

“Gigi, I’m sorry. How long…how long was I—”

“I’ve been trying to get sense from you for ten minutes. If you hadn’t come around soon I was about to send for help.”

“I’m fine, I’m sorry. Let’s get back.” Eudora’s awkward Interfaced walk slowed them down considerably. They returned as quickly as they could to the gymnasium.

But not quickly enough. “Valentine! Wright! You’re late,” Christopher called. “Front and center, twenty pushups.”

They made their way to the front of the room, past the other members of SPOT, each sporting his own tentaclebeast. Eudora stumbled about halfway up, and flushed with embarrassment. When they took their places at the front, she got down on the floor, feeling intensely dizzy as she did so. With the eyes of the entire room on her, she began attempting pushups, but the tentaclebeast in her mind was incredibly disorienting.

Can’t you do anything to help? she thought at it, but it said nothing. Down. Up.

“I want to hear you counting, soldiers,” Christopher told them.

“One!” Eudora called. Down. Up. The tentacles squeezed her arms tightly. Down. Up. She was bombarded with images from six extra eyes, and she shut her own eyes reflexively, trying to block it out. It was no use. Down. Up.

“Four!” Her shoulders started to lock up under the weight of the tentaclebeast sitting on them. It was as if he’d deliberately settled his weight on her, sinking in like she was a plush sofa. Down. Up. She could hear Gigi calling out twenty. She finished already? Down. Up. Down. Up. She felt her left arm buckling under her, and suddenly her next “down” was a lot less graceful, and her face nearly smacked into the floor. She shook her head, trying to clear it, trying not to feel the minds of the other trainees and tentaclebeasts in the room. The creature on her shoulders seemed to perversely wish to supply her with all this information instead, and the conversation grew in volume in her thoughts until she was certain her ears would fall off. Still, she physically heard nothing. Down. Up. Down. Up. Again and again.

“Twenty, sir!” Eudora called out. She forced herself to her feet, her head spinning.

“Take your place, Wright, and don’t be late to my training again.”

“Sir!” she acknowledged, turning to face the room and wondering where her spot might be. She saw Gigi, and on her shoulders, Inky making a discreet gesture with some of his tentacles. The room was still wobbling under her feet, and she staggered to the space beside Gigi, mercifully in the back row.

“Let’s begin with a nice warm-up,” Christopher called out. “One hundred jumping jacks, with me. I want to hear you counting.”

Listen you, she told the beast on her shoulders firmly. I don’t like this any better than you do. But you’re the only one that will work with me, and we have to make do. So just cooperate, and this can be over with a lot less hassle for the both of us.

By way of reply, the creature sent a picture of her closed door.

Fine. Be that way. I can do this without you. She pushed herself through the exercise, noting that while she didn’t seem to be getting any help from the creature, it was at least no longer actively interfering. It still had what felt like a death grip on her arms, though at least it was using its levitation talents to avoid being bounced about by her exertions.

After they’d performed a number of warm-up exercises, Christopher announced the main course. “Today, I want to see you run. Not a long, slow jog like you’re all used to. I want sprints. Line up against that wall,” he said, gesturing to his right. “You’ll notice a number of markings dividing this floor into quarters,” he said, indicating lines along the sides of the floor. “For your first sprint, run as fast as you can the full length of the gym and back. Then three-quarters, half, and one quarter. Begin!”

Eudora ran with all her might, but to her new, strange vision it seemed as if dips were appearing in the floor with every other step. Somehow she managed to get to the far side of the gym, but on her return trip, she misjudged where the floor was actually situated, and managed to trip over her own feet. She smacked hard to the floor and felt the breath knocked out of her. Furious, she pushed her way to her feet, spitting mental venom at her counterpart. She ran so quickly after that, she was able to make up for the stumble that had left her behind her teammates and actually finish close to when they did.

“Alright,” Christopher told them, “you now know the pattern for your sprints. I want two dozen complete sprint cycles from each of you. Begin!”

It’s going to be a very long day, Eudora thought.

 

Chapter Three: Story Seven

“But Gideon, think of your poor mother,” Newton Simmons said to his son for the fourth time that afternoon.

“I understand, Father,” Gideon said as patiently as he could, “but really, it’s not up for debate. I’m going to go where I’m needed.”

“Can’t you just keep on working at the museum?” Newton asked plaintively.

“I’ve already categorized all the butterflies in the museum’s collection, father. Just think, travelling to Urotisha will open up all sorts of opportunities for me. Why, I might even get to name a new butterfly. I could name it for Mother,” he said, feeling guilty about including her in his lie.

“Is this about a girl, Gideon?” his father said, arching his brow and doing his best to fix Gideon with a penetrating gaze.

Gideon gave a half-laugh, half-sigh and shook his head. “No, Father, it is nothing to do with a girl, I assure you.”

“Well, why isn’t it then? Boy your age, it ought to be.” Newton reached for his brandy snifter with a wrinkled hand. “It’s high time you provided your mother and I with some grandchildren.”

“After I return from an exotic land with some dazzling butterfly specimens, I’m sure some fair maiden will fall irresistibly in love with me, and then you can have all the grandchildren you could ever want.”

“All I’m saying, son, is that it’s better that you stay here, with your family. Stop thinking about butterflies and find yourself a good woman. That’s what every man needs. I found your mother, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did, and she’s wonderful, father, but this is for science. There could be creatures the world doesn’t even know about yet. Can you imagine? A new species! It’s an honor that the museum chose me for this expedition.” His father harumffed and nodded and sipped his brandy.

“It’s time I was going. I have to pack,” Gideon continued.

