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Category Archives: Chapter Three

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.

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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.

 

Chapter Three: Story Five

Brian climbed the rope, hand over hand, making the best speed he could to the top and slamming one hand into the ceiling when he’d reached it. It made a thunderous echo through the gymnasium that suited his mood. He moved quickly back to the floor. “Forty-three, sir!” he said as he planted his feet.

The daily run had been a miserable slog through a sudden, unexpected rain that turned their usual path to mud. His mind had whirled through thoughts of his secret sessions with Sky, his fall in the tentaclebeast world, his father lying in bed fighting to recover. Not surprisingly, it made him the last to finish the requisite jog, despite his efforts to catch up at the very end. The last one back to the manor was always assigned a special task from his Captain.

Thus had Brian found himself climbing the rope 50 times, cursing Christopher with every tug of his burning arms. He chose this deliberately, Brian thought. His guilt, the mud and rain in his boots, his worry for his father, all coalesced into what was becoming a ball of fury in his chest. He’s mocking me, with this climbing, reminding me how I failed.

He hit the floor and stood at attention. “Fifty, sir!” he called out, waiting to be dismissed.

“At ease, soldier,” Christopher told him. He waited a moment, and Brian only slightly relaxed his posture, wondering if there’d be some additional task before he could clean up.

“You climb like you were born to it, Valentine. Good work.”

“Sir, thank you, sir,” Brian said. What are you implying?

“Something to say to me, soldier?” Christopher asked.

“Sir, no sir!” Brian said tersely.

“Then I’ll thank you to keep your tone in check, or next time it will be 100 trips to the ceiling. Have I made myself clear?”

“Sir, yes, sir,” he said, only slightly more evenly.

“Very well, you are dismissed, Valentine.”

Brian saluted, radiating hostility as he departed.

What the devil brought that on? Christopher wondered.

* * *

Eudora washed up in her quarters after the daily run. SPOT might be forward-thinking—or desperate—enough to employ women, but those women did not share quarters or bathing areas with men. She sank with relief into the porcelain tub, its steaming water poured with expert timing by Sally so as to be deliciously warm when she returned. Her aching muscles sighed into the water, and she felt as loose as a pudding.

The delights of modern living, she thought, letting herself soak for some time. At home, baths were not so commonplace as they were at Thousand Candles. Thanks to the muddy trails today, she was entitled to a bath before supper. Her mind cringed now at any thought of home, all the moreso after that tentaclebeast had worked its way through her memories. Are all the other beasts so disagreeable? I’ll just request assignment with a different creature. I’m certain I can make some excuse. Broadening my experience or suchlike.

Reluctantly leaving the bath, she started to dress and make herself ready for dinner. She was combing out her hair, which rather disagreed with the experience, when she heard a knock at her door, and went to open it.

It was the young woman who had warned her on the day of her Passage, the one who had been briefly indicated to her at dinner as Georgiana Valentine.

“Good day, Miss Valentine,” she said. She noticed that her visitor was already perfectly arrayed for supper, in a charming green summer dress that brought out her own emerald eyes, and felt suddenly plain.

“Hello! Are you busy? I can come back later.”

“I’d be happy for the company, if you don’t mind me being very rude and continuing to arrange my hair for supper.”

“Nonsense, I’m the one interrupting you in your quarters. I don’t mind at all.”

“Then please do come in,” Eudora said, stepping back so that Gigi might do so.

“So they’ve given you your own bath as well,” Gigi noted. “Isn’t that the best?”

“It’s quite lovely.”

“My brother told me that the boys all have to share things. It’s far less agreeable. Uncle wouldn’t hear of me washing up with them,” she said with a smile. “Oh, but that’s enough of all that! I’ve been simply dying for a moment to come and talk with you properly! How do you like it here so far?”

“It’s uh, a very interesting experience,” Eudora said, caught off-guard by Gigi’s chatty enthusiasm. “There’s a great deal to learn.”

“Oh, I remember all that, with the studying and the books and the lectures. And I already knew all that anyhow, since I grew up here.”

“You mean you’ve been around SPOT since you were a child?”

“Oh yes, my brother and I both. Our parents, of course, they didn’t want us meeting with the tentaclebeasts until later, but Inky and I came across each other one day, and well, they couldn’t very well just convince me that I hadn’t seen him! They certainly tried, though.”

