“My mouth tastes like horse!” Highmond bellowed, spitting hay and hair and worse out of the now permanently open side door of the train car.
“That an improvement, then?” Iona goaded him.
“I’m tha-ry, did’do thay something?” he asked, too busy scraping his tongue to have listened.
“She was wondering where you learned to ride like that,” Edna stepped in.
“Ahh,” he started, holding up a finger. Once the horse flavor - along with a layer or two of tongue - had been sanded away, he responded, “I’m a wealthy Inglish aristocrat - riding horses is part of the gig, as it were. I also play cricket, hunt for fossils, and keep up a saucy correspondence with an Irish nature poet. It’s all, you know, expected of me.”
Iona, perhaps sensing the edged undercurrent to his voice, didn’t push him further. “Well you blew my expectations to timbuktu, and mighta saved our behinds to boot, and boy howdy I cannot wait to stop talkin’ like this.”
“It doesn’t suit you,” Edna confirmed.
“No?” asked Highmond, “I think it’s bang up to the elephant! Cowboys!” he laughed, “Delightful adventurers!” Giuseppe licked him on the face again.
“It does bring up a concerning thought though,” continued Edna, ignoring Highmond as she had learned so well to do.
“Oh? And what’s that?” Highmond asked, not ignoring her.
“What if the next Change takes away our ability to communicate with Iona?”
“I been thinkin’ ‘bout that,” said Iona.
Highmond, who clearly had not been thinkin’ ‘bout that, was flabbergasted. “Why on Earth the Second would it do that?” he asked.
“Because, Highmond, we’re being yanked around through time and space,” Edna began, “and most of time and space doesn’t involve English. Most of time and space doesn’t involve Earth - or Earth the Second - at all!”
Highmond, visibly disturbed by the realizations this was bringing up for him, began to pace and think. Edna could tell he was thinking because of all his thinking noises, which were louder than the train. “But,” he finally said, “we are - ultimately, I mean - trying to get to Pretty Good Britain. And it, well, forgive me but, it just seems that ol’ PGB is at the center of, well, a frightful big lot of adventures. It seems like every boxing day we’re celebrating escape from another world-threatening invasion or space volcano or mutant lightning pig. And I was wondering, if… you know, perhaps… I mean, I shouldn’t say--”
“--Are you going to ask me if Britain is the center of the universe?”
“Or at least time, yes. London, specifically, I was thinking.”
Edna looked at him for a long moment, “No,” she finally said.
Actually, Highmond wasn’t that far off. The ‘centers’ of a universe - there being one each for space, time, and gregory - are defined as the graphical origins at which that universe was birthed from its mother reality. For Highmond’s particular universe, that point in space was a planet called Lune Dune, in the Ternin Sector of Seventh Soola. In time, the center was a holiday the imperial citizens of Lune Dune called “Kurissmaw S’de”. All the monsters and mayhem that Highmond and his countrymen had seen those many Christmases had simply got there notes wrong and turned up at the wrong spacetime nexus. It happens to all of us.
If you’re wondering, the center of gregory for Highmond’s universe is suspected to be the number yellow. No one understands why or how or to what extent this is true, but the evidence is like a mother asking her newlywed child when she might get a grandbaby out of the bargain. That is: never direct but never subtle, and impossible to ignore.
“Fair enough. Fair. Right...” Highmond trailed off in affirmations as he returned to his pacing and loud thinking.
Iona’s eyes followed Highmond for a moment, then a look of shocked awareness flashed on her face. “What is it?” Edna asked.
Iona flattened her face. “Well, like I was sayin’, I been thinkin’ ‘bout what happens if ever we come to somewhen doesn’t speak Inglish, and… I think I do speak Inglish, it’s just buried somewhere with the rest of my memories.”
“That would be convenient,” Edna said, and I agree - narratively speaking. “But what makes you think that?”
“It’s that famous sister of mine Ol’ Lightning Pig over there mentioned.” She nodded at Highmond.
“Naya…?” Edna trailed off, trying to remember.
“Naya Sakura!” erupted from Highmond’s thinking noises, which continued after.
“That’s right. I got these… feelin’s about her. I think maybe she taught me Inglish,” Iona started, then her tone darkened, “I also think she’s comin’ for us, and that we don’t want be around when she finds us.”
Highmond snapped out of his loud thinking. “What?” he cried, “She’s a great hero of our world! Why wouldn’t we want her aid?”
“I just got this feelin’ she ‘n I don’t get on so hot,” Iona was as cool as ever, but the seemingly permanent smirk that had previously been frozen to her face melted away.
“Well that seems another indictment of you.”
“Highmond!” Edna snapped, “Your wealthy Inglish aristocrat is showing.”
The tone of Edna Star - Hero Arborist of the Mystery of the Nine Anklets - was sharp enough to cut straight through Highmond and all the airs he had put back on with his pants. He cowed a bit, Guiseppe too, which is quite something for a horse. Still though, he squeaked out a final argument that had already been primed and pumped into his throat. “Besides, she’s been turned into a baby.”
“Nah.” Iona said, “The other adventurers had been turned into babies, so you didn’t bother goin’ to her. I’m tellin’ you now: Naya Sakura ain’t no baby. Naya Sakura is comin’.”