• H.C. Mills

Chapter 94: A matter of interpretation

A lull falls in Bob and Kaitlynn’s conversation when I utter the words objective meaning, and I can tell their attention is on us now.

“I mean, I saw you sign under-Hydrum earlier,” I continue, “so I figure you already know about meaning being objective in this Realm; I think this might actually work, but it probably won’t be easy to express something this complicated.”

Calyx has a kind of constipated look on their face. “Objective meaning... I’m sorry, but I find this a hard concept to swallow.”

“But it would explain so much!” Bob exclaims, his eyes shining with joy and wonder. “I always thought it was weird how well I could understand your hand-signs under-Hydrum! I mean, we never even discussed which sign should mean what!”

Calyx frowns. “Hold on, what about all those times I swore in Spanish—could you understand that?”

Bob blinks at them. “You speak Spanish?”

“Mother of a wh—”

I clear my throat. “Let’s not get too off-topic. You can discuss this all with Bob on your own time, but first, please express the feeling of your Inertial Energy through either hand-signs, sock-puppetry, or the art of interpretative dance.”

While I add the extra options in jest, Calyx looks at me seriously, and gets up. They close their eyes and stand perfectly still.

Silence falls over the rock. Then Calyx begins to move.

It’s not quite interpretative dance like I’d suggested, more some kind of slow-motion Tai Chi. Whatever it is, it strikes a chord in me. I think it’s working!

“Huh, I didn’t know they could do that...” Bob mutters under his breath. I ignore him, immediately enter a lucid trance and dim my sense of hearing.

In fact, I dim all of my senses except for sight, and take in Calyx’s movements with the full force of my focus.

Calyx movement is slow yet constant as they flow from pose to pose. Soon, I notice that the speed of their movements is actually picking up at a very slow rate. Something about the movement prickles the back of my mind.

No, I’m still looking at them. I need to feel.

As I stare, I try to forget that what I’m looking at is Calyx. I try to forget the rock I’m sitting on, the Hub in the background. There’s only the movement. Only the rhythm. Only the feeling.

It’s like... molasses. Something unmoving. No, unwilling to get into motion, yet simultaneously, unwilling to stop moving. Unwilling to change, to adapt. Like the most petulant, stubborn child you’ve ever experienced, entirely unyielding.

After what feels like a minute that lasted an eternity, Calyx stops moving.

I snap out of my trance, enlightened, while they flop down pale-faced, yet with shining eyes.

Calyx lets out a deep breath that ruffles my hair. It’s interesting to be on the receiving end of these for a change.

“So,” they say, “did that work?”

I couldn’t suppress my grin if I tried. “Yes. Yes it did.”

Calyx nods. “Good. Cause that was... very draining. I’m not even sure of what it drained, exactly, but it drained something.”

Mmm. Perhaps Espir? Note to self: try this. After I’ve gained Increase Momentum, that is.

I already know the perfect place to practise this Skill. Pity it isn’t my turn tonight.

“Well, you can take a short break,” I say. “But I still need you to demonstrate the actual Skill.”

Calyx groans and flops down on their back.

By the time I’m satisfied that I know enough to gain the Skill on my own, the raid has already left. As soon as we’ve said our goodbyes, Calyx and Bob swim out to look for their kayak.

Kaitlynn and I decide to call it a day and return to base.

Of course, my mind is still whirring with thoughts and ideas about Inertia. ‘Say Suri,’ I subvocalize at some point. ‘Got a practical question for you. What do I call the different types of Inertial Energy? Are they different Purposes?’

[No, actually,] Suri chimes. [There are similarities, but there’s only two types of Inertial Energy which directly oppose each other, so they are generally called Positive and Negative Inertial Energy.]

I nod thoughtfully. The terms immediately make sense to me, and I also directly, objectively understand that Positive Inertial Energy increases inertia, and Negative Inertial Energy drains it.

Soon my musings are interrupted by Kaitlynn, who tells me some of what she learned from Bob.

Apparently, Calyx and he are the twosome from the second group that came in with Onni, and decided to go on without him. Calyx and Onni didn’t get along. It probably didn’t help that they’re both Yin.

Anyway, Calyx and Bob formed a foursome together with the remaining two survivors from the first group, and they’re looking to conquer the island in between ours and the council’s. They learned about the need for Minor Energy Crystals from someone in the council’s group—Bob wouldn’t say who—and so Calyx decided to get a head start while the other two finalized their preparations.

I wonder what tactics they plan to employ, to do it with only four people.

Of course, Kaitlynn made sure to add Bob as a friend, explained some more about Jacob, and had him promise that they would contact us if their group ever hit an uneven number again.