“I’m…I’m amazed, MIss Valentine, there’s no other word for it. You saw a tentaclebeast as a child!”

“Oh please do call me Gigi. All my friends do, and I would love so dearly for us to be friends!” She fixed her winning smile on Eudora, and Eudora could not help but to be charmed by it, despite the rambunctious nature of the conversation.

“Very well, Gigi, then you must call me Eudora.”

“Brilliant! Now you must tell me, what do you make of Captain Drury?”

Eudora chuckled nervously. “I can’t say as that I’ve truly had the opportunity to make anything of anyone here. He seems to be very able at what he does, helpful, well-mannered. But really we’ve only spoken on topics meant to educate me as to SPOT’s mission.”

“I don’t mean all that! I mean, do you fancy him?”

Eudora laughed aloud. “Fancy him? Goodness me, I haven’t time for that.”

“Of course not, they must be keeping you quite busy. Why, I’ve barely time to do anything between all the exercises and reports—all the live-long day, exercises and reports. You’ll learn to hate those too. Wasn’t today’s run miserable? Well, I suppose you’ve nothing to compare it to, it being your first run and all. But believe me, the mud was just awful! It won’t always be like that. It’s far easier when your boots aren’t sinking in to the ankles.”

Eudora nodded agreeably, continuing to arrange her hair. I haven’t heard anyone this cheerful in ages, she thought. Where does she find all that energy?

“What do you make of your tentaclebeast partner?” Gigi continued. “Have you been assigned yet?”

“Not officially. Mr. Hedley is adamant that I not begin official training for awhile longer yet. But I have Interfaced twice so far. I’d be interested in Interfacing with some others, if there are options before the actual “match” is made.”

“No Interfacing at all then?”

“Only when it’s formally requested and supervised.”

“Oh. Well, we could do other things, to get you ready. Target practice! Mother makes some wonderful guns, you really must try them.”

“I haven’t the faintest idea how to use a weapon,” Eudora said, still blinking at how different Gigi’s life was from her own.

“You mean…your mother never taught you to shoot?” Gigi blinked in surprise.

“I’m afraid not,” Eudora said, hiding her amusement carefully.

“Oh you poor dear! Well I’ll just have to teach you! After supper, we can go to the practice range.”

“I’d like that,” Eudora said warmly, glad to have her first true ally at the mansion.

“Splendid! But oh, if your hair is done now, do let’s go to supper. I’m so dreadfully hungry.”

“By all means,” Eudora said, and they were on their way.

 

Chapter Three: Story Four

“And this tentaclebeast,” Eudora asked, “how shall I address him?”

“Well, he hasn’t exactly got a name,” Christopher told her, settling into a chair in the common study. “The names we refer to tentaclebeasts by were mostly made up by Gigi—ah, Miss Valentine.”

“What do they call each other amongst themselves?”

“Not by words. It’s more of a feeling that comes to mind when that individual is thought of. Once a tentaclebeast comes along on a mission or two, Miss Valentine will start addressing him by a particular name, and it’s usually picked up by the others. It’s just become rather the custom to call each tentaclebeast something descriptive.”

“I gather from your tone that this doesn’t, ah, quite meet with your approval?”

“I don’t object to it per se. I do see some difficulties with it though.”

“May I inquire, if it’s not too sensitive a topic, what those might be?”

“From a professional standpoint, it causes one to forget what the tentaclebeasts are. They’re not people. They’re not pets. They’re a largely unknown group of creatures, with deadly strength, that is allied with us in a war. From a more personal standpoint, and this is, you must understand, only my preference, I feel it to be…inaccurate.”

“You don’t feel it does them justice?”

“I don’t. As human beings, with an imperfect Interfacing process, perhaps we never can properly address them. But! Before we go too far off the rails, the nicknames at least have a use in conversation, and as such, we employ them. I’m certain you and your counterpart will work out such a name in time.”

“I wonder if it will be—” Eudora began, cut off by the entrance of Albert, Numose, Michael, and the tentaclebeast from her Passage, answering Eudora’s half-asked question.

“Good day, Miss Wright, Christopher,” Albert said at almost the same time as Michael. Christopher chuckled, and both he and Eudora stood.

