Edna Star awoke, for the first time since this adventure began, without an incredible amount of pain. There was brightness - too much of it, frankly - and there were voices. How were there voices? And why did that seem strange? But the pain felt as dim as she did.
Her mind traced through the groggy morning maze of memories, trying to decipher what had happened in the night. Dimly, she recalled something impossible and exciting. Not the trip through an endless abyss of nothing (which had lasted two minutes thirty-two seconds). That was odd, if it had in fact happened, but it was odd in the way that Edna had come to expect of her life. It was an unexpected thing that shocked her fully to consciousness: her watch had opened.
Without thinking, she clenched her fist. Her hand closed on itself - the little silver disc gone. Both hands shot to the front of her vest. She calmed a little as she felt the round lump of the watch under her left hand, snug inside its pocket.
She was about to reach in - to grab and open it again - but then one of the voices pierced the veil of her focus. “Ha ha! The Star rises! Up, up, up! Today’s the day!” it said, along with other hurried exclamations.
Edna was vaguely aware of a mustache closing in on her with this tornado of words when a pair of hands grabbed her arm and hoisted her off the ground and out of her haze. Her feet planted and her senses landed with a jolt into the world of everything. Highmond was stood before her, beaming yet impatient. She could see Iona behind him, hands in the pockets of her pin-strip suit, her bag over one shoulder.
“What?” Edna said, efficiently.
“Today’s the day,” he answered, “We’re almost to Pythagoras!” Then he made a series of gleeful little noises, somewhere between laughing and hiccups.
He shoved the bag Edna had been carrying since the castle into her hands. She grabbed it without thinking, her mind still focused on the opening of the watch, trying to decide if she had dreamt it.
When she didn’t put the bag over her shoulder immediately, Highmond started working it into position, like a parent on a rushed school morning. All the while he spoke. “I cannot wait to see what the green scallawag's been up to! Fixing the ship, no doubt, but Pythagoras is also an accomplished ornithological sketchist, you know. Oh, they would never tell you, of course, but their work has been published in several reputable scientific journals! And a rather disreputable one as well, I should say,” he added darkly before jumping back to praise, “It’s really quite impressive! And all of it done with their mouth!”
“What?” Iona cut in, borrowing Edna’s efficiency. Her companions hadn’t explained to her about Pythagoras. She had gathered from passing comments that whoever it was was “some kinda egghead”, in her current parlance. But she knew nothing of the multiple bodies, or of the turtle shape of those bodies or of his ornithological sketches. Highmond thought those first two items were the sort of thing for which it was easier to experience than to be told. Edna thought it would be funnier this way.
“Er, long story,” Highmond said.
“Don’t worry about it,” Edna offered, her mind yet again pulled from her watch thoughts and into the present moment. “Which way?” she added, changing the subject.
Edna’s bag now on, Highmond tapped both her shoulders twice, dusted them off, turned, and barged into the woods.
“That way,” Iona said. The two women had developed a sort of short hand of looks - eye darts, lip curls, chin waggles, cheek bubbles, and combinations thereof - for communicating complex messages very quickly. Iona used her eyebrows to make it clear to Edna that she was aware they had not answered her question, but that she’d let it pass.
Edna gave a wink that, to Iona, definitively meant, “Trust me. It’ll be worth it. Also, you have mud on your jacket.”
They both turned and followed.
Highmond kept a brisk pace at the head of the pack throughout the morning. Edna’s focus drifted back toward her watch. She yearned to pull it from her pocket, but she knew she shouldn’t. If she took it out, she’d open it again, and then she’d surely stop to stare at it. What would she say to Highmond if she ruined this pace he’d set?
I’m sorry. I know you’re eager to reunite with your dearest friend in the world, but I just really need to study every detail of this clock face I’ve owned my entire life. No I don’t know what time it is, why do you ask?
So she kept the watch in her pocket, patting it from the outside now and then.
They had reached the part of their journey where any moment they might stumble upon the crash site for which they searched, so everyone was on edge when they saw a huge pillar of smoke rising from a spot in the distance.
Highmond erupted in more of the little laughing hiccup noises, then shouted something that may not even have been words. He sprinted at the smoke. Iona, who had lagged behind for much of today’s journey, caught up to Edna. The younger woman angled her chin and eyes in Highmond’s direction, clearly asking, “We runnin’ after the dust bag?”
Edna responded with a head tilt, a blink, and a pair of pursed lips, that was equal parts amusement, chastisement, and “We’ll catch up soon.”