Eudora accompanied Albert to the west wing of Thousand Candles, which had been expanded to accommodate the gymnasium, as well as additional living quarters. Once again she was struck by the enormity of the place. If Mr. Hedley indeed funded SPOT independently, she thought, he is very wealthy indeed. Or, was. They proceeded to the living quarters opposite those with nameplates that Eudora had seen earlier.
“Miss Wright, I would like to formally introduce you to your new allies. Just beyond this hall is their living quarters. Are you ready to meet with them?”
“Yes, I’m actually quite eager.” Eudora felt a bit of surprise even as she spoke the words. That’s not something I would have expected even a few short months ago, she thought.
“Excellent. This way, then.” He led her down the hall lined with doors very similar to the other living quarters she had seen, excepting that these sported no nameplates. She noticed open entryways ahead and also to the right. It was to the right they went, which led them to a large common room, not unlike the large study Eudora had made her passage in. This one had very tall windows and a pair of glass doors that led outside to a large, walled garden. And all about the room, in various attitudes of interaction and repose, were tentaclebeasts of all descriptions.
“Good day, all,” Albert called amiably. “May I present Miss Eudora Wright.”
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance,” Eudora said as she offered a curtsy. The tentaclebeasts around the room alternately bobbed up and down, waved tentacles, or came slightly towards her in what she surmised were various forms of greeting.
“While there is no direct understanding between humans and tentaclebeasts without Interfacing, we do our best to communicate with one another at such times as we are not merged,” Albert explained.
Eudora looked around the room, amazed to see so many of the creatures at once. They ranged in size from roughly comparable to a man’s head all the way to larger than Eudora herself. One particularly large tentaclebeast came forward. He was long and oval-shaped, much like a squid, with a fin on top, several sets of tentacles, and a pair of round, mitten-looking appendages at the end of the foremost set. His skin varied from deep blue to purple to black, and his eyes were a dark and vivid purple. Approaching Eudora slowly, he bobbed in the air. Eudora thought for a moment, and then returned the gesture with a curtsy. The beast came closer and held out its clasper appendages. Eudora held out a hand, and the beast gently laid a clasper on top of it.
“How do you do?” Eudora asked, looking into its enormous, shining eyes. Its clasper was dry, cool, and smooth upon her hand. She was surprised at how soft its skin felt.
Unable to truly continue the conversation, they stood this way for a time, exchanged another bob and curtsy, and then other beasts came forward to greet Eudora. Some had long suckered appendages like the one Eudora had made her Passage with, and some, such short tentacles as to resemble catfish with extra whiskers. They came in almost every color of the rainbow, though most were darker shades. The overall tones favored seemed to be black, blue, charcoal grey, brown, and burgundy. Some looked like squid or octopuses, some like shortened, tentacled fish, and some even like anemones and sea urchins and other such oddities. In fact, the only two things they seemed to bear in common were that they had tentacles, and that they were all different. That, and their odd mode of propulsion—floating above the ground, completely silent, with no motion to aid their movements. They could readily change the height, speed, and direction of their movement, apparently by thought alone.
I see why they’re called tentaclebeasts, she thought. What other descriptor could you possibly apply?
After she had “met” a number of the creatures, Albert announced their departure. “Thank you for welcoming our new guest. I’m certain you’ll be seeing more of each other soon.”
As they stepped into the hallway, another tentaclebeast floated towards them. Despite the group she had just encountered, Eudora’s hand tightened on her skirt as she stiffened. It’s one thing to be prepared, quite another not to be. She willed herself to relax, and realized, looking at the creature, that it was the one with which she had made her Passage.
“Good day,” Albert was saying to the beast. “I am sure you remember Miss Eudora Wright.”
“Good day,” Eudora said, curtsying once more as she looked at its six eyes, its bright red and peach tentacles with their disc-like bumps. The creature came quite close, perhaps some two inches from her body, and examined her closely, circling her as it did. Eudora shivered slightly and waited. It returned to face her and extended a long tentacle, brushing across her hair and down her cheek several times. It waved a tentacle, turned, faced Albert and waved again, then proceeded towards the common room from which they had just come.
“Let us continue, then,” Albert said. They walked in silence for a few minutes back towards Albert’s study. “I asked you to come meet the tentaclebeasts for a reason.”
“I doubt there is much you do without planning, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
Albert chuckled. “You would be right about that. You’re faced with a rather serious decision, Miss Wright. While service with SPOT is completely voluntary, at all levels, Special Services or no, there are some…obstacles…for those in Special Services in particular. Not only do you face unique and strenuous challenges in the field, but returning to larger society is not so easy as simply declaring it to be so.”
“Because of the opposition you face?”
“Because of the opposition from society, yes. But also because of how the experience itself changes you. If you join with us, you will be travelling to another world, one about which we understand virtually nothing. Oh, you’ll be “trained”, but your training is only so good as our understanding. I won’t deceive you into believing that understanding is in any way valid or thorough. We make our best guesses as brave young men—and women—put their lives on the line for a cause they may never see won. And even if you return, alive and unharmed, and choose to leave this service, you will be forever changed.”
“Changed in what way?”
“You will see things, do things, that others have never imagined. You will find yourself facing creatures and situations that challenge both your sense of reality and all of your abilities to their utmost. You will regularly Interface, mind and body, with creatures many cannot even see without losing their memories, or even their sanity. You will be no less than a soldier, going into combat, fighting, killing, destroying, rescuing, aiding your team, becoming closer than family, pursuing a mission our society does not condone, understand, or even acknowledge.”
“I understand. I—”
“I’m going to stop you now, Eudora Wright, because I do not want your answer today or even tomorrow. I want you to stay with us, for one month. Live with us, work with us, begin learning what you need to learn. At the end of that time, if you still wish to give yourself to SPOT Special Services, you will be admitted, and your formal training will begin. If you do not, you may return home, no worse for wear. Think on it. Get to know the others. See for yourself what this life is. Make a conscious choice…rather than having one thrust upon you.”
She looked into the kind but worn face. “The choice you weren’t given.”
“The choice that is your right to make. Good day, Miss Wright,” he said as he entered his study.
Eudora sighed thoughtfully as Albert closed his door. There is much to learn, before my training, she told herself.
That concludes Chapter One! I hope that you’ve enjoyed the story so far, and I look forward to bringing you the first entry from Chapter Two on Monday. In the meantime, please join me on Google+ or Facebook and share your thoughts on the story. Can’t wait to hear from you! —Stevie