“Miss Wright, I’m sure you’ll recall this fellow from your rather momentous Passage with us. He has volunteered to Interface with you once again,” Albert said, gesturing to the tentaclebeast beside him. He appeared much larger than a creature who had compressed himself into a hatbox should look, Eudora realized. Moving towards Eudora, he spread out his tentacles behind him and she saw that he had a sort of cloak of skin that unfurled at his back, one she had not seen previously. It trailed the length of his tentacles, causing him to look most impressive.

“Good day,” she said to the tentaclebeast. He hovered, examining her with those six eyes. Eudora decided then that this was his most unsettling trait.

“He’s waiting for you,” Michael said. “We demonstrate our readiness to Interface by extending our arms at our sides.”

“Thank you,” Eudora said, not turning from the tentaclebeast at her side. “Have you any words of wisdom before I…dive in?”

“They can sense your emotions,” Christopher chimed in, “so do your best to relax. We’ll be here.”

“Very well.” Eudora took a steadying breath and extended her arms. First a long, burgundy tentacle extended towards her left arm, wrapping around it and adhering with peach suckers. It hurt a bit, but she had braced for it, and found herself noticing instead how the tentaclebeast’s skin was brightening in hue as it moved towards her. Before she could inquire about it, the tentaclebeast had situated itself about her shoulders and wrapped another tentacle about her right arm. Its cloak now served as a cloak for the both of them. She felt the weight of the creature sinking into her shoulders, leaning against her head, not heavy enough to be a discomfort but certainly noticeable. Its skin felt soft, dry, cool, the tentacles taut, the suckers pulling on her skin.

Then she felt it. The moment of Interfacing. She had been wrong—she wasn’t diving in, the tentaclebeast was diving into her. Her mind, her eyes, her entire sensation of her body. The continuous conversation of the tentaclebeasts sprung up around her, noisy and overwhelming. She breathed deeply, working to sort it out. There was new visual input too—from this creature’s six eyes in addition to her own two. Her mind struggled to make sense of so many images, but eventually they more or less fused together much in the fashion that input from two eyes was achieved.

It took a moment to remember that she had legs and arms, and could actually walk about the room. She felt as if her center of awareness was between herself and the tentaclebeast, and did not extend down to the floor where her feet were. Still, she hadn’t collapsed. Well, that’s improvement, she thought.

A sensation was returned to her, of her own considerable weight pressing herself—no, the tentaclebeast—into the carpet.

Ah, that’s your memory, she realized. That’s how you saw my Passage.

Yes.

Were you hurt by that? Injured?

By way of reply, the tentaclebeast drained the sensation of pain from the memory it projected into Eudora’s mind.

You recovered quickly then.

Yes.

I’m sorry to have hurt you, all the same.

There was no verbalized reply to this, but Eudora felt something else had quite taken the tentaclebeast’s attention. Almost as if it were rummaging about in their shared mental space. Eudora tensed, feeling like she had under the probing questions of SPOT’s analysts.

They were walking through Eudora’s home, her memory of home, but it seemed as real as if she stood there now. The tentaclebeast hovered beside her, picking up objects several at a time and examining them through multiple eyes. Eudora felt its rapid-fire questioning and tried to keep up, her mind supplying memories of various objects, their names, uses, significance to her. She hadn’t realized she could converse so quickly.

They continued past the parlour, on to her father’s study. Eudora felt that memory starting and slammed the study door with all her might. No! she shouted in her mind. The tentaclebeast jumped, startled, and Eudora felt that sensation at the same time, as if she’d startled herself. The house vanished about them and she found herself suddenly back in the common study at Thousand Candles, with Christopher standing behind her lest she should collapse as she did during her Passage, and the others watching her attentively.

Blinking, she adjusted to the light of the room and then stretched out an arm. The tentacle was still wrapped about it, and she marveled that she could feel herself holding onto her own arm. She took a tentative step forward, her legs feeling a bit rubbery, but holding. A few more steps, and she felt she’d have to get her sea legs about her. Through so many eyes, the scenery lurched oddly with each step, and soon she found herself feeling a bit nauseous.

“That’s sufficient for now, Eudora,” Albert was saying.