<Oh, by the way,> she sends a little later, like an afterthought. <Remember that grass green colour of Calyx’s eye? That’s not their natural eye-colour.>

I blink. <Well, duh.>

She glances over, and smiles. <They actually had green eyes before coming here, however, turns out that particular shade of green is the result of a colour-changing lens Calyx was wearing as part of their costume, becoming One with their eye.>

I turn to her with wide eyes. <Oh man, that is the freakiest example of that law yet.>

Our otherwise uneventful journey back to camp is interrupted by a message.

[You have received a pre-recorded audio message, sent to all contacts of Samuel, would you like to listen to it now?]

Well, that’s nostalgic. ‘Sure, play it for me,’ I subvocalize back.

<Hello friends. I’m sure most of you have heard about the falling out that recently happened between myself and Dominique. I’m sad to announce that I’ve come to the conclusion that what remains of the council is too divided, and therefore we have to officially disband.>

Kaitlynn and I share a glance; she’s clearly listening as well.

<Steve and I will attempt to continue carrying some of the responsibility we once upon a time voluntarily accepted, by taking over the raid warnings, a promise which Dominique’s team has failed to uphold.>

I’ll say. How did he know, though? Maybe Bob sent him a message?

<I’m afraid I can’t guarantee complete accuracy, as we lack the manpower to maintain a full-time watch on the central island, so please continue to be careful in your hunting from now on. This is your former council secretary, signing off.>

<Oof,> Kaitlynn sends.

<Definitely,> I send back. <Hold on, I’m gonna give Samuel a call.>

I swim up to breach the surface. It probably shouldn’t be too hard to connect the Telepathy Skill to the social system in some way, but I’ve never done it before and I can’t be bothered to try right now, so I’d rather just talk out loud.

Samuel picks up with a familiar slightly exasperated tone. <Hello Emma, to what do I owe the pleasure?>

“Oh you know, just wanted to give you my appreciation about the future raid warnings. They’re no fun to experience, lemme tell you.”

I wink at Kaitlynn, who has surfaced next to me. She sticks out her tongue at me. Rude!

<You got caught up in the previous one?>

“Sure did.”

<Well, it’s good to hear you escaped. Is that really why you called, though?>

Clever bastard. “Fine,” I say, and explain Jacob’s predicament to him.

He’s silent for a bit. <I see. Well, as you may have heard, my team is with four right now.>

“I’m aware.”

<However, if one of us becomes... available, I’ll let you know.>

“Cool. We’ll accept pretty much anyone as a partner for Jacob. Except for Bruce.”

<Right... Yes, I imagine there is still some bad blood between you, on both sides, really. Do you think we could have a sit down at some point to see if we can bury that hatchet?>

I glance at Kaitlynn, who’s listening to my side of the conversation with rapt attention, and imagine her facing the guy who kidnapped her and kept her tied to a chair as a hostage, threatening her life for a chance at his own survival.



“It was nice talking to you, Samuel,” I finish decisively. Then, after a short pause, I add, “Say hi to Steve for me. It’s nice to hear he made it.”

Samuel sighs. <Will do.>

I end the call.

Kaitlynn gives me a funny look.

I raise a brow at her. “What?”

“What did you mean by that last bit?

I blink. “You mean when I said that’s it nice to hear that Steve made it? Well... it is? Someone we know didn’t die?”

She’s still looking at me weirdly, kind of guarded. “You hardly know him though, right?”

I scratch my head, unsure of why I’m being questioned about this. “I guess. He seems like a decent guy though. He never made trouble for me despite how rude I was to him in Hub One, and he spent most of his time in Hub Two helping others.”

Kaitlynn seems to relax a little and nods. “Right. You’re right, he does seem decent.”

Suri speaks up before I can figure out what this was all about.

[You have received another pre-recorded audio message, sent to all contacts of Mark, would you like to listen to it now?]

I frown. “Ehm, sure.”

<Ehm, hello everyone,> he says, sounding a little nervous. <I’m supposed to tell you that our team has a new name and—>

His voice cuts off at this point with a pained yelp. I swear I heard someone mutter ‘Oh for god’s sake,’ in the background.

I share an amused look with Kaitlynn, but the message continues.

<This is Dominique speaking, former treasurer of the council,> a sultry, female voice suddenly says, sounding like she’s speaking directly into my ear. It makes my hackles rise.

Wait, how is she even—is she physically using Mark’s eye-crystal as a microphone?!

I try to hold in my laughter as the message continues.

