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Checking on Miss Book

Archivist note: This post is from an older recovered archive.


Captain’s Personal Log–Checking on Miss Book

Posted by Zachary Somerset on March 30, 2010 at 2:26pm

I knocked on Book’s apartment door at the Mechanix Arms. There was no answer, although I could sense her inside.

"Book? Are you home?"

The voice on the other side of the door sounded half-choked. "Who–who’s there?"

I sent a comforting mind touch through the link between us. "It’s Zac."

"Zac!" I heard her fumble with the lock. A moment later, she threw open the door, standing on the threshold, looking a bit dazed.

"May I come in?"

She blinked up at me for a moment, then started and stepped back. "Oh, yes. Yes!"

I entered her small parlor, making my way over to the sitting area. Behind me, she closed the door. I turned and saw her looking at me, her expression putting me in mind of a lost child who has just spotted a familiar face and was on the verge of throwing herself into a parent’s welcoming arms. This being Book, however, she reined the emotion back in immediately.

"Oh, Zac, it was horrible! The bees, and the oil, and…and him! And I wanted to come and see you and Nell today, I really did, but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t make myself…." Her words tumbled over themselves, her voice verging on hysteria.

I nodded, projecting calm through our mental link. "Do you have a bag packed?"

Book nodded. "Yes, I do."

"OK. It’s all right. Calm down."

Book took a shuddery breath. I gave her a sympathetic smile and settled on her couch, patting the seat next to me. "All right, you could launch into a full explanation of what happened, but I think I’ve managed to piece most of the story together already. So I have only one pressing question."

Bookworm nodded, flushing a little, and sat beside me. I grasped my student gently by the shoulders, looking down at her upset face, and sighed. "Book, what the h–" I reined in the retort, softening my tone. "What were you thinking?"

My protegĂ©e looked up at me. "Believe me, Zac, I calculated the odds of it succeeding versus the odds I was doing something incredibly stupid, and…I…went ahead anyway."

Despite my irritation at having been driven half-sick from worry during the height of the danger to Book, and being unable to get back to Babbage in time to help her, I felt my lips twitch in an involuntary almost-smile at her statement. "Hm. Well, so you did look at the odds…that’s a start. Now tell me, did it occur to you at any time to ask for help? Some backup?"

"I…no. I didn’t. It was so late, and…." She sighed. "I wanted to do it myself."

"Hm. Something to prove?" I smiled encouragingly. She considered my question and nodded. "Maybe also a bit of ‘Back at ya!’ for Dr. O?" I added.

She frowned. "Yes…yes! I wanted to humiliate him, like he did to me last summer. I thought, if he was brought in by the naive woman he’d used, that would be such a humiliating experience for him."

I smiled. "Hm. OK. And how successful do you feel you were with that?"

Book took a breath, then let it out in a sigh. "Not at all." She flushed painfully.

I nodded. "Book, it’s one thing to want to bring a villain to justice. But tell me…was it really justice you were seeking last night?"

Bookworm sat in thought for a moment, then shook her head. "No. Justice wasn’t on my mind at all."

"I suspected not." I regarded my student in silence, waiting. She stared into the fire, then glanced sideways at me, a very slight smile on her face.

"I was overconfident, too. A few training sessions with you, and I think I’m prepared for anything."

I grinned at her. "There’s that too, isn’t there?"

"I suppose you could take that as a ringing endorsement of your teaching abilities…."

I looked at Book sternly. "I could, if I were willing to overlook the fact that my student flung herself headlong into deadly peril without asking for any support or notifying the authorities in person first. Which is a sad reflection on my training." I smiled gently, hoping to take some of the sting out of my words, although I hoped she’d understand the seriousness of what she’d done.

Book flushed again, not meeting my eyes.

"So. What would you do differently now, if a situation like that were to arise again?"

Bookworm considered the question for a few moments. "I would be more patient, and gather the evidence I needed to fully convince Captain Undertone. And never enter such a situation alone."

I nodded. "Very good. Now, would you like to know what you did right? I think you’re ready for that."

