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Category Archives: Chapter Four

Chapter Four: Story Four

“Wright!” Christopher called to Eudora after morning exercises. “Come see me a moment.”

“Sir, yes sir, Eudora acknowledged, and jogged across the gymnasium to him.

“Mr. Brenton has a special assignment for you, Wright. You’re to report to his study for a briefing as soon as you’ve cleaned up.”

“Sir, yes sir!” She lingered a moment.

“Have a question for me, Wright?”

“Sir, I was just wondering if you can shed any light on the nature of this assignment.”

“Only that it’s a mission here in Thorthrope rather than the tentaclebeast realm. Don’t worry; when the time comes for your first Crossing, you won’t be flying solo. Go on, now, don’t keep Brenton waiting.”

“Sir, yes sir!” Eudora acknowledged, hurrying back to her quarters to change. As she walked, she mulled over this new course of events. Should I be pleased that I have an assignment, she wondered, or is this going to involve fetching Albert’s shoes from the shoe shine boy?

She changed as quickly as she could, washing up from her basin and re-arranging her brown hair. She’d taken to wearing it bundled into a neat bun at the nape of her neck, despite being unmarried. There weren’t too many other options that were also compatible with SPOT training. It was certainly simpler than trying to curl it each day, a process that, much like lacing corsets, was far easier with a lady’s maid to assist.

Soon enough, she had arrived at Michael’s study. Taking a moment to smooth her skirts, she knocked on the door.

“Come in,” Michael answered.

Eudora entered, and saw Michael and a young man not of her acquaintance stand to acknowledge her. A handsome man with dark features, he was taller than Eudora and even than Michael, and wore a sharp-looking Bishop burgundy vest with a black tailcoat and trousers. “Good day, gentlemen.”

“Good day,” both men returned.

“Miss Eudora Wright, please allow me to present Mr. Gideon Simmons,” Michael said as Gideon gave a polite bow.

“I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Simmons,” Eudora said, extending her hand.

“Charmed, Miss Wright,” he said, briefly kissing her hand. After only a few short weeks at Thousand Candles, Eudora was still surprised when he did so. I expected that anyone here would shake hands now, she thought. She felt the brush of his neatly trimmed black mustache against her hand. His dark brown eyes met hers for a moment as he released her hand and moved to pull out a chair for her.

“Thank you, Mr. Simmons,” Eudora said, taking her seat. Gideon and Michael then resumed their own seats.

“Miss Wright, Mr. Simmons is a new applicant to SPOT’s Special Services. I’ve called you both here because we have an assignment for the two of you.”

Eudora snuck a glance at Gideon to see how he responded to this information. Nothing changed on his face, but his hand seemed to tense subtly on the arm of the chair. I’d surmise, then, that he has not heard of this matter previously, Eudora thought.

“There is a certain gentleman, by the name of Neil Harper, who is announcing that he has discovered a means of preventing tentaclebeast attacks on the populace. As you well know, Miss Wright, and as you will come to understand better, Mr. Simmons, tentaclebeast attacks are not deliberate assaults on the populace by aggressive tentaclebeasts. They’re the incidental casualties of a war taking place on an alternate plane of reality, one that sometimes overlaps with our own.”

Michael paused and picked up a newspaper advertisement. It was a small section of the classifieds. “Harper is offering a demonstration of this discovery to those with a serious interest. Chances are, there’s nothing to it. None of the papers have reported on this advertisement. All the same, we do have an interest—both in anything that might actually impact the tentaclebeast world, and anything that might influence popular opinion for or against our work. The two of you will attend this demonstration, and observe all that you can. Your mission is to discover what, if anything, underlies Harper’s “discovery”. You’re also to take note of the others in attendance. Find out who they are, why they’re interested in the technique. See if anyone makes an investment or shows signs of doing so. We’ll analyze that information upon your return.”

“Are we to make any sort of offer of investment?” Gideon asked.

“Absolutely not,” Michael said. “The less the attendees remember about either of you, the better. We want you to maintain as high a degree of discretion as you are capable of. You’ll be working under assumed names, and under no circumstances are you to reveal any connection whatsoever to SPOT.”

This is quite unlike anything I imagined, Eudora thought. “What is to be our ostensible reason for attending the demonstration?”

“You’ll be posing as a banker and his wife who have a bit more money than you know what to do with. Mr. Simmons, you can affect interest and ask questions as if you intend to verify the discovery, just be vague about any actual investment. Miss Wright, you won’t be expected to show much interest in the demonstration itself, which should leave you free to mingle with the other attendees and discover their intentions without arousing as much suspicion. We’ll go over your aliases in detail before the mission begins. Any further questions?”

Gideon and Eudora glanced at each other for a moment, then back to Michael. “I haven’t,” Gideon said. “And you, Miss Wright?”

“No, thank you,” Eudora said, more to Michael than to Gideon.

“Very well then,” Michael replied. “That’s all I’ll be needing from you two for now. Oh, and one last thing—don’t discuss your assignment with anyone but myself or Albert.”

 

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.

 

 
 
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