Chapter 25:

Search for the Golden Arch, Part 3


After about a week of trekking through cold forests and chilly mountain ranges, Caleb and Hope arrived at a large forest emanating with the sounds of wildlife. It was thankfully situated in a more temperate part of the country, so while it was still in the midst of winter, Caleb and Hope didn't have to worry about snow worsening their trip.

As they walked through the forest, they noticed signs of campsites and movements made by other remainers. Their encampments were scattered, taking shelter in small clearings within the forest or little burrows allowing them to shelter from any possible rain. As Caleb looked around, he started seeing remainers wandering the forest, including a couple he could recognize.

“So you're here too, huh?” A voice called out from behind. Caleb spun around to see Escher and Rael, a remainer pair he had met a few months back.

“Just got here,” Caleb said as he gave them a casual greeting. Rael nodded as he stared curiously at Hope, who returned his stare with a perplexed look.

“She's the girl, huh?” Rael muttered under his breath. “Well, never mind. I doubt you've got much of an advantage even with her around anyway.”

“Hm?” Caleb was surprised. “You're taking it a lot more seriously than I expected.”

“Why wouldn't I be? It's a chance to leave our names in history. You're not interested?”

“I wouldn't mind if I missed out on it.”

“Suit yourself.” Escher shrugged. “We don't mind not having any extra competition.”

“Big talk for a guy who's looking around like an amateur. Are you sure you're even a surveyor?”

This voice, which belonged to a petulant young woman, came from the left, and sure enough two women emerged from the bush, their clothes stained green from the foliage. The person who had spoken out was obviously the young European woman in the front sporting a fierce expression on her face.

“Tia,” Escher grumbled, clearly intimidated by her presence. “On the contrary, you might be taking things too seriously. You like butterflies that much?”

“Save your sarcastic remarks for someone who wants them,” Tia shot back. “I've been here for more than a week now, and I'll be damned if I let someone else get the glory.”

Tia suddenly glared at Caleb, which surprised him. He didn't recognize her, so he doubted he could have done something to offend her or anything like that. Of course, if there was a reason for why she was upset, she didn't look like she had any plans to inform him.

“Aislinn!” she called out to her partner, a quiet yet tall red-headed woman. “Let's get back to camp. I've been crawling around all day and need some rest.”

Aislinn, a tall yet quiet woman with black hair, gave the others a polite nod and followed after her partner. Escher sighed and motioned to Rael for the two of them to leave as well. Now left alone, Hope gave Caleb a pointed glance. “That girl from earlier was glaring at you. You must have really gotten on her nerves last time you met.”

“Can't see how I could have, seeing as this is the first time I've met her,” Caleb sighed as he began looking for a good place to camp. “I don't know why she's angry with me, but I don't have the time to spend it smoothing things over with her.”

“I guess you just have one of those faces,” Hope remarked dryly, to which Caleb only replied with a wry smile. Somehow, she had learned to be sarcastic when he wasn't looking. He had no doubt meeting with some of the other remainers at the party had already begun rubbing off on her.

Caleb wandered the forest for a bit and eventually found a nice clearing that hadn't yet been claimed by another remainer group. He put down his large pack and began setting up his tent.

“Is it really necessary to put the tent up right now?” Hope asked. “It's still midday. Shouldn't we look for the golden-arched butterfly first?”

“It's midday, but it's already a few hours past noon,” Caleb replied. “There's no way that I could find the butterfly in a handful of hours, especially in the winter when the days aren't so long. I also would rather not have to put up the tent in the darkness either.”

“I could put it up. I have night vision.”

Caleb scowled. “I can't always rely on your night vision. It's a crutch.”

“Don't complain about such silly things. What's the point of me having all of this tech if I never use it?”

Caleb ignored her. She was right about making use of her tech, but he was being personally stubborn about it. As a human, he had disadvantages that nobody else existing on Earth had. If he let himself slack off even a little bit, he'd be sure to end up letting his guard down once again, and he never wanted to let himself do that ever again.

All of that meant that today was more of a rest day for him. Once the tent was set up, he cleared out the surrounding area to make it a bit more comfortable and dug out a fire pit to use for cooking. By the time he was done, the sun was already on the verge of setting and the other remainers were already beginning to come back after another fruitless search.

While the sound of grumbles and complaints started to intrude upon the evening ambience of the forest, Caleb leisurely started a fire and began to cook meat from a rabbit he had caught earlier. Hope watched him with an expression of annoyance on her face.

“I know today's supposed to be a rest day for you, but do you have to look so much like you're on vacation?”

“Rest is important,” Caleb replied as he chewed through the gamey meat. “You might think searching for a butterfly is easy work, but look at those other remainers out there. They've got synthetic bodies, but even they're tired after a full day of walking around this forest.”