“I—oh, I can speak.” She chuckled at the sound of her own surprise.

“Yes. But it’s time to come back.”

“How do I do that?”

“Just think about it. Think about separating. Your partner there will accomplish the matter for you.”

Eudora imagined the tentaclebeast unwinding its tentacles from her and once again hovering across from her. Before the thought had even fully formed itself, she felt the creature pulling back from their shared mind, slowly. A few moments later, they had separated.

“How long was I…?” Eudora asked.

“About half an hour,” Michael said.

“Truly?” She shook her head. “I’ll get used to it eventually.”

“How do you feel?” Albert asked.

“Quite well, thank you.”

“Did anything unusual occur? Do you have questions for us?”

“No, everything was fine. I just need time to adjust to having so many extra parts.”

“That will all come with training,” Christopher added. “Which reminds me, it’s nearly time for our daily run.”

“May I join in?” Eudora asked both Christopher and Albert.

“I don’t see any harm in it,” Christopher said with a look to Albert, asking for approval.

“Very well. You might as well see what you’re really in for,” Albert said more lightheartedly than Eudora had heard him in some time.

“Thank you,” she said. “Shall I change to a uniform?”

“I’ll have one of the servants bring one around to your quarters. Meet us in the gymnasium in twenty minutes,” Christopher answered.

“Yes, sir,” Eudora said. “Gentlemen,” she acknowledged with a curtsey as she departed.

“I’ll be on my way as well,” Christopher said.

“Thank you for your assistance, as always, Christopher,” Albert said.

“No thanks needed, sir.” And he was off.

“See, Albert?” Michael said, patting Albert’s shoulder. “She hasn’t turned green, nor grown another head, nor even burst into flames. You can relax now.”

“If only that were true, Michael. I could do with a holiday.”

 

Chapter Three: Story Three

Edward Daniel Wright, a child of only 7 years, did not fully understand why he was the center of his family’s attention.

He knew that the father he had been named for had gone to Heaven about a year ago. If this fact had not already been deeply impressed upon his young psyche, it would have been further reinforced by the ceremony in his father’s honor, upon the anniversary of his death, where young Edward had been pressed into solemn service as the man of the household. He had been dressed in the same clothes he’d worn for his father’s funeral, stiff as a board and even more uncomfortable, being that as a growing boy last year’s clothes were one year too tight, even with last-minute alterations. Then he had stood before the assembled friends, colleagues, and admirers of Edward Daniel Wright Sr., and carefully read a few words in his father’s honor that had been composed by his tutor. Next, his part was to stand by his mother’s side, greeting and thanking all the attendees, while they called him a “dear little lad” and a “perfect likeness of his father”. His mother, in turn, was told how “dreadful” a thing it was that her husband was gone, and how “everyone is very sorry about his departure”, and that “no one can imagine how you can make it on your own with so many little ones to manage”.

But since his father’s death, the family had made it their business to fawn over him. His mother would hold him, sometimes crying, sometimes not, for the longest of times, until he squirmed and preferred even his tutor’s lessons to that treatment. His sisters would give him the best cakes and candies, even before dinner, or when he’d already had his share. His nanny and the servants would all allow him to run and play as he pleased, and break any rule of the house that he dared, with scarcely even a scolding.

To young Edward, it was all quite unnerving.

Oh, for sure, he’d enjoyed the extra freedoms at first. But between the absence of one beloved parent, and the constant grief of another, the joys of candies and playtime wore thin. Then, to top things off, there was the sudden absence of his eldest sister, Eudora.

The consternation and general disarray of the household that had happened since that day was impossible to conceal, though everyone tried. Smiles that were too tight, just like his mourning clothes. His mother taking to her bed for days at a time, refusing to see the constant stream of visitors. The servants talking in whispers and going silent when he walked by. Their usual move to their country home for the summer season was postponed. As his father’s anniversary memorial service approached, tensions boiled over, and his sisters, Maggie and Vicky, got into a terrible row.

They had all been outside, in the bit of backyard they had—the only place they were allowed to play after Father died. Sarah, the eldest next to Eudora, was at her needle while minding the children. Edward was playing with a ball, kicking it about in the grass. Maggie and Vicky were playing with dolls, and Edward did not hear much of the conversation leading up to the whole mess.

