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A late night encounter

Archibald MacBain was working his usual evening alone when he heard the squeak of the floorboards downstairs. Not the usual sound of someone walking on them but a longer creak. As he listened he noticed a new hiss among the steam noises coming from the building. This one was getting louder and seemed to be moving along the hallway with the creak. Then a brief knock on the door was the only announcement as an elderly man in a wheelchair pushed into the room. MacBain thought his faced looked familiar but the wheelchair meant this must be Professor Parx, who had so publicly gunned down the widow MacTavish a year ago.
 
“Mr. MacBain I presume?” asked Parx as his gently hissing wheelchair rolled towards the desk. His words were polite but his tone held no banter.

“Professor Parx,” replied MacBain. He sat as his desk warily. This was hardly a
social hour for making enquiries of the Archives.

“An excellent memory. I can see why you’re here in the Archives then,” replied Parx, a slight smile flickering across his face. “I am in need of information. You will provide me with the answers.”

MacBain raised an eyebrow slightly at this low level threat. He’d dealt with the Clockwinder’s temper. This was barely on the radar.

“Did you fill out a request form Professor?” asked MacBain, straightfaced.

Parx lowered his head and sighed. “Mr. MacBain do not test me. I would be
saddened to deprive New Babbage one of its finest archivists. You’ve
already proven you know my name, so I assume you’re aware of my
reputation. For you I may even expand on it a little.” He clicked a
button near the controller on his armrest and a small electrical zap
sounded from the chair. MacBain remembered Parx used Galvanic pistols
last time.

MacBain sat back in his chair, conceding the point, “what information do you want?”

“I need information on the Mace of Olaf” replied Parx.

MacBain stared at Parx, wondering what he really wanted. “There are lots of gaps in the history of the Mace. Much of what we know is anecdotal.”

“I am interested in its refurbishment” replied Parx. “Specifically the additions to the mace during the Clockwork Renaissance.”

MacBain’s brow furrowed in thought. “I don’t know how much of that would have been recorded, or even what survived the collapse of the Empire.”

“Then it will be educational for us both.”

MacBain slid his chair away from his desk, the casters squeaking like frenzied mice. He went to a small cabinet upon which sat a large keyboard in front of a dark glass screen. Pulling a lever to one side, a slight hum began to emanate from the screen as faint lines flickered across it. MacBain punched a series of buttons on the keyboard – letters, numbers and an assortment of odd symbols – and then pulled a large handle to the right. With a loud click the buttons popped back up and the hum of the screen intensified. A series of clicks and whirs could be heard from the cabinet underneath until finally a small bell chimed and a string of numbers appeared on the screen. MacBain copied the numbers to a notepad and turned towards Parx.

“Can you handle spiral stairs?” asked MacBain.

“I manage” was all Parx replied.

“Follow me then.”

MacBain left his office and headed down a long corridor and through a series of doors. The Professor followed along behind, his wheelchair chuffing gently as he went. When they reached the first set of stair MacBain looked behind him briefly and then headed down. He was surprised when Professor Parx followed a short distance behind. The wheels of the chair must have had some non-slip coating on the front, perhaps a treated India rubber thought MacBain. The smaller wheels at the back seemed to raise and lower themselves as the chair descended the steps. MacBain was rather astonished that the chair was able to navigate it.

“Through here,” said MacBain when they reached the bottom.

Two more corridors and three more sets of stairs and they reached the lower
sections of the Archives storage areas. The musty smell of mouldering
paper and parchment hung heavy in the room, shelves spanning back to a
far wall. Scrolls in pigeon holes, books stacked horizontally in niches
jutted from the shelves, thin drawers held the promise of maps or
blueprints.

For several hours they pored over accounts, ledgers, inventory lists,
customs records and journals. The records for the Guildmaster of New
Babbage were thorough when they existed but there were gaps throughout
the centuries before the collapse of the Empire. Finally Parx found an
entry in the Guildmaster’s personal journal from 1482. It mentioned the
rededication of the Mace of Olaf. Backtracking through the journal Parx
began jotting down notes. MacBain looked up to see what he was writing.

Silver from Bump
Gold from Carpathia
Green beryls from Underwick
Ivory from Duchy of Grand Fenwick
Ruby from Falun
Ruby from Graustark
Ruby from Strelsau
Palermo Ruby from Guildmaster’s stores

This last line Parx had underlined and before putting down his pencil. “As I thought, “ said Parx.

Closing the Journal and Parx returned the volume to its shelf before heading back to MacBain.

“You’ve been most helpful Mr. MacBain. As a token of my appreciation I would like you to have this.” Parx reached into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out a thumbnail sized emerald, square cut and glittering softly in the overhead light. Parx placed it on the table, then moved his chair back. “I will see myself out. Good morning to you Mr. MacBain.”

The quiet chuff of Professor Parx’s wheelchair receded down the corridor
leaving MacBain all alone in the archives. Reaching for the stone
MacBain picked up and held it up to the light to inspect it. “How
generous,” he said.

At that moment the emerald shattered to dust and Archibald MacBain smelt a sharp tang. “…or not,” he said before collapsing on the table in front of him.

Hours later he awoke at the table wondering what he’d been doing down in this level of the archives. Unable to remember coming down he shrugged it off and headed back upstairs to lock up his office. But by then Parx had already had a head start.

[img_assist|nid=1911|title=A Souvenir of New Babbage|desc=|link=popup|align=left|width=640|height=480]

 

**Disclaimer. The character and AV of Archibald MacBain is not mine and has not been online for over a year. Despite attempts to contact him I assume his typist has either moved on to other areas of SL or other recreation all together. I hope his typist doesn’t mind the brief use of him for dramatic purposes.

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