Hope sighed, but she didn't complain any further. By this point, she was more than used to Caleb's human inconveniences. She had long gotten tired of it, and anything she had to say now wasn't anything she hadn't already said a dozen times before. Instead, she simply climbed into the tent, intent on getting some rest before the big search tomorrow. Caleb did the same once he was done with his meal.

The next morning came quickly, and being early to bed meant Caleb could wake up along with the sunrise fully refreshed. Hope was up by this point as well, and was using the time before his awakening to organize supplies and maintain their tools. Once Caleb was done eating breakfast, the two set out on their first search for the golden-arched butterfly.

Before that, though, Caleb spent the first few hours of the day meticulously mapping as much of the forest as he could. His sketching skills had improved after years of practice, and he had a full map of the forest fully rendered before noon. During all this time, he'd had Hope look out for any butterflies that matched the description given to them. Though he had doubts they'd be so lucky, it would have been a tragedy for them to have missed it just because he was preoccupied with something else.

“Well, are we going to start searching for real now?” Hope asked as they rested atop a small hill within the forest for lunch. “The other remainers have already spent the day hunting down the butterfly like wolves facing down prey.”

“In a moment,” Caleb replied with a piece of jerky in his mouth. He made a few markings on his map, which Hope noted with some curiosity.

“What are you making marks of there?”

“These,” Caleb said as he pointed to several small circles on his map, “are where the other remainer camps are–at least, what I could find of them. The bigger circles indicate their likely search range given their capabilities.”

Hope looked at the map now that it had been marked with circles. “I see,” she hummed as she noticed what Caleb was doing. “Like this, we can eliminate places that are likely to have already been searched by other remainers.”

“Right. This forest isn't that big, but that doesn't mean we can waste time scouring every square inch of the forest for this butterfly. We're better off focusing on the places that aren't as likely to be searched yet.”

“Does that mean we're heading here?” Hope asked as she pointed to a spot on the map that was relatively far from the circles Caleb had made.

“It's a good start,” Caleb remarked. “There's no doubt someone else has searched there, but who knows? Maybe they missed a spot.”

The two picked up their things and headed straight towards the location in mind. Their destination was fairly deep into the forest, where the trees had grown taller, leaving the ground below covered in shadows and darkness. While it would make for great shelter from the sun in warmer times, during winter it only served to make a cold day frostier.

“Brrr!” Caleb shivered as he walked under the shade of the trees. “Well, no wonder none of the other remainers have come here much. It's way too cold for butterflies.”

“Butterflies don't like the cold?”

“Yeah, they prefer places with much more light,” Caleb replied and glanced around the area, shining his flashlight around areas that were too dark to examine with his eyes alone. “Won't hurt to give the area a once-over, though. Never know what we'll find.”

The two of them quickly searched through the darkened canopy, but even after half an hour they had come up with nothing. Caleb sighed and shut off his flashlight. “Alright. Let's get out of here. I'm starting to feel a chill.”

“Should we fan out a bit?” Hope asked. “There are still lots of places worth checking out, right?”

“Yeah,” Caleb replied as he pulled out his map once again. “There's still a good amount of the forest to map out too. It's too early to give up, in any case.”

The two slipped out of the darkened canopy and into brighter areas of the forest. For their next destination, Caleb decided on a spot on the edge of area he'd mapped so far, hoping he could at least put some map work in even if he couldn't find the butterfly. The location itself was a much sunnier area of the forest, a grassy area with fewer trees around.

Around here, there were a couple other remainer pairs searching around for the butterfly, but Caleb paid them no mind. Instead, he picked a place that didn't seem like it had already been searched and took a look around. As he closely inspected the trees and grass, Hope watched him curiously.

“Do you actually know what you're supposed to be looking for?” Hope finally asked, in a low voice to avoid being heard by the other remainers. “You never said anything about being an expert in tracking insects.”

“That's right,” Caleb replied. “It's true that I haven't really sorted out a methodology for finding this butterfly. In terms of experience, I'm certainly far behind surveyors who have likely been doing things like this for centuries now.”

Hope threw up her hands in exasperation. “Why are we even bothering, then? Shouldn't we leave this to the experts?”

“You aren't tired of searching already, are you?”

“Hardly. I just think it's pointless. Better people are already on the job. We'd be better served using our time elsewhere.”

“You're probably right,” Caleb chuckled. “Still, there's nothing wrong with giving it a try, right? Time doesn't have much value nowadays anyhow. Why don't we spend it how we like when we can?”

Hope frowned. She couldn't understand Caleb's motivations, but she knew better than to try and convince him out of it now. There was nothing for it but to wait until he got tired of it himself.

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