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Category Archives: Chapter Four

Chapter Four: Story Eleven

Albert sat calmly in his cell for the fourth day of his imprisonment. Roger, a guard Albert had become quite friendly with, had provided him with a deck of playing cards for his amusement, and he passed the time playing solitaire and practicing fancy methods of shuffling and dealing the cards. He snapped the cards together, then spread them into a fan with a smooth gesture. I’m a little rusty, but I don’t think I’ve brought shame to my youthful self, Albert thought with a smile towards memories of his younger years.

Roger appeared at the cell door. “Mr. Hedley? If it warn’t too much trouble, my friend Howard here, he’d like to listen to what you’ve got to say about those beasts you were telling me about.” His companion peered out from behind him with a curious glance for Albert.

“It’s no trouble at all gentlemen. Please, pull up a chair.”

Roger nodded to Howard and then brought a chair for Howard, stationing himself to the side to look for anyone who might be coming.

“My friend here tole me you knew what was causin the attacks we’ve been seein,” Howard said to Albert, “or rather, not seeing.”

“I do know.”

“Would you be fixin to tell us then?”

“Very large creatures that we cannot ordinarily see.”

“Invisible creatures is eatin us then?”

“Well, I have never seen anyone eaten, have you?” Albert asked in all seriousness.

“Don’t s’pose I have,” Howard answered after some consideration.

“What is happening is that these creatures are…overlapping with us. They try to take up the same space as we do and people get hurt.”

“S’posing that what you say is true, then,” Howard began, with a significant look at Roger, “why would these creatures want to do a thing like that?”

“It’s accidental. All but a few of them are completely unaware of our existence. They come from a world very different from ours.”

“Another world? Invisible creatures from another world?” Howard laughed. “Roger, you must be getting awfully bored, with only one man in the jail. Haha, you’ve told me a good one,” he said to Albert.

“What if I told you that I could prove the truth of my story, right here, right now?” Albert said.

“That’s why I had to bring you,” Roger said. “He wouldn’t show only me. It had to be two of us.”

“Why two of us?” Howard asked.

“Because only one of you would never be believed,” Albert said. “If two of you say the same thing, there might be a chance.”

“Why are you so keen that we believe this anyway?” Roger asked.

“Because the more people that know the truth, the greater a chance we have of surviving,” Albert answered. “Are you ready to see my proof? It may be quite a shock for you.”

“Alright then,” Roger said. “On with it.”

“Very well.” Albert took off his jacket. Perched on his shoulder was a small, oval shaped tentaclebeast, no longer than a loaf of bread. Black with light blue zebra striping, it also sported a blue underside. Around its back was a flat, thin fin, and atop its head two shiny black eyes protruded above a number of short, thick black tentacles with blue spots that gave the beast a moustached appearance.

Then men stared in shock, mouths and eyes open equally wide, and made not a sound.

Roger was the first to speak. “Why…why didn’t they…take that thing from you…when you got here?”

“Because they did not remember that it was there.”

“Those…things make you forget?” Roger continued.

“Some forget. Not all. And that is why I need you gentlemen. There are some very important people who need to believe the truth in what I’m saying, even if they can’t recall the evidence for themselves. If they can’t remember, then the ordinary people of Aldershire must remember for them.”

Howard still had not spoken, and Roger fell silent. They stared at the tentaclebeast for some time. For its part, the creature perched serenely on Albert’s arm, Albert having previously made the necessity for stillness and quiet clear beyond all doubt.

“What do you want us to do?” Roger asked.

“Remember, and tell everyone you know what you’ve seen. There are tentaclebeasts that will work with us to stop the attacks. But we can’t do it if no one understands what’s truly happening.”

There were footsteps approaching rapidly, and Albert quickly covered the tentaclebeast with his jacket once more. I’ve taken a foolish risk, he thought. How many can I show from a jail cell? And how will this little fellow ever make it home again? he thought of his unintended stowaway. Roger took Howard’s hand and pulled him to a standing position, because the man was still clearly in shock, and quickly returned the chair to where it had been.

Albert heard their conversation while Howard stood somewhat listlessly by the cell.

“Mayor, sir, what can I do for you sir?” Roger said. Albert detected the slight tremor that told him Roger was still a bit shaken by his experience.

“I’m here on Governor’s orders to have the prisoner released,” John Carrolton said. Albert heard a rustle of papers.

