After traveling the world solo for several years, the concept of receiving physical mail was a little odd to Jen. She’d stayed with various teachers for weeks or months at a time but she’d never had their houses as places where people sent her mail. Most of the correspondence she’d had was via email, and the few physical items she’d needed had been specially shipped. The letter on the table in front of her therefor was something of an oddity.
“Got something from home?” Connie asked, coming into the breakfast nook and heading to the coffee machine.
“Nope,” Jen said, sifting with her foot through the small stack of papers which had been inside the envelope. “It was in my mailbox but it’s not from anyone I know.”
“Huh, I wonder why it was left for you?” Connie asked. The coffee machine beckoned and not even the mystery of the letter was enough to alter the beeline she made for it. “What’s it about?”
“It sounds like someone’s asking to join the Club,” Jen said, scanning through the initial greeting on the first page. There was lots of establishing who the sender’s family was and how they’d heard of the club, which amounted to a barely disguised argument for why the writer deserved the club’s help. As Jen read further though, the tone of the text changed, growing more desperate. “Wait, no, they’re asking for help, and offering to join the club for it.”
“What kind of help?” Connie asked.
“Their son is missing,” Jen said as she sat up straighter and read the rest of the letter aloud. “Marcus was an accomplished mariner despite being only 16. We supported his desire to try for a solo circumnavigation of the globe by sail in part because we knew he was capable of it, and in part because we were afraid he would attempt with or without our support.”
A vivid memory of the ocean spreading to the horizon in every direction came to her. She’d preferred to fly when she could before the incident where she first met Anna and Tam. Since then she’d forced herself to travel by boat a few times, but she hadn’t yet managed to do so without remaining wary at all times.
“Sounds like quite the boy,” Connie said, bringing her freshly poured cup over to sit on the other side of the table from Jen. “I don’t like we’ve gotten a letter about him though.”
“Yeah, listen to this,” Jen said. “Marcus’s trip was largely uneventful until he entered the South Pacific. He called in several times to report that he’d sighted another boat on a similar heading as his own. After a few days it seemed like this other boat was following him. The last transmission that we received from his indicated that he was changing his heading and would be a few days late getting into Sydney, which was his next planned stop.”
The scene that played out in Jen’s head was not a pleasant one. She pictured it as her story except without Anna and Tam’s timely intervention. As soon as the thought occurred to her, she cast a silent hope against it that the reality of the situation was something else.
“Do they give the location of where that transmission was from?” Connie asked. Whether she saw Jen’s inner turmoil or not, Jen wasn’t sure, but the question did serve to ground her back into the situation at hand, rather than the one she’d escaped from long ago.
“I think so,” Jen said. She moved some of the pages over with her right foot. She could have used the prosthesis to ‘look more normal’ but she was so much faster with her feet and more comfortable with them than with the prosthesis that she didn’t see a point in putting on a show. Connie wasn’t judging her, and even if she had been, Jen was (more or less) at home, and at home she did things her way. “It looks like there’s a few pages of technical data after the note.”
“So what are they asking us to do? The maritime authorities in the area should be all over this right?”
“That’s the next thing our writer friend gets to,” Jen said and resumed reading the note aloud. “There was a registration issue with Marcus’s boat that we didn’t learn about until this situation came up. Because there was no record of the Asterion’s Promise even leaving port, much less being in their waters, the authorities haven’t been willing to search for him at all. They say they’ve seen no sign of him and haven’t received any distress calls so there’s nowhere to start looking, but we can’t accept that. Our boy needs a second chance! Please can you help us?”
“Wow, that’s pretty intense,” Connie said. “It does sound like it came to the right place though.” She eased back from the table and took a slow pull from her coffee.
“Yeah, it’s not that far off from what happened with me,” Jen said, looking over the pages another time, trying to shake the imaginary scenarios that were leaping into her mind to show her various fates Marcus could have suffered.
“You’re a sailor?” Connie asked, putting her cup back down on the table but folding her hands around it to capture the warmth.
“Well, I was on a boat, so I kind of, I guess?” Jen said. “It was supposed to be a vacation cruise though, not a solo sail around the world.”
That sparked a question in her mind. She’d been attacked because vacation cruises were taken by people with money. Not that she was wealthy, but for the pirates that attacked her boat, even the traveling money her parents had given her was enough to tempt their interest. Someone doing a solo sail around the world wouldn’t be traveling in luxury though. So why target him?
A personal vendetta? That seemed unlikely when the target was a 16 year old.
The sailboat itself? It would have value, and the gear on board even more value in terms of being simpler to liquidate. With only one person onboard the ship, it would make stealing the boat and the gear as easy as possible, so theft could be an answer. Doubly so because Marcus was unlikely to have kept his attempt a secret. Jen bet that if she checked his social feeds there’d be all kinds of posts about the trip. Even beyond that, he would probably have talked to people in the different ports of call that he stopped into for resupply. Any one of he talked to could have had dangerous connections.