“Yes she is!” Vicky shouted to Maggie, her older sister by only one year.
“She is not! And she doesn’t care about us at all; I heard Mother say so.”
“You’re lying! Take that back!” Vicky fumed, red-faced under her brown curls.
“I’m not lying. You’re the one making up stupid games with dolls!”
“Girls!” Sarah interjected. “That’s quite enough.”
At this, Vicky launched herself at Maggie, grabbing onto her hair and yanking it with both hands. Maggie gave a howl of rage and swung at Vicky, while Edward froze, utterly astonished at his sisters’ behavior. Never before had he witnessed such a dramatic disagreement between them.

Sarah intervened, prying the girls apart and holding onto each by one arm. “This is no way for young ladies to be acting! Completely inexcusable. To think if Mother saw you! Why on earth are you acting like such barbarians?”

“She said Eudora doesn’t love us and she’s never coming home! It’s a lie!” Vicky said, and promptly burst into tears. Edward, upon seeing this, began to cry a few quiet tears as well, his small hands trembling. This was not the proper order of the world. His sisters did not scream and inflict violence upon one another.
“It’s true!” Maggie said. “She left us, and she won’t return. Vicky’s just a little baby who doesn’t understand.”
“Enough, both of you.” She continued more softly. “Sit down, with me. Edward, you too, darling, come here. I’ve something to say to all of you.” They all sat down on the girls’ picnic blanket, the dolls forgotten for the moment. Sarah put an arm around Vicky, and held Maggie’s hand on the other side of her. Edward sat across from her and stared through his tears at the black ribbons on the hem of her otherwise plain black skirt.

“It’s true that Eudora left us. But it’s not your fault, not yours, Vicky, and not yours, Maggie, and not yours Edward.” She put a gentle hand under Edward’s chin at this last so that he would look into her eyes. “She didn’t leave because she didn’t love us anymore. She left because she was selfish.” At this, Vicky started to speak up again in defense of her absent favorite sister, but Sarah continued. “No matter what she did or didn’t do, or what she does in the future, we must carry on. It’s very important, for Mother. For Father’s memory. For all of us. I need for all of you to be calm, to be little ladies and gentlemen, and to behave your very best. Can you do that for me?”

There were nods all around, and Sarah continued. “Now I can tell you one thing that’s true. I love you all, and I won’t leave you. You’re safe here with me.”

“I love you too, Sarah,” Maggie said. Vicky burrowed closer to Sarah, still sniffling from her tearful outburst. Edward smudged his eyes with somewhat grimy hands, then, remembering himself, took a handkerchief from his pocket, carefully wiped his eyes, and blew his nose precisely once, turning his face from those present as he did so.

“Very good, Edward, that was well-mannered of you. See? You’re doing well already,” Sarah said inclusively. “Just remember to do as you’ve been taught. All will be well, you’ll see.”

Edward wondered, but did not ask aloud, what sort of good behavior might induce his mother to stop crying so much, or his sister to return.

 

Chapter Three: Story Two

“Well, what is it?” Gigi said to Inky as he hovered in the doorway of her quarters.

He slowly and deliberately turned on his side, an orientation Gigi had never seen him take in quite such a manner previously, and allowed his tentacles to hang limply.

Gigi looked at him for a moment. “You’re very sorry, aren’t you?”

Inky flipped up the front half of his tentacles so that Gigi could see his underside, a soft circle of flesh surrounding his mouth in its center. The mouth remained firmly shut, with no sign of his sharp beak, which Gigi knew to be larger than a man’s fist.

As angry as she was with him, Gigi couldn’t help but be moved by such a display of vulnerability. “It’s alright,” she said glumly.

Inky did not move.

“I…I forgive you. You may right yourself now,” she tried with more feeling.

He wiggled a few tentacles as if a wave had passed through them, but still, he seemed to be waiting for something.

Gigi then began to do something she had tried on a number of occasions in the past, when communication had proven difficult. She imagined herself to be a tentaclebeast, and how she might respond to the situation. Suddenly it seemed so obvious, she couldn’t imagine why she’d been puzzled. Standing on tiptoe to make herself as tall as possible, she stretched out her arms, then swooped over Inky and wrapped him in her arms as tightly as she could, curling them around him in an imitation of tentacles. She squeezed tightly, thinking as firmly as she could of the feeling of being larger than Inky, older, stronger, superior in every regard. She let go of the physical reality of the situation, which involved her petite frame and mere 16 years to Inky’s otherworldly timelessness.  A moment later, she released him.

