My Dear Rackham,
Or should I say, “My Esteemed Colleague Dr. Bennington?” I hope you will understand, Doctor, that my sincerest wish is that this letter finds the hands of my friend Rackham and that he is of sound body and mind as he reads it. But as you have written me in his stead, I will address this to the both of you.
Having spent recent days worrying about a betrayal from Dr. Bennington, the sudden knowledge that she is the sister of Alia and Alona requires, if you will permit me to understate, a mental adjustment. No sooner had I read the letter than I went to find Alona, who had wasted no time since her arrival in joining some of the sailors at a poker game in the mess hall. As someone who routinely performs complex mathematical computations regarding windspeed and weight coefficients on the fly – literally! – card-counting and the calculation of odds present her no great difficulty, a fact she thoroughly enjoys capitalizing on at the card-table. And the sailors, unable to stomach being routinely trounced by a woman, are always ready to try yet again to prove their mettle. Poor naive souls.
But I digress. On this occasion I walked up to Alona and whispered in her ear, “Sisters?!” She excused herself from the table and was kind enough to engage with me on the subject. She confirmed the truth of the matter, first of all, and vouched for the other relevant details in Dr. Bennington’s letter, enough to convince me that it was written in earnest. She explained that her family had grown up in a culture of secrecy, owing to its Society connections, and that the concept of revealing information only at need was second nature to her and her sisters. As this has also been my habit of late, I can hardly fault them for it!
So, Dr. Bennington, if it is you who are reading this, rest assured that, owing to the credit given you by your sisters, I acknowledge the sincerity of your desire to understand the full truth of what is to be found on Skald, and of our larger predicament. I cannot of course agree with Thompson’s notion that wholesale slaughter is preferable to the uncovering of a secret; neither can I throw in with the likes of Dr. Brown, who, in the short minutes I spent with him, seemed intent and even eager to unleash upon Gallia the same devastation our homeland has suffered. I cannot say whether I would agree with you on every point, but I trust that we are, to the extent that such words have any meaning, on the same side.
That settled, let me account for the recent activities of the Sigsbee. We held outside Yarmouth for three more days. Unbeknownst to anyone not on the crew, Campbell ordered a sortie to the naval station where his ship had once been docked, in order to reclaim weapons, ammunition, and supplies. The Blight was still present, as well as whatever monstrosities had already claimed the lives of Tollard and others. They returned having laid claim to their prizes but also having lost six men; whether it was worth the loss is a calculation for Campbell, I suppose, though it seemed reckless to me. I believe part of his reason for the action was to reinforce his assertion that he and he alone commands operations on his ship. Van Dyke or I might have aided the sortie in many ways, to say nothing of some of Robards’ former company, all well-seasoned at fighting creatures out of nightmare. But, for better or worse, he chose not to inform us.
After this, we started making our way west. At first we hugged the coast, staying close enough to visually scan each coastal village or town we came across, hoping perhaps to find another point of stability like Greysham. The first town had been transformed into a warren for rat-men, so we passed it by. The second seemed deserted, though some reported seeing tentacles that put me in mind of the ones encountered by poor Kensington and Gujparat back in August; again we decided to keep going. At the third things looked peaceful and we saw several people coming down to the shore once they sighted us. I went along on the boat that was sent out to greet them. As we approached, it seemed a little strange that the townsfolk were standing in a straight line on the fishing pier, not waving or gesturing. Then, as we drew still closer and prepared to land, something happened to their faces …
Forgive me if I leave it at that. The details are not important and I would prefer not to dwell on it. We rowed our way back to the Sigsbee in all haste; after that Campbell ordered us to sail at a greater distance from shore, and we stopped surveying the coast. This has allowed us to cover more ground but I cannot help but wonder how many people in need we have passed by as a result. At any rate, we have rounded the cape at Land’s End and are now making our way north and east toward the coast of Cambria.
As to more personal matters, things remain unchanged – my Ability remains dormant, and the telesma (a suitable term, I grudgingly admit) remains inert. I had stopped making attempts to communicate with Rachel, given her evident reluctance, although that is not to say she does not remain ever-present and concerned for my well-being. But with the additional information in your letter, including MacTallan’s rubbings, I thought I might try again. I showed her the rubbings, explaining that they were found on Skald, and her usual calm demeanor evaporated for perhaps the first time. She became animated, and by means of hand gestures conveyed to me (eventually – after some rather inept guesses on my part) that she wanted to see a map. We went to the navigation room, and again, after some delay, I was made to understand that she wanted me to show her on the map there exactly where Skald was located.
Skald’s position was there, and so I showed her. (At the same time I noted with some interest – if not quite surprise – that Skald’s coordinates had not been added to the map in grease pencil, by Alona for instance, but rather were already there on the map as printed.) Her response to it was muted enough that I hesitate to describe it for fear of a mistaken impression. It was neither surprise nor alarm, but perhaps something closer to resignation – a suspicion confirmed, a hypothesis verified. Unfortunately, we were interrupted at that moment by one of Campbell’s lieutenants coming in and informing us rather sternly that the navigation room was part of Official Ship Business and access for “civilians” was prohibited. I had some curt words on the tip of my tongue for this young officer regarding the utter meaninglessness of the term “civilian” upon the loss of civil society, but Rachel was already leaving, and I elected to follow.
That was all I had from her on the subject. I wanted to ask her about MacTallan’s “conveyance lines,” and about her time with the Society and whatever horrors of experimentation she may have been subjected to there. But other than her reaction to Skald, she remains as serene and unresponsive as ever.
Working with the crude rubbings you have provided, I can only say that yes, they are ur-Samekh, and it would not at all surprise me if they had something to do with MacTallan’s theory. The leftmost rune carries the connotation of “transition” and the adjoining one that of “personal location”; direct translation is rarely illuminating with ur-Samekh, but a rough one might be “changing the place where I am.” The other runes I do not recognize, or perhaps the detail is insufficient. I eagerly await more information.
I had hoped to delay sending this until we had arrived in Cambria, but it is now clear we have some days ahead of us before then, and so what we discover there will have to wait for my next. The reason for our delay is encouraging, however – it is because of the cold! And even some snow! As you have previously observed, the weather has not turned to the degree that we might expect for the season, but, for a short time at least, it is properly cold here in Albion. I take it as a sign of hope.
Dr. Bennington, I charge you with the care of my dear friend Rackham. See to his health and place this letter in his hands when he is able to read it. I mean no disrespect to you personally, but please understand that any further contact between us is predicated on his recovery.