June 7, 1883
Dear Mr. Hedley,
Having failed in my mandate to safeguard Mr. Charles Valentine on our most recent expedition this past June 2, and having additionally failed as Captain leading the team entrusted with the same, I humbly recommend myself unto you for such disciplinary action as you deem appropriate.
* * *
Albert placed Christopher’s letter on his desk with a sigh, and rubbed his temples. The letter joined the official reports from both the initial mission and the recovery team. From all of it, he hadn’t been able to discern any reasonable way their position could have been given away to the attacking tentaclebeasts. Brian blamed himself for climbing the tree and perching to survey the landscape, but the other beasts hadn’t attacked him. They attacked Charles, on the ground. Gigi blamed herself for tripping over a tree root and crying out, but such a sound would surely not have been heard from any great distance. Numose confirmed that tentaclebeasts could travel quite rapidly if they wished, although giving Albert an idea of how far their senses extended was more complex, since Numose made no real differentiation between such things as physical sight and the “feeling” that another being was approaching.
Christopher, of course, simply blamed himself for being a poor leader. Albert shook his head. For such an honor-bound young man, you doubt yourself far too much, Christopher, he thought. I don’t need to punish you, I need you in the field. If I demote you for not knowing what you’re doing out there, then what am I to do with myself?
Albert contemplated the mission rotation he and Michael had worked out several weeks prior. Christopher and Gigi were fine to return to the field, and Brian had a bit more time yet to recover from his fall before he was needed. Really, nothing need be disrupted. Unless… Albert sighed again. Unless there really is something that happened to draw the tentaclebeasts, and I missed it. He resigned himself to re-reading the reports for the umpteenth time, hoping they might yield some new angle, and picked up Charles’ account while stirring a lump of sugar into his tea.
A knock at his study door interrupted his thoughts. “Enter,” he said, looking up from the report as his door opened. It was Michael.
“Good morning, Albert. Have a moment?”
“Of course, do come in, make yourself comfortable. Tea for you?”
“Thank you, but my business will take me elsewhere momentarily, with your approval. Miss Wright has requested another opportunity to Interface with a tentaclebeast.”
“I thought I had made it clear that she is not to train until a month has passed and she offers us a formal decision.”
“Well aware, sir.”
“Did she give a reason for her request?”
“She said that she felt it would be in keeping with your instruction that she is to learn all that she may of SPOT’s functions before she makes her choice.”
“How are the others taking the delay in her joining?” Albert asked.
“Well enough, I suppose, though I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t raised a brow or two. Christopher has made it clear that there’s to be no debate on her worthiness to serve.”
“Officially. And unofficially?”
“Unofficially, there are a few wondering if a woman can pull her weight. Gigi, of course, being an exception in their eyes.”
“As she is in so many circumstances,” Albert said with a wry smile, thinking of his niece. “Any doubts aside from that of her sex?”
“Not that I’ve heard. I think most of them are taking your harsh opinion of her as part and parcel of the admissions exams.”
“Very well. You may tell Miss Wright that her request is under consideration.”
“Thank you.” Michael looked at the stack of papers. “How is your review coming along then?”
“Agh, Brenton, for the life of me I can’t fathom what went wrong.” Albert ruffled the loose stack of papers on his desk. “None of them’s done a damned thing out of bounds. So Brian climbed a tree. Gigi gave a cry. Christopher dared walk some two minutes’ distance from Charles. It doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense that any of these things should have drawn the attention of the attacking tentaclebeasts.”
“I wonder…could they have simply felt their presence?”
“If so, then why the delay?”
“They finally wandered within range of their extra-physical senses?”
“A possibility. The intelligence that we have from the tentaclebeasts on this location states that it’s still firmly within friendly territory.”
“Yes, but we don’t understand how their world shifts. Perhaps what was once firmly and safely ensconced is now on the outskirts.”
“This is why I need Charles to crack the damned code,” Albert said with frustration. “And I pray this latest incident hasn’t addled his wits. For all our sakes.”
“Is he doing so poorly then? Dr. Hardale hasn’t allowed anyone except family to check in on him.”
“I think he’ll be alright enough, but I can’t say when or even if he’ll be able to cross again. Physically, he’s recovering slowly. He seems to be in some state of shock or confusion still, and that concerns me a great deal.”
They sat in silence, contemplating what the loss of their only cartographer would mean to SPOT.
“Every day,” Michael spoke up, “I see a dozen reasons to believe we’re lost. I look for the reason to believe we’ll succeed, and I hold fast to that one.”
Albert paused. “Thank you,” he said simply. “I don’t feel there’s really anything I could add to that.” They sat in silence for a few moments more. Albert thought of Michael’s injuries, of his fight back from the edge of death and madness, of how many reasons to succeed must have carried him through the dark times.
“If you don’t need me, then, I’ll convey your message to Miss Wright.”
“Please do so, and thank you, Michael.”
“I’m at your disposal,” he said with a smile and a slight bow as he took his leave.
Albert returned to the reports, and to the finding of reasons.