Chapter 27:

Search for the Golden Arch, Part 5


The next few days passed with no progress made on Caleb's search for the butterfly. While Joseph's advice was certainly helpful, in the end, there was still a lot of luck involved in discovering the elusive golden-arched butterfly.

Caleb woke up on a cold morning and stretched his arms. At this point, he had spent about six days here in the forest. He could already hear Hope's annoyed tone, subtly hinting that she wanted him to give up on this pointless search and move on to something more productive. To be honest, he was surprised she had gone this long without saying a word about it.

Caleb couldn't deny that she had a point. He was mostly doing this out of curiosity, and while the job was important, it wasn't something he needed to involve himself in. The responsible thing for him to do was to leave this job to the others and start taking on other work. He knew, yet he remained hesitant to actually do so.

Caleb emerged from the tent and found Hope idly stoking a small fire. She glanced at him with a raised eyebrow, as if asking whether or not he'd be continuing the search today. He exhaled a small sigh. At the very least, she deserved a deadline for what was essentially a personal whim.

“Three more days,” Caleb declared. “If I don't find it in the next three days, we'll leave.”

“Can I trust that promise?”

“Have I ever broken a promise to you?”

“You haven't made enough promises for me to have generated any empirical data on that.”

Caleb frowned. It had been a while since Hope had said anything so computer-like. “I promise. If I stay even a minute longer, I'll let you decide what kind of job we do next.”

“All right,” Hope said as she stood up. “Let's get going, then. We're checking the sap spots like always, right?”

Caleb nodded. That had been his basic routine for the past three days. He would check the sap spots in the morning, then once after lunch, then once again before he gave up the search for the day. It was relatively quick, and it gave him the chance to scout out the areas they were in as well, leaving him with less places to manually search through the rest of the day.

Caleb and Hope trekked over to the first sap spot, which was only a short walk where they had set camp. The sap was placed on a large tree in the middle of a giant clearing. Caleb inspected it closely, but even far away he could tell that no golden-arched butterflies were around.

“How early does Joseph wake up to apply this stuff?” Hope asked as she also inspected the tree. “It's morning, but the sap is still wet and runny.”

“Not sure,” Caleb replied as he pulled out his map to look for another sap spot. “He's pretty diligent to be doing it this often, though.”

“How interesting,” a resolute voice declared from behind Caleb's back. “So this is what you've been looking at the past few days. Keeping this all to yourself, have you?”

Caleb spun to his left to see Tia and Aislinn standing behind him, peering intently at the sap-covered tree. “Gah!” he coughed out in surprise. “I didn't even hear you!”

Tia put her hands on her hips and huffed. “No need to get so worked up. I don't care what you keep secret. I'll still come up the winner anyhow.”

“I wasn't really trying to keep it a secret,” Caleb grumbled. “Besides, I don't know why you're so competitive about this, especially towards me. I don't even really want the reward that much.”

“It's not like I really want it either. But since you're here, I won't let myself lose out.”

“What? What does that mean?”

“Never mind. I don't have time to be talking to you.” Tia turned and walked away without even a wave goodbye. Her partner, Aislinn, gave Caleb an apologetic smile as she turned to follow her.

“Sorry about that. I'm sure you're confused, but don't hold it against her. She's got a lot to work through.”

As he watched the two walk away, Caleb scratched his head in confusion. “I wonder what that was about,” he said with a sigh.

“You're sure you haven't offended her in some way?”

“Of course I'm sure,” Caleb sighed. “Come on, let's go check the other spots.”

It took another hour, but Caleb and Hope soon finished their routine inspection of the usual sap spots. Hope sighed as she wiped some dirt from her clothes.

“So tedious. Why can't we set up cameras to watch the sap spots instead?”

“We can't use any kind of technology without express permission from Computer,” Caleb replied. “Cameras weren't cleared for this job, so we can't use them.”

“Why? Does he just want to make our lives harder?”

“Computer's probably worried it might affect nature, especially if we leave them lying around. It's a little overbearing, but we are supposed to be helping nature recover, after all. Not much we can do about it.”

“Maybe Computer should see how hard of a time we're having finding this butterfly. Is it alright to waste all this manpower here when we could be better used elsewhere?”

“Computer wasn't programmed to care that much about efficiency,” called out a voice from behind. It belonged to Joseph, who walked up to them in his mud-covered clothes. “After all, we have centuries to revitalize the earth. What's the harm in taking our time with one job?”

“Joseph,” Caleb called out as he greeted him with a nod. “How's the search going for you?”

“Nothing yet,” Joseph replied. “Well, that's how it goes. Finding butterflies can be rough in ideal conditions, so imagine how hard it'd be in the winter.”

Caleb looked around. He noted a few remainers searching around the area, but no one that looked like they were on their own or waiting for anyone in particular. “Now that I think on it, where's your partner, Joseph? I've only ever seen you working alone?”

A somewhat forlorn expression appeared on Joseph's face. “To be honest, I don't have one right now. We sort of had a little fight before I came here.”

“A fight? What about?”

“They got tired of me, I guess. Not everyone is in love with the idea of taking things slowly. When I said I wanted to spend some time looking for the golden-arched butterfly, they said I could go and do it on my own.”

Caleb couldn't do much else but nod. He had plenty of experience seeing his own partnerships break down, so he sympathized with the complicated feelings Joseph must have had. Though Hope was also reluctant to be searching for the butterfly, she also seemed to understand Joseph's position.

“It's my own fault,” Joseph said sheepishly when he noticed their concerned expressions. “I'm not the most outgoing guy, and I tend to obsess over insects in ways that creep others out. Maybe it's my fault for trying to indulge my passions, but I can't help it. That's why I thought that if I was in charge of conducting field research, at least I would be troubling others.”

“And that's why you're out here looking for a golden-arched butterfly, huh?” Caleb sighed. He certainly couldn't judge him–after all, he was only here on a whim as well. His curiosity felt small and insignificant compared to Joseph's motivations. It was inspiring, in a way; he had lived as a remainer for centuries, yet he still held on to his dreams and desires, things that were explicitly human.

“In any case, I should probably get going.” Joseph turned around and started to walk off. “Good luck on your own search, you guys.”

“Hold on!” Caleb called out. “Why don't we work together on this job?”

Joseph seemed surprised, as did Hope. “What do you mean?”

“Well, even though I'd like to find the butterfly, I'm not all that interested in the reward. Plus, after hearing your story, I can't think of anyone else who'd be better suited for the task of researching the new species anyways.”

“You sure? There's not really much in it for you.”

Caleb shrugged. “Hey, like I said – I was only ever doing this out of curiosity. As long as I get to be a part of the adventure, I'll be just fine. As for my partner, she's already used to going along with my whims.”

“You sure are bold to be saying that in front of me so easily,” Hope cut in, unamused. “Maybe I should also petition for a new partner.”

Joseph was surprised for a second, then let out a bewildered laugh. “You guys are pretty interesting. Okay, why not? No one ever said we couldn't cooperate.”

“Great!” Caleb stuck out a triumphant thumbs up. “So, what's the plan?”

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