“Maybe that’s why the letter was left in your mailbox then?” Connie said. “You’re our resident expert on mayhem on the high seas. I’ve sailed a bit too, but it’s been for specific expeditions and I haven’t had to do much more than tie off a few lines and haul stuff around when the captain needed heavy things moved.”
“We’re talking sailing?” Sarah asked, wandering into the room with a heavy book of spells open in her hands. “Do we have a new crisis on the High Seas or something?”
“Missing person,” Connie said, pointing to the papers in front of Jen, without reaching forward to grab them.
“Someone wrote us a letter about it,” Jen said and shifted the papers towards Connie and Sarah with her foot.
Sarah looked up from the spell she was studying, her interest captured by the letter.
“Not a great time for this to come in,” she said as she scanned it’s contents.
“Yeah, it’s just us three, JB, and Jim here today,” Connie said. The rest of the Club’s associates were tied up on other projects, or (in Tam’s case) finally taking a well deserved break to spend time with a loved one.
“This isn’t the kind of thing where waiting is going to produce better results,” Jen said, concern blossoming in her heart at the thought of a delay. “Do you think we should try to handle it without the others?”
It wasn’t an unreasonable question. Each of them were accomplished in their areas of expertise. Together they had an array of skills similar to the ones Anna, Tam, and Val brought to the table and with JB and Jim to back them up they had a solid support system to draw on.
Despite that, it felt weird to Jen to contemplate taking off on their own. She’d been with the club officially for less than a month, and with Connie being a member only slightly longer than that, and Sarah a bit less (officially).
“Can we get in touch with them?” Connie asked. “It wouldn’t hurt to get their input on how to tackle something like this.”
That was the counterpoint to immediate action that was rolling around in Jen’s head too. Maybe they didn’t need to check in with the senior associates to ask permission, but drawing on Tam’s knowledge, or Anna’s experience could prevent some fairly terrible missteps.
“It wouldn’t hurt us, but we’ve seen how run down they’ve gotten,” Sarah said. “Do you really want to ask Tam to come back in and spend a night workshopping a problem like this?”
Connie sighed and shook her head.
“Anna’s not much better off, I think,” she said. “She hides it well, but if you listened to how she talked about getting to spend some more time with Zoe, I think she’d needed a serious vacation for a while now too.”
Jen thought back to the trip she’d taken with Anna to Chicago. Grandma Russia had mostly been her usual self, strong, confident, and a furious driver. There’d been little things though that suggested some of that was a facade though.
From what Jen knew, Anna had spent years in high finance, and had learned to project an exterior of ice and perfect cool as a result. Hiding weakness wasn’t entirely a choice anymore since it had grown so automatic for her, but even effective efforts to hide fatigue and stress could leave clues to someone’s real inner state.
In Anna’s case, Jen thought those clues might come in through her storytelling. When she’d met Anna originally, Anna hadn’t explained things, she’d spun a tale which drew the listener in so that they understood what Anna was saying just as she wanted them too. On their trip to Chicago, that narrative capacity had been there, but Anna had often cut herself a bit short, as though weaving the full tale was just a little more effort than she could manage.
“Ok, so we can handle this on our own,” Jen said. “Are you both onboard with a trip to the South Pacific then? Or would you want to stay behind and work the problem from here?”
With a team of only three, leaving any resources behind might have a big impact on the mission, but Jen didn’t want the others to feel forced to join her on what might turn out to be a complete waste of time. Marcus could be long past helping already, however much Jen hoped he wasn’t.
“I’m in!” Connie said. “I’ll need about an hour to pack and I’ll be good to go. I can coordinate with JB to see about getting transport if you’d like?”
“That would be excellent,” Sarah said. “I’m in too, and I’ll go with you too. I’ll need about two hours though between packing and brushing up on the current mystic alignments that are in place around the South Pacific.”
“I’ll need around two hours to pack too,” Jen said, thinking ahead to the kind of gear she’d like to bring compared to the gear that was readily available in the Club’s base.
“I can help you pack once I’m done, if you’d like?” Connie asked.
“Thank you, that’d be great,” Jen said. “I’m a little familiar with the islands in that area, I’ll try to see which ones were close to Marcus’ last known position in case he had to beach his ship on one for repairs.”
“Good thinking,” Sarah said. “And don’t worry, if he’s out there, we’ll find him!”
Jen wasn’t worried about that. Her imagination was all too happy to show her scenarios where they found Marcus in any number of horrible conditions. None of those were productive though, so she bent focus to a more useful purpose – working on a way to avoid those scenarios and bring him home, safe and healthy.