“Very well, sir, shall I fetch him for you?”

“Yes, do that,” John said irritably.

“Straightaway sir.” Albert heard a clanging of keys and Roger returned.

“You’re to go home then,” Roger said simply.

Albert took the deck of cards and held it out to Roger. “Thank you, Roger,” he said, looking Roger in the eyes and lifting his right shoulder ever-so-slightly.

“Keep ‘em,” Roger said in a low voice as he nodded. “They’re a gift.”

Albert nodded back, and Roger unlocked his cell and escorted him back to the mayor as Albert glanced with some concern at Howard. He’s not taking to it, Albert thought with disappointment.

“Mr. Albert Hedley,” John began, “You are to be released. I…apologize…for the…mistake of your having been arrested in the first place. There was a misunderstanding.”

“Indeed,” Albert said, smiling lightly.

“We’re most sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused you,” John continued, fighting to keep his tone civil, or at least somewhat sincere.

“I’m sure you are,” Albert said.

“You’re to be conveyed home immediately. A carriage is waiting for you. I trust you won’t be needing anything else?”

“Not at this time,” Albert said, “except, perhaps, the assurance that such a “misunderstanding” won’t be happening in the future?”

“I assure you, Mr. Hedley, that it will not,” John said in a pantomime of accomodation.

“Very well then. On to the carriage!” Albert said brightly, with a wide grin, enjoying every moment of John’s discomfort.

“This way!” John said as he turned on his heel and briskly walked out.

Albert leaned over to Roger. “Your friend, take care of him. He’s not going to remember. There may be nightmares. Don’t try to tell him, just let it pass. I’m sorry.”

“You did what you had to do,” Roger said.

Albert nodded. “Good luck.” He turned and followed John out of the jail.

 

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Chapter Four: Story Ten

Christopher rose before the sun after an impressive round of half-remembered nightmares. He did some basic exercises, washed up, and read over the ray gun specifications Mary had asked him to review, writing suggestions for her in the margins.

Finishing that, he took a thick stack of papers to the common study. Personnel evaluations. Albert’s absence didn’t change the fact that he had to fill them out, but it certainly made it harder to get them done. He normally split training supervision with Michael, but with Michael replacing Albert, a lot more had fallen on his shoulders.

He had only arrived in the study when Michael joined him. “Good evening,” Michael greeted him.

“Evening? You mean you haven’t slept?” Christopher asked, setting down his pen.

“Not a wink. What about you?”

“I slept, but I wouldn’t call it quality. Still, it seems I’m faring better than you, my friend.”

“I’ll manage. So are those evals?” Michael gestured at the pile.

“Yes. Terribly overdue, I know, but I just haven’t had a moment.”

“I’m afraid I’m about to compound that. I was here to ask a favor.”

“What’s needed then?”

“I was wondering if you could give Eudora some coaching on self-defense. She hasn’t been in regular training long, and if something goes wrong on her side-mission, I don’t want her to be helpless.”

“I can do that. But she’ll be with Gideon—surely he could deter any drunken party guests or other such ruffians?”

“Eh,” Michael shrugged. “I think it would be best that she be able to handle herself.”

Christopher nodded, while noting the expression on Michael’s face and filing it away for future reference. He seems a bit preoccupied, Christopher thought with an arch of his brow.

“Well, if you’re to have any time to train her, I’d best leave you to these,” Michael said, once again indicating Christopher’s nagging stack of papers. “Good luck…and thanks.”

“Think nothing of it,” Christopher said. “But perhaps you’d better think of some rest, hm?”

“Don’t worry,” Michael said, waving his hand dismissively. “I’ve just been busy. Talk to you later.”

“Until then.” Christopher turned back to his evaluations as Michael left. Soon, though, there was another presence in the study. Sky, Brian’s tentaclebeast counterpart, wandered into the room, trailing dozens and dozens of thin, translucent, fuschia-tinged tentacles under his blue body.

“Good day, Sky,” Christopher said as Sky came near. Sky bobbed in the air but continued on.

I wonder why he’s about, Christopher thought. He supposed he could request an Interfacing to ask, but it seemed somehow a faux pas to Interface with “someone else’s” tentaclebeast. Before he’d had long to consider the matter, Sky was on his way, and Christopher attempted once again to return to the evaluations.

It was not to last. Richard entered the study. “Good morning, sir.”