Inky returned to his typical upright orientation.

“That was rather peculiar, wasn’t it?” Gigi asked. Inky, of course, could not respond directly to her question. But then, it had been of a somewhat rhetorical nature, and Gigi supposed that when one is in the company of peculiar creatures, one must sometimes act peculiarly.

“Come to the gardens with me. I want to speak with you.” Inky followed eagerly. While Interfacing outside of missions wasn’t forbidden, it had earned Gigi some odd looks from her fellows on other occasions, and she had no patience for such scorn today. They entered the conservatory, where the bright sunlight caused Inky’s skin to give a purple gleam, and then passed on into the gardens.

Gigi chose a patio shaded by trees and offering several wicker chairs with comfortable cushions placed on them. She sat in one of the chairs and held out her arms, indicating that Inky should Interface with her.

He did so, and Gigi relaxed, as if being welcomed back to the home of a dear friend. The voices of the other tentaclebeasts took their places in her mind, and she realized that her mind had felt silent and lonely without them. I’ve never pushed them all away so thoroughly before, she thought with wonder. The other tentaclebeasts took notice of her return to their ongoing conversation, sending warm, wordless greetings.

When these had receded into the background, she focused on Inky, tapping into their shared memory of the last mission. She could feel Inky submitting once again in her mind, thinking she meant to punish him in some fashion, but she extended reassurance. Replaying the events in her mind, she showed Inky their patrol, the moment when he had suddenly taken her in another direction, against her will. Not knowing what had inspired this erratic behavior, she struggled as Inky controlled her legs like a puppet on strings. Gigi panicked. She had never known a tentaclebeast could control the human it Interfaced with. The men on the team jokingly referred to Interfacing as Riding, but this was more like being Driven.

Their struggle continued, causing Gigi to first turn one way, then the other, then completely about, before they finally collided with a tree, resulting in Gigi’s angry shout, the one that had set Christopher running towards her in the woods—

—the one that had set those attacking tentaclebeasts on her father. Gigi stopped the replay in her mind, trying to quash the tense feeling in her belly.

Inky sent a thought to her of the attacking tentaclebeasts, but then returned to the scene in the forest, where he had been dragging her erratically to-and-fro.

They came first. Oh, Inky, she thought, what a fool I was. You were frightened. You were trying to protect us. She felt his relief as she finally understood. Then, he sent her an image of her father’s face.

He seems improved, she thought to Inky, keeping her hopes up for both of them. She showed him an image of Doctor Hardale tucking her father into bed. It was not something that had literally happened, but rather, the simplest way to convey to Inky that Doctor Hardale had decreed that Mr. Valentine must rest. Still, she couldn’t help giggling a bit at the odd tableau that presented.

They sat companionably for a time, both pleased to be reunited. Gigi compared it to the pleasant sun beating down on the plants of the garden, causing them to open forth flowers, and Inky was fascinated with the image, turning it about in their mutual mind and watching buds open and close from Gigi’s memory and imaginings. The hum of the other tentaclebeasts was about them and gave Gigi an altogether peaceful feeling.
One voice seemed to isolate itself from the others. It was Sky, the tentaclebeast her twin Interfaced with for missions. Gigi thought for a moment that Sky was about to greet her, but then she felt Brian’s presence in the flow of tentaclebeast thoughts.

Ah, well, that’s a private conversation. We shouldn’t listen in, she thought to herself more than Inky. Still, she wondered if the other team members had ever listened to her. If they had, they’d never mentioned it. Other than Brian and Uncle Hedley, the others were rarely Interfaced outside of training exercises and missions anyhow.

Shall we go to tea then? Gigi thought towards Inky a moment after the rumbling in her belly began. He squeezed her arms tightly and sent a panicked memory of peppermint, which quite literally had burned him.

Poor dear, she thought. No, no, something more agreeable than that. Inky hesitatingly consented. They ended their Interfacing and Gigi went to the conservatory door to ring a bell for tea to be brought outside.

 
 
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