“So soon?”

“I’m leaving tomorrow.”

“They couldn’t give you more notice?”

“It was a last-minute opportunity. One of the other fellows on the trip broke his leg, and he can’t go.”

“Hmmf.” Newton sipped his brandy again. “Be careful, son.”

“I will, Father. Everything will be fine.”

“Don’t forget to kiss your mother goodbye.”

“I won’t.” As he thought about the packing that awaited him, Gideon wondered, What do you bring with you when you’re fighting tentaclebeasts?

*     *     *
“It’s been one month, Mr. Hedley,” Eudora said, standing before Albert’s desk.

“Has it now?” he said, looking over reading spectacles at a stack of papers—one of many that comprised his desktop decor.

Eudora waited silently for him to look up. He neither looked up nor spoke, and eventually, she was forced to continue.

“I would like to begin my formal training.”

“I haven’t seen any change in you, Miss Wright.”

“What change are you waiting to see?” She asked the question calmly, without any of the frustration she felt, but it was quite present.

“Something that shows me that you take this seriously. That you understand what is being asked of you, and that you’re willing to give it, without hesitation.”

“I’ve done all that you’ve asked of me. I’ve watched trainings, I’ve gotten to know the others, I’ve practiced Interfacing. I’ve even helped sort your mail. In what way have I not fulfilled your requirements?”

“You’ve remained on the outskirts. You haven’t become part of the team. You weren’t asked to sort mail or practice Interfacing; you were asked to demonstrate your appreciation for the gravity of this work.”

“That’s not fair! You won’t permit me to become part of the team. You won’t give me any real duties. Am I supposed to simply sit idly by while more civilians are killed?” she fumed.

“That’s what’s behind all this? You’re worried about the population of Aldershire?” Albert asked, his voice full of skepticism.

“I—yes! Of course I am! I can’t stop thinking about it. How people are dying and I’m sitting here sifting through letters. I can’t stand it!”

“Very well. You may begin formal training.”

“I—I what?”

“You’ve shown me what I needed to see, Miss Wright.”

“A childish outburst?”

“Sincere passion. Something that breaks through that icy exterior of yours and shows what you truly care about. I believe you when you say that you cannot bear waiting idly by while others are dying. That was sincere. You may begin training. Unless, of course, you have some objection?” he asked with an arched brow.

“No, sir.”

“Excellent. Report to Captain Drury, and tell him that I’ve given orders for your training to commence at once.”

“Right…thank you, then,” Eudora said as she closed the door behind her. Wonders never cease, she thought. I am to begin my formal training. I’ve finally joined SPOT.

I won’t let you down, Father.

 

Chapter Three: Story Six

John Carrollton, Mayor of Thorthrope, sat waiting in the governor’s mansion, also located in Thorthrope. Frederick Clark, Governor of Aldershire, could cause him to wait as long as he very well pleased.

John resented that, but he refused to budge. The countless complaints he’d received from his citizens meant that he must take action. Even if he had no idea what sort of action might help. And so he waited.

He looked again and again at the artwork in the governor’s sitting room. Nothing was too frilly or gaudy so long as it was expensive, or hard to come by. Ideally both. In particular, John lingered over the Arcington vase on the mantle. Itself worth thousands of Schen, the flowers overflowing it, marabelles, with their fuzzy blue cups formed from angular petals, were expensive owing to their high demand for bridal bouquets. He wouldn’t have noticed the flowers at all, save that his mother was so fond of them, and they were too expensive to have about the home—a fact that she remarked on with great frequency.

At least, in more modest dwellings, he thought, you don’t have hours to sit and look at how rich some people are. He’d been waiting for over three hours, and the heat in the sitting room was oppressive. He felt the Wacombe’s Scented Oil in his slicked-back, black hair beginning to run down his neck, calculating how much it would cost to have the laundress scrub it out of his collar and adding that amount to his resentment of Governor Clark. His mustache wax was plastering itself most unpleasantly against his lip as well.

With all this wealth, you’d think he could send me refreshments, he thought, but the butler had not reappeared during John’s entire wait to offer so much as a drink of water to combat the thick summer atmosphere. It’s all part of the game. He means to drive me out before he’s heard me.

Drumming his fingers over the pile of letters from “concerned citizens”, John resumed calculating all the probable values of the paintings (from wildly popular artists of Aldershire), drapes (with excessive fabric), carpeting (imported), and furniture (custom-built).

He straightened when he heard footsteps, gathering up the letters and standing. It was the butler again.

“I’m terribly sorry, Mayor Carrollton, but Governor Clark is frightfully busy attending to his duties, and he won’t be able to see you today.”

“I see,” John said tersely. “And he couldn’t possibly have made this known to me three hours ago?”

“I’m afraid not, sir. He sent me just as soon as he was able.”

“I really must see him. Can you please return and tell him I’ve said so?”

“I’m sorry, sir, but the Governor was quite clear in his instructions.”

“The matter I am here to present to him is of grave importance. I would not have come otherwise.”

“Governor Clark wishes me to assure you that he is fully aware of the reasons for your visit, and that he has the matter well in-hand. He was certain you wouldn’t mind, understanding that such a serious issue must be dealt with at higher levels of government.”

“Oh, I don’t mind!” John shouted as he picked up his hat and shoved it rudely onto his head while still indoors. “I don’t mind in the slightest! I’ve nothing important at all to do with my day. No duties of my own to attend to. In fact, I think I shall pay a visit to my dear Mother!” Before the astonished butler could say another word, John snatched the expensive marabelles from their even more expensive vase and marched out the door, slamming it behind him as he went.

 
 
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