“Good morning.” Christopher noticed to his surprise that Richard was already in his training uniform. We don’t usually suit up before breakfast, Christopher thought, as a rumble in his stomach reminded him he had not broken his own fast. He was about to read the first evaluation when he realized Richard was still standing by him.

“Something I can do for you, Livingston?” Christopher asked.

“Sir, we’re assembled and awaiting your pleasure in the gymnasium. The uh, morning archery session you ordered, sir,” Richard added by way of reminding him.

“Damn, right, archery. Head back; I’ll be there directly, Livingston, thank you.”

“Sir, thank you, sir,” Richard replied.

Damn, forgetting my own trainings, Christopher thought, rubbing the bridge of his nose. When did that get its start? Sighing, he pulled the evaluation papers together to take back to his quarters, untouched. They’ll just have to wait again, he thought. There’s work to be done.

 

Chapter Four: Story Nine

Mayor John Carrolton could not be more inordinately pleased with himself if he’d tried. Well, and truly, he had tried. He thought of his prisoner—delightful phrase!—his prisoner, a guest of the local precinct. He thought of the countless letters of congratulations and gratitude that would accumulate from his happy constituents. He thought of the guaranteed re-elections, and his eventual legacy as a beloved mayor, the best in Thorthrope’s history, and tugged on his mustache with a grin, envisioning his future statue in the town square. The Mayoral Mansion would be forever after known as Carrolton House, and future Mayors would look up to his portrait and strive to emulate his example.

But one thought outshone all of these happy possibilities. He lifted a brief note off of his desk that had been delivered by his assistant earlier in the day.

An invitation to the Governor’s mansion. Now you want to speak to me, eh Frederick Clark? he thought, running a finger over the broken seal of the letter and sighing with satisfaction.

His assistant entered the room. “Sir, I’ve brought your fresh shirt from the laundress.”

“Excellent. Hang it on the coat hook there and I’ll change when I’m ready to depart.”

“Yes, sir,” his assistant said, bowing and taking his leave.

John thought of each detail of his journey to the Governor’s Mansion in turn. His freshly-pressed shirt. His newly-shined shoes. His neatly oiled hair and impeccably waxed mustache. The single marabelle flower he would purchase on the way and pin to his lapel—just as a reminder of their last encounter.

You wouldn’t dare put me out now that I’ve solved your problems, would you? John smiled to himself, sure that an increase in salary was on its way. Perhaps I can even run for Governor one day, he mused.

John readied himself, changing his shirt and arranging his jacket. He rang for his assistant and had him summon a carriage. He brought his pocketbook to purchase the marabelle. The ride to the Governor’s mansion was filled with pleasant thoughts of the future and peppered with self-righteousness.

He ascended the steps to the mansion, squared his shoulders proudly, and lifted the ornate knocker, a lion’s head, rapping three times and waiting expectantly.

A footman answered the door. “Mayor Carrolton, please, right this way. The Governor is expecting you. May I take your coat and hat?”

“You may, thank you,” John said graciously extending the items.

The butler arrived, the same man that had been obliged to put him out on his last visit. “Mayor Carrolton, the Governor is expecting you in his study. Please follow me and I can show you right in.”

“Thank you, good chap,” John said cheerfully. Oh how the times do change! he thought, smiling broadly at the butler.

They made their way to the study, where the door was already open, and the Governor sat at his desk.

“Sir, may I present Mayor John Carrolton,” the butler announced.

“Thank you, John, do come in,” Frederick said with a wave of his hand. “That will be all, Barnabas.”

“Very good, sir,” the butler said, bowing and making his exit, pulling the door closed behind him.

“Come in, John, be seated,” Frederick continued.

John settled himself in one of the brown leather and wooden chairs, of which two faced the desk, for visitors. Momentarily, Frederick set down whatever piece of business he’d been working on at that time.

“Alright, John,” Frederick began. “I’m going to give you the opportunity to explain yourself.”

John blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

“I will say this one last time. I am going to offer you the chance to explain to me why you independently arrested Albert Hedley, without so much as a by-your-leave to my office. And it had better be a damned good explanation,” Frederick added.

“Albert Hedley is a known danger to this city, to all of Aldershire! The activities of this agency of his are a public menace and have led to the injury and death of numerous citizens—”

“But where,” the Governor began in a low and threatening voice, “did you ever conceive of the notion that you might act independently on this matter?”

“You’ve no authority over me,” John said indignantly. “I’m not some servant to be ordered about!”

“Careful, John Carrolton, be very, very careful in what you’re saying to me right now. It will determine what is to become of you over this matter.”

“What is to become of me? I expect I will be hailed as a national hero after the trial!”

“There will be no trial.”

“There—there what?!” John sputtered.

“Owing to your utter imbecility, I am going to give you a very simple explanation,” Frederick said slowly, “one that just may be within your limited capabilities to comprehend. Do not interrupt me,” he said warningly as John began to sputter once more. “The situation at Thousand Candles is a very sensitive one, that must be handled with great care and precision. Powers far greater than yourself have already been dealing with this matter. Your rashness and utter idiocy may have compromised that entire operation, opening every citizen of this province, including yourself, to greater dangers than ever before. Can you work through that on what little capacity your parents endowed you with?”

John stared at Frederick, agape, the shock and insult vying for dominance in his response. “How—how—” he began, unsure if the end of that sentence was “—dare you?” or “—are you dealing with it?”

“It might be a bit much for you to sort out, so I’m going to make it even easier for you,” Frederick continued. “You are going to have your little goons release Albert Hedley immediately. You are going to beg his forgiveness, both in person and later in writing, for any inconvenience you may have caused by this terrible mistake. You will summon a carriage, paid for in your own coin, to take him home in comfort. Finally, you will sit in that little yellow house of yours, stay the hell away from anything having to do with Hedley or SPOT or tentacles, and pray that I am merciful with regards to your punishment!”

John blinked again, shaking his head in confusion at a response so utterly opposed to what he had expected.

“Do I mistake your reaction for disagreement, John? Or are you simply reminding yourself never to have such a lapse of judgement in the future?”

“I…I will do as you have said,” John finally managed.

“Excellent. I’m glad to see that we understand each other. Of course you also understand that my orders are to be carried out immediately?”

“Yes,” John said, his head hung low.

“Very well. I trust you can find the door without Barnabas to assist you?”

“Yes,” John said again, and made his way to the door.

“And John?”

“Yes, Governor Clark?”

“The next time you steal anything from me, you’ll be the one in a cell.”

 

 

Chapter Four: Story Eight

What could he have meant by that? Eudora wondered of Mayor Carrolton’s apparent recognition in the lounge. Did we meet at one of Mother’s Society events? Some ball or fundraiser I’ve forgotten? She combed her memory, but nothing stuck out.

Then she thought over Michael and Christopher’s announcement. They said business as usual…but that doesn’t mean it has to be Albert’s business as usual. Maybe I can work my way into a real mission. It still irked her to be—

“It must really irk you,” Gideon said, joining her in the hall.

Eudora blinked, genuinely caught off-guard. “Beg your pardon?”

“Being assigned with me like this. I mean, I’m the low man on the totem pole here. I’m sorry that you had to be appointed my nanny, but I can be such a naughty boy when left to my own devices.” He winked and smiled.

Eudora laughed. “I don’t think that “nanny” is part of my mission brief.”

“Fortunately so. I’d rather get into mischief unencumbered if it’s all the same to you.” His dark eyes flashed merrily as if to underscore his point.

“You’ll hear no objection from my quarter,” Eudora replied.

“Excellent,” Gideon said. “In that case, I’d best prepare for the experience. I don’t suppose you could be so kind as to direct me to the tea carts? Surely some sandwiches or biscuits are to be had close by?”

Eudora chuckled. “I do believe I can manage to show you to the dining hall from here.”

“Lead on, fair maiden! For surely without your aid, I will be lost to famine!”

Eudora was glad of his gaiety after the distressing events of that afternoon. Most likely he trusts Michael and Christopher to tend to things. I suppose I ought to as well.

“Very well, Mr. Simmons. You’ll find sustenance in this direction,” Eudora said playfully, showing Gideon to the dining hall.

* * *

Mary, Charles, Michael, and Christopher were left in the lounge.

“Alright then,” Mary said, “let’s have it. What are these secret orders Albert entrusted you with, and not his family?”

“I’m sure it has nothing to do with that,” Christopher said. “Michael and I are just well-suited to governing SPOT.”

“And the other members of the Board aren’t suited to that task?” Mary asked.

“Mary, hear them out. Right now it’s more important to discover what Albert intended,” Charles said gently.

