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Mariah woke out of a light doze. There were no windows in this part of the hospital, but the air held that still quality of the middle of the night. On the bed beside her, Bookworm was stirring, though her eyes were still closed. “Bookworm?” Mariah said softly. There was no response.
Mariah leaned down, her mouth by Bookworm’s ear, and said loudly, “Bookworm!”
Still no response. Her mouth set in a grim line, she grasped the woman’s shoulder and shook it. Bookworm opened her eyes and swiveled her head, looking at her. “Mariah,” she said. “What happened? Where are we?”
Mariah reached out to the lamp on the nightstand and turned it up, then sat down on the edge of the bec, so her face was fully illuminated. “Don’t you remember?” she asked.
Bookworm’s eyes suddenly widened. “I can’t hear you!” she exclaimed, and then put her hands to her ears. “I can’t hear *myself!*” Panic was growing in both face and voice. “Why can’t I hear myself?!”
“Bookworm!” Mariah placed her hands on Bookworm’s shoulders, making sure she had her attention, then withdrew them as Bookworm inhaled sharply in pain. “The explosion affected your hearing,” she said slowly, mouthing the words as clearly as she could. “It’s probably temporary.”
“Probably temporary,” Bookworm repeated. Mariah nodded. “But it could be permanent?” Mariah nodded again. No sense in trying to hide that from her.
“The explosion!” Bookworm raised herself up on her elbows, wincing from her many bruises. “Our house?”
The older woman shook her head. “Gone.”
Her breath catching in her throat, Bookworm sank back onto the pillow. She abruptly rolled onto her side, turning her face away from Mariah. The older woman very carefully squeezed her shoulder once, then moved back to the chair, giving Bookworm the opportunity to grieve privately, yet still being a supporting presence.
When Bookworm awoke again, it looked to be morning, from what light she could see. The grief she’d felt at the revelations of last night had given way, but she wasn’t sure what she was feeling right now–beyond stiff and sore from her injuries. She glanced to the side, and saw an empty chair–Mariah must be out somewhere. There was a sheet of paper sitting on the nightstand and reached for it, thinking Mariah had left a note for her. Her first glance at the handwriting, though, told her it definitely wasn’t Mariah.
“Miss Book, just snuck in, don’t know if yer awake, but the bloke in the blue suit left a letter for yer at me camp, i’ll leave it on yer bedside here. I saw him again, he didn’t smell of flowers no more, but like a clockwork, but with somethin’ off. Reminded me of somethin’, can’t remember what. Got to go, not safe, must keep on the move… Tepic.”
Bookworm turned the paper over.
“To Miss Bookworm Hienrichs,
I trust that you should be very pleased to learn that your many actions against the late Doctor Obolensky are well known and have earned you the title of Heroine. Enjoy the benefits and the renown that such a position has earned you, because it is coming to an end.
Your ‘heroics’ would be an inconvenience for my plans in this city. As such I shall be hiring an expert to capture and eliminate the threat that you pose to me.
I also want you to know now that I shall be sending men to destroy your home as a symbolic gesture. If you have anything important in there, I would remove it before August 14th.
Bookworm read the note over a second time. She would have read it a third time, but her hand suddenly closed into a fist, crumpling the paper. She knew now what she was feeling.
Fury. White hot fury.
At that moment, Mariah walked into the small room, carrying a notebook and pencil. Startled at Bookworm’s expression, she asked, “What is it?” Bookworm handed over the note; Mariah sat down, smoothed it out on the nightstand, and read it. She began shaking her head, and continued shaking it all through her perusal. Looking up again, she read Bookworm’s intentions in her fury-filled eyes, and swiftly said, “No.”
“Wait.” Mariah held up her hand to forestall Bookworm’s arguments. She began scribbling quickly in the notebook, and after a few moments, handed it over for her to read.
“I know you’re angry–I am, too. But you need to consider a few things: 1) You’re in no condition to go charging out of here right now; 2) You’re one of only a few people in this city this man is specifically targeting. Others will be able to investigate with somewhat more safety; 3) You can’t investigate anything if you can’t hear.”
Bookworm read it over, sighed, and leaned her forehead against her hand. Several minutes passed before she finally looked up again. “What do you propose?”
Mariah took back the notebook and swiftly wrote in it. “Boston. You’ll be with your family, and if your hearing doesn’t return in good time by itself, there are plenty of good doctors there who may be able to help.”
Bookworm chewed on her lip–one more ache in a world of aches–as she considered that. Finally, she nodded. “All right. We’ll do that.”
Mariah sighed with relief, and nodded. “I’ll go make the arrangements,” she mouthed carefully, and left. She didn’t mention that she’d already set such plans in motion, including arranging for Mrs. Pritchard to stay behind at the Brunel, where she could both supervise the reconstruction of their home, and act as a liaison between the various ships’ captains and the authorities, if anyone spotted the man in blue outside Babbage. After all, it was ofttimes easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission.