*Continued from Uncharted, Part I
They are at home in the dark. They are at home in the light. Myths propagated by the banal imaginations of those who wanted nothing more than control of their congregations led humanity to believe that monsters only exist at night. But what of monsters that are not? There is nothing about them in the legends of these cultures. No revelations. Could they read the languages of man they would but laugh at the explanations of what lies beyond.
For nothing lies beyond. Save for them. What is seen is what begets. And what begets is fear. The evolutions of creatures subject to biological conditions not yet imagined by the chemical reactions known as thought. Chemical reactions some mistake as a gift granted by yet another imaginary evolution.
It is these mistakes upon which they pray. It was not God responsible for the alignment of the planets on that fateful day in the 10th century. It was not gods ignorant to the gravitational pulls of celestial bodies that ripped open a small tear in the fabric of space-time. It was simply chance. One in unimaginable billions. The same chance that created life here. The same chance that created death there. The same chance that opened the tunnels.
But the myths got something right. There are great powers in the universe. And they are more common than the son of one. More common than an adversary. And the creatures from the other side of the tunnels can smell them.
To humanity, these great powers are miraculous. Rightfully the stuff of legend. To the Tunnelers... they - along with the rest of carbon-based life on Earth - are food.
James cuts into the rib-eye steak, much to the chagrin of Marianne. She can barely hide her disgust at James' propensity to eat rare meat. It's the blood. He's a great work partner, but she's slowly coming to realize that he's not as good a life partner as she'd once hoped. James has done nothing all that irritating in the past few months - not since the debacle at her parents in Brussels - but it's not helping his cause that she's heavily attracted to Compass. Worse, it's hurting that it is James who was assigned to observe Compass. Though Marianne is in awe of Sextant, she wishes she could spend more time with the direction-finder. Through today, she's only seen him a handful of times and has only spoken to him once... and that was merely a quick introduction and exchange of names.
"How's the old guy?" James asks, oblivious to his current station in Marianne's perception.
She looks up, nibbling on her salad - a much more sensible meal, in her opinion. "Oh, he's wonderful. Weird and charming."
James scrunches his brow. Weird and charming? "Compass is a bit of an asshole." He hesitates to mention Spyglass, fearful that Marianne will somehow notice James' attraction to Spyglass in his voice.
Marianne would have noticed no such thing, but she does notice James' disdain for Compass, which further sours her mood. "Oh, you don't even know what the Hell it is they're doing."
James shrugs, taking it as a point of fact. He doesn't know what they're doing. He's only here because he's been Marianne's - his girlfriend - research assistant. She seems to know most of what's happening, but her ability to explain it is much like the ability of any of his female friend's ability to explain anything: nonexistent.
"I wish they'd let us out of here," James mutters, recalling that his university friends are currently somewhere in the Italian Alps, enjoying some powder and, no doubt, ski bunnies.
Unfortunately for James, there's no place Marianne would rather be. Eating dinner with her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend - should all go as planned - in front of a hearth in one of the many dens in the headquarters of the Order of Navigators.
As she imagines running her fingers up and down the spine of Compass, James chews on his steak, considering the irony of a religious order full of members who don't believe in God.
The crone-hag fast approaches - carrying a cardboard tube - and he can already smell her medicated odor. Compass has never liked the Librarian and, he's quite sure, never will. He hates people who are nothing but facades. Everyone has a facade, he knows, but it takes a dedicated faux-intellectual who grew up in faux-intellectualism to actually be nothing but a facade.
It certainly doesn't help his impression of the Librarian that she's not even an official member of the order, despite her title. He's convinced that she's only around because she's older than any of them, save Sextant. That she looks older than Sextant almost makes him pity her. Were she pity-worthy, that is.
Where's Spyglass when he needs eye-candy?
He also hates how she calls his name so matter-of-factly. No question, no greeting. Just blunt adjective.
"What?" Compass dropped the fake smile for her years ago.
"I need you to give this to Sextant," she states, holding the tube out for Compass to grab. "It's for his birthday."
Compass stares at the tube, not taking it. "What is it?"
"It's a birthday present."
"You said that. What is it?" He can't help himself. He loves being a dick to the hag. Particularly because she reacts to poorly to it. Almost like a child. Then again, it's not his fault she's not allowed direct access to Sextant.
Compass continues to stare at the tube, then slowly shifts his gaze to the Librarian's bespectacled visage. Wrinkly and thoroughly unattractive. Probably smoked cigars for a time.
"He's a pop culture artist from America, was popular during..."
"I know who he is, hag." It's an interruption Compass will cherish for hours. He grabs the tube and turns to leave, not wanting to remain in her presence.
He stops, mentally shrugging. "What?"
"Just give it to him. Don't say anything; just give it to him."
"Why?" He stares into her eyes as she glares at him. She knows nothing of his combat histories and, as many professionals who've long had to discipline students, believes her gaze to make men nervous. For Compass, it just gives him the opportunity to make mental jokes of her beady little turkey eyes.
"I don't want you to dilute the gift."
"By saying something?"
"It doesn't require your voice-over."
He shakes his head, stifling laughter. "It's a Lichtenstein."
The Librarian stares, as if questioning his answer and trying to answer his question.
Compass explains. "I could take a shit on it, and it will still be a Lichtenstein."
"Please just hand it to him."
The dam breaks. "You know, for all that useless factual knowledge stuck in your head, you're pretty fucking stupid."
It's a statement Compass will cherish for days. Then, he's no idea what he's set in motion.
"Why do Compass and the Librarian hate each other?" Spyglass asks Sextant. She's always wondered, but never remembered to inquire.
Sextant pulls on his cigarette, savoring the smooth Turkish flavor, and chuckles his comforting chuckle. "Because she's pretentious and he's apathetic."
Spyglass frowns a bit. It's an involuntary reaction. Even she doesn't yet realize how defensive of Compass she tends to be.
Sextant taps the cigarette over an ornate ash tray made from portions of a V2 rocket's gyro control mechanism - supposedly a gift from Werner von Braun. "Sad woman, that one."
Spyglass doesn't hear him, her thoughts elsewhere. As if on cue, Compass enters and tosses the cardboard tube onto an empty chaise longue. "Happy birthday, Sex. Bitch got you a Lichtenstein. Where's Clock?"
"Late, I'd imagine," Sextant replies, chuckling again.
*Continued in Uncharted, Part III
The Complete Uncharted: Map One