“You know how important SPOT is to your brother,” Michael said. “To all of us, really. There isn’t a person in this room who hasn’t made courageous sacrifices for our Cause. Albert wants us to continue to work together to end the tentaclebeast conflict once and for all, and that must be our foremost mission.”

“You said that he made provisions for his rescue,” Mary said.

“Yes. In the event of his capture, he bade us contact Governor Clark,” Michael explained. “I do not know what form the Governor’s assistance will take, only that it is Albert’s express wish that we reach out to him, discreetly. So that is what will be done. We’ll just have to wait patiently for the results.”

“I can’t believe we never planned for this eventuality,” Charles said.

“But we have—or rather Albert has,” Christopher said.

“Even still,” Charles replied, “it would be best if the Board had procedures in place for such occurrences.”

“We can worry about that later,” Christopher said. “Right now the important thing is to focus on continuing SPOT’s mission.”

“And rescuing Albert,” Mary added.

“And rescuing Albert,” Michael agreed, “according to his plan.”

“Agreed,” Charles said.

“I’ll be in my workshop,” Mary said, departing.

“I would say that my wife has the right idea,” Charles said. “And I’m sure you gentlemen have your own tasks to attend to. See you at supper?”

“With the rest of the team,” Christopher answered.

“If duty permits,” Michael said.

Charles took his leave, and Christopher turned to Michael. “So. They believe in us, for now.”

“For now is all we’ll need,” Michael said.

“How can you be so sure about this?”

“Because really, it’s all we have, Christopher.”

 

Chapter Four: Story Seven

Christopher stared at Michael. “Clark? Governor Clark? What will he do?”

“I don’t know. Albert wants me to contact him, so it will happen.”

“But…they don’t even interact civilly.”

“We’re going to have to do a lot of things according to Albert’s wishes in his absence. Mary and Charles are the only others on the Board with us, and they’re not going to be thinking sensibly about Albert’s absence, because he’s family. Besides, no offense intended to either of them, but they’re not exactly suited to lead SPOT.”

“Alright then,” Christopher said.“What’s the game plan?”

“We need to reach Clark, and it needs to be discreet. I don’t know what sort of understanding those two have, but if Albert hasn’t mentioned it by now, then it can’t be public. You and I can’t go, nor anyone who’s already known to live at Thousand Candles. It’d be too easy—and too convenient—for Clark to make us disappear. We need someone he has no reason to detain.”

“One of the servants, then. Why not Will? Albert has trusted him for years.”

“Good choice. I agree with you that Will can be trusted, and he and Albert are close. It’s even possible that Will knows something about this whole business. I’ll have a talk with him. In the meantime, we need to maintain business as usual. All existing missions will continue as planned until we have a reason to change them. Now, we need to go back in that room, and we need to get everyone in hand quickly, before they get any notions of panicking. Do I have your support?” Michael asked, looking Christopher in the eyes.

“Yes, sir,” Christopher said firmly, recalling with his acknowledgement the days when Michael was Captain in the field, and Christopher only a new Special Services agent.

“Very well.” He strode back into the lounge with Christopher alongside. The room was still ringing with the overlapping conversations of SPOT staff.

“Attention!” Christopher called loudly, and the room fell quiet.

“I know you’re all very concerned about the events that transpired not a moment ago,” Michael addressed the room. “However, I’ve received orders from Albert in the case of such an emergency, and those orders will be implemented. For now I want to assure you that SPOT will run as usual.”

“We need to form a rescue party!” Mary said, stepping forward. “We cannot allow Albert to languish in some dank cell.”

“I understand and share your concern for Albert’s welfare,” Michael said, “but it is against his express orders for us to do such a thing. Our first priority must be for SPOT to carry forward.”

“Are you just going to abandon him then?” Mary asked with a glare. “That’s not like you, Mr. Brenton.”

“Mrs. Valentine—” Christopher began.

“It’s alright, Christopher,” Michael stopped him. “Mrs. Valentine, I’m on your side. Albert has also given orders regarding how we’re to assist him. However, an armed assault on the local jail is not part of those plans. We can discuss the orders shortly. However, for the time being, I would like all of you,” and here he turned to the rest of the room, “ to return to your posts. Operations will continue as normal until further notice. All existing missions will be carried out, and scheduled trainings will be conducted. As soon as we have further information, you will all be informed.”