<I’d like to make something very clear: I am not a bad person. I was all for the council’s mission when we started out, however, it became quite clear in Hub Two that this place has been designed to whittle our numbers down. In light of that, the council’s mission of keeping as many people alive as possible, simply became meaningless.>

I purse my lips. I mean, not wrong... I can tell from Kaitlynn’s frown, however, that she doesn’t agree.

<I’m not saying we’re enemies,> Dominique continues. <However, trying to deny that there’s an element of competition in this place is simply deluding yourself. As far as I’m concerned, it will henceforth be each team for themselves. And my team, team Thunderbolt, will be number one. This is the Lightning Witch, signing off.>

My eyebrows rise practically to my hairline. “Wow. Someone’s tripping on power.”

Kaitlynn nods seriously. “Perhaps we should all unfriend Mark...”

“That might be for the best.”

Kaitlynn and I tell the rest about our exploits during dinner, which we eat in the late afternoon, since the oysters open at Twinset.

The boys listen in rapt attention to my tale about our encounter with the froggo raid and our daring rescue. Dave is especially interested in my explanation about how I had Calyx demonstrate the feeling of Positive Inertial Energy through the art of interpretative martial arts.

“Of course!” he mutters with shining eyes. “Words are too sterile, too clinical to bring across a feeling, even with objective meaning. No, perhaps it isn’t the medium, perhaps the only way to bring across a feeling anyway is for both parties to lose themselves to it completely, but words definitely aren’t the most suited medium to that, they require too much thinking. And my thinking has been too limited—”

He cuts off abruptly, his eyes going wide for some reason.

I blink. “Ehm, are you okay?”

He glances up at me and clears his throat. “Yes. Never better. You’ve just given me a lot to think about. Ehm, anyway, this new method of communication you’ve come up with could help us a great deal in teaching each other Skills. Though it sounds like high level Meditation is key for the recipient, which kind of limits our options for now...”

I nod. “True. You guys should work on that. But you’re right, we can definitely apply this to more Skills.” I turn to Alec with a small smile tugging at my lips. “Better start working on your Regeneration dance, Alec.”

He guffaws, but stops quickly when I raise a brow at him. “Oh, shit, you’re serious? I can’t dance for shit!”

I shrug. “Well, start thinking of some alternative way to communicate then, because I want to learn that Skill.”

He sighs. “I guess I’ll try and think of something.” He then groans and starts to complain about how boring their day was in comparison, yet somehow manages to brag about the fact that he gained Respiration level 3. Apparently, he decided that was enough breathing for one day, and he then went on to start working on a flag for our camp. He refuses to show it, however, claiming it’s a work in progress.

Jacob is still stuck at Respiration level 3, but says he made significant progress. At the very least, his Lavi absorption increased.

Meanwhile, Dave gained Breath Control, about halfway through the day, and went on to practise forming a mermaid’s tail. Or merman’s, I guess.

Soon, Alec and Jacob have to leave for their first tempering,

Kaitlynn ropes Dave into making a campfire, while I check on my favourite prisoner.

My Espir hasn’t recovered yet, as that only happens while I sleep, but I figure I should at least make sure he hasn’t escaped.

Predictably, the breakfast Kaitlynn brought him is gone to the last drop and leaf, and Loudmouth still claims not to have eaten any of it. He drools when I tell him Kaitlynn will be around with his dinner shortly. She’s taken a liking to the froggo.

Shaking my head, I check his bindings. Satisfied that he’s secure, I head back to the by now roaring campfire.

I sit down with a sigh to watch the oddly moving Yang flames that are too red to really be confused with fire on Earth.

The only thing I’m missing now is a bottle of Honey-Yam Mead. Could I perhaps learn to brew my own booze with Infuse?

A little after Kaitlynn has left to feed Loudmouth our leftovers, Dave sits down next to me, and casually puts his arm around me.

I freeze up, not used to this level of physical intimacy from him.

I mean, there’s no way he means anything by this, right? He’s engaged after all, and his girlfriend is pregnant, so even though I’m Yin and he’s Yang, and even though I have Charm... oh god, please no!

Suddenly, I realize he’s tapping his thumb on my uniform through a gap in my armour. It’s kinda annoying, like a buzzing insect.

I frown, and am about to brush his hand away, when something about the tapping draws my attention. The rhythm almost seems to mean something.

My eyes widen, but I quickly blink and attempt to act casual while I focus on the tapping. Soon enough, a message begins to filter through.

‘—understand this, try and respond in the same way I’m communicating. Don’t react. I’ve been looking for a way to communicate outside of our Personal Guiding Systems’ notice. If you understand this, try and respond—’

I clear my throat, sling an arm around his back, and rub a bit of exposed skin with my thumb.

‘Dave, you’re a genius.’

Author's note:

Thanks for reading! ^^

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