This seemed to calm the room somewhat, and the staff present slowly began to file out of the room to return to the tasks they had been undertaking at the time of the Mayor’s arrival.

“The remainder of the interrupted Interfacing training is cancelled for today,” Christopher informed the Special Services contingent. “We’ll resume our exercises with the daily run at the usual time. Please be prompt.”

“Sir, yes sir!” they responded as a group before leaving the room themselves.

Michael looked to Christopher and nodded in approval. So far, things were in hand.

 

Chapter Four: Story Six

Will Hastings had been surprised, but he was nothing if not a man of social grace and solid good manners. “Right this way, Mayor, gentlemen,” he said, as if Mayor Carrolton had not behaved in any shocking fashion whatsoever. Escorting the men to the lounge, he gestured to the ample comfortable seating available in the form of upholstered chairs, sofas, and footstools. “If you’ll be so kind as to wait right here, I’ll announce you to Mr. Hedley.”

“I will go with you,” John said. “They can wait here for our return,” he added, gesturing to the policemen, whose tall hats, still perched upon their heads, were out of place in the elegant room.

“Please, Mayor Carrolton, I assure you that it is not necessary to accompany me,” WIll said smoothly.

“I’ll say what’s necessary and what’s not,” John replied brusquely. “Unless, of course, you’d like to be arrested also? As an accomplice to a criminal?”

“Right this way,” Will said, and as he did, he gestured with one hand, holding the other behind his back. There, the unseen hand tugged on the bell for the servants. Inaudible in the lounge, it would be readily heard in the well-staffed kitchen.

Leading the mayor on a dizzying route through Thousand Candles, Will delayed as long as he dared. He took advantage of his age and appearance to walk as slowly as possible, and John, having no idea where they were going, had no choice but to follow. They passed by the office where Will’s wife sat sorting letters, and she looked up as he went. Turning his face to the right, facing away from Mayor Carrolton on his left, Will locked eyes with his wife, worry evident on his face as he nodded somberly to her. Sizing up the situation, that is, a stranger accompanied where he should not be going, Mrs. Hastings waited until the two had passed, and then dashed out of her office to fetch help as quickly as she could.

Will arrived at the door to Albert’s study and knocked firmly. “Enter,” Albert called with a distracted air.

“Sir, Mayor John Carrolton, who has—” Will began.

“I’m here to arrest you, Albert,” John cut in. “If you won’t come willingly, there are four policemen in your lounge waiting to persuade you otherwise.”

“I see,” Albert said calmly, removing his reading spectacles and folding his hands on his desk. “And what, may I inquire, am I to be charged with?”

“Disturbing the peace and posing a grave threat to the safety of this capital and its citizens,” John announced.

“What threat is that? I have not so much as left my own home in quite some time,” Albert said.

“Don’t play coy with me, Mr. Hedley; you well know that it is this very place that houses a threat to all our citizens, and I will have it overturned brick by brick until we’ve discovered every last one of those contemptible creatures and exposed your plans to control and harm our citizenry with them!”

“It will take more than just you to tear down this house,” Michael said as he entered the room.

“In fact,” Christopher added, coming in straight after him, “you might as well bring an army. You’ll need it.”

“Then perhaps I just will!” John snapped, turning to them. “And I’ll be there to hear you both beg for mercy as you’re hauled away for the criminals that you are.”

“Enough,” Albert said in a voice that commanded the room. “Brenton, Drury, stand down. I am going with Mayor Carrolton.”

“But sir,” Christopher began.

“No, Christopher,” Albert said, “I’ll brook no argument.” Albert stood. “Shall we?” he said to John.

Michael and Christopher stood aside and John backed out of the room. It was Albert who led them back to the front of the mansion. When they entered the lounge, the four policemen were uneasily surrounded by over half of SPOT’s staff, including members of Special Services and Support. Eudora, Gideon, Mary, Charles, Brian, Gigi, Richard, Douglas, Gertie, Doctor Hardale, Mrs. Hastings, and many more crowded into what no longer looked like an ample lounge.

John addressed the policemen. “Do your duty, men. Arrest him.” As they rose to do so, Mary shoved her way towards her brother, and the rest of the room crowded in.

“No, no,” Albert said, gesturing with his hands that they should all calm down, “I’m going with him. Calm yourselves.”

Mary made her way to his side, a ray gun of her own devising at hand, which she leveled at John’s eye. “You’re not taking my brother anywhere,” she said firmly.

John froze, as did the policemen, unsure of what to do in the face of such a weapon.

“Mary,” Albert said quietly. “It’s alright. I’ll be alright.” He put a firm hand on her outstretched arm and pressed ever-so-slightly. “I’m going with him, and I’ll be alright.”

With a deflated sigh, she allowed Albert to lower her arm. He stepped in and hugged her. “It’ll be alright, Mary,” he said.

“I love you,” she said, a tremble of worry in her voice.

“Enough of this,” John said, his courage puffing up again in the absence of the strange weapon. “This isn’t a farewell party, it’s an arrest. Let’s get on with it.”

Albert extended a hand to Michael, and when Michael took it, pulled him in and patted him on the back. “I’m ready,” Albert said. “Let us depart. Will, if you’d be so kind as to fetch my jacket.”

“Here, sir,” Will said, taking it from its hook and pressing into the room enough to assist his master in dressing.

“I’ll see you all very soon,” Albert said to the room. He walked out, followed by the four policemen. John was just about to follow them when he looked directly at Eudora.

“You!” he said in astonishment. “What are you doing here?”

Gideon, standing beside Eudora, jumped.

“I beg your pardon?” Eudora said sharply. “Have we met?” She said “met” as if it were a slime-coated insult.

John blinked and shook his head. “No. No, we have not.” He turned and went hurriedly out of the room, following the policemen and their untroubled prisoner. The room was silent until Will shut the door behind them, and suddenly, everyone began talking at once.

Michael put an arm around Christopher’s shoulders. “With me,” he said, and they left the lounge to stand in the foyer.

“What do we do now?” Christopher asked.

“He told me,” Michael said. “When he took my arm, he said “Contact Clark”.

 

 

Chapter Four: Story Five

Brian crossed the gymnasium to his twin sister, who was early to Interfacing training, Inky perched on her shoulders.

“Gigi,” Brian said, “have you seen Sky?”

“Hm? He’s not in tentaclebeast quarters?”

“No. I was wondering if maybe he came to the gymnasium before I went to collect him.”

“I haven’t seen him. Inky is listening for him now.”

“Thank you.” Brian shifted uneasily from one foot to the other.

“We’ve reached him. He’s on his way.”

“Great. Where was he, anyhow?”

“I’m not certain. Maybe he just forgot training hour?” Gigi suggested.

“Maybe. Thank you, though.” Before Gigi could ask any questions, Brian began some warm-up exercises. Other SPOT agents began to crowd into the gymnasium. Just as Christopher strode into the room, Sky made his appearance. Brian held out his arms and Sky reached out with thin, blue and fuschia tentacles to Interface with him.

Where were you? Brian asked Sky.

Sky flashed an image of the conservatory into their shared mind.

It was not my intention to cause you distress when I said that we must end flight practices, Brian said back. Sky was confused by the sudden profusion of language, and Brian had to think of another way to express the idea.

When we stopped flying, Brian thought, recalling the day to Sky with imagery, you were good. To reinforce “good”, he brought to mind another occasion on which he had praised Sky.

Thank you, Sky said, carefully echoing the phrase of gratitude he’d learned from human interaction.

Therefore, there is no need to hide from daily training, Brian thought. I’m not cross with you. I’m pleased with you.

Thank you, Sky said again, sending a pleased feeling back in return.

Why do I get the feeling, Brian wondered, that I haven’t truly made myself understood? But there was no time for any additional attempts, because Christopher was calling out names, and Brian realized they were being divided into groups for another exercise.

* * *

Will Hastings, longtime butler to the Hedley family, was most frequently the man to answer any knock at the door of Thousand Candles, as Albert Hedley saw no need for additional footmen. An older man with warm eyes and salt and pepper hair, he moved slowly but with a proud carriage.

Will Hastings was the man to answer the door the day Mayor John Carrolton arrived, accompanied by four policemen, their tall blue hats casting a shadow over the mayor, who stood a good head or so shorter than the men who accompanied him.

“Good day, Mayor Carrolton—” Will began.

“None of that. This is no social call. I’m here on government business, and you will let me pass.”

“May I be of assistance, sir?” Will said, a bit taken aback.

“Yes. Fetch your master. I’m here to arrest Albert Hedley.”

 
 
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