Book gave me a wry smile. "I did something right?"

"Yes, Book. You showed courage. You didn’t just ignore the threat in hopes it would go away. You took up a fight in defense of others. Granted, that wasn’t your primary motivation. But essentially you were doing a right thing in a wrong way."

Book regarded me solemnly, saying nothing.

"Now, why did you feel you could go into that situation alone?"

She looked slightly taken aback, as if the question had caught her off guard. "I don’t…I’m not sure…."

"All right then. What was the worst thing you thought might happpen to you?"

"Well…if things went wrong–as they did–that he would capture me and…hold me there…." She frowned slightly. "It never entered my mind that he’d kill me."

I raised an eyebrow at my student. "Just hold you there? Indefinitely? A tad inconvenient for him, that."

"Yes, but if he was holding me there, I couldn’t do him any harm."

I shook my head. "You know, Dr. Obolensky doesn’t exactly live by the Gentleman’s Code. I can’t imagine he considers ladies immune to killing."

"But–" Book broke off, looking a bit stricken.

"By exposing him, Book, you became a threat. Once you were a known threat, you became expendable."

Book gulped, turning a bit pale. "I never thought of that. I…I guess in a way, I wasn’t taking him seriously."

I nodded. "Never underestimate your enemy, Book. Rule #1."

Book nodded. I sensed remembered panic emanating from her, and sent another wave of calm through our link.

"So. What were you trying to prove to yourself when you decided to take Dr. O on singlehandedly?"

Again, Book looked taken off guard by the question. "It…it wasn’t for me that I was trying to prove anything."

I smiled, again trying to encourage her to look inward and recognize her motivations. "OK. For whom, then?"

"I…." She looked away, visibly reluctant to answer the question.

I gently tapped Book’s shoulder to draw her attention back to me, saying sternly, "Sarah. I’m over here." She slowly turned her head back, glancing at me through lowered lashes. I raised a questioning eyebrow at her.

Giving in to my unspoken insistence, she finally blurted out, "I was trying to prove myself to him!"

I nodded. "I see. His opinion is worth that much to you? The risk to your life?"

Book shook her head. "No, it’s–every time I hear him mocking the people here, even if it’s not directed at me, it…it just gets to me! I wanted to show him that there are people who can stand up to him. Who could…who could even best him."

I sighed. "Have you ever considered that might be part of his strategy? Getting under folks’ skin, so they simply react rather than think their way through their dealings with him?"

Bookworm answered in a small voice, "Oh."

"It’s a classic strategem, Book. Irritate the enemy. Make them react rather than think. Catch them off guard."

She sighed. "He certainly succeeded with me, didn’t he?"

I gave my student a wry smile. "Book, you survived to learn from this experience. Be certain you do." She nodded. "And remember, there’s no shame in making mistakes if you can learn from them. Which, obviously, includes living long enough to do so."

"Yes, quite." Book rubbed her forehead and eyes.

"So, you stood up to a known enemy of Babbage by yourself simply because you were tired of his taunting. You’re sure there wasn’t a more personal reason than that? Something you, personally, felt you needed to prove to your enemy? Because, see, I suspect you weren’t just thinking of Dr. Obolensky as Babbage’s enemy, were you? This was more personal."

"I…I don’t…" Book’s voice trailed off. She looked a bit confused. After a moment, she pressed her hands to either side of her head and frowned, trying to think.

"Maybe you might want to ponder that a bit longer? Take a good, deep look into yourself?"

Book closed her eyes. After a moment, through our link, I experienced her hearing Dr. Obolensky’s mocking laughter in her mind. But then the laughter morphed into another’s laugh. Another’s… She raised her head suddenly, and said, "Nathaniel."

I tilted my head questioningly at her, encouraging her to continue. "Nathaniel?"

Book blinked, looking up at me, then she furrowed her brows, concentrating on sending the memories through the link to my mind. A boy named Nathaniel. Sixteen years to her fourteen, but already in college. Handsome, intelligent, accomplished. And the object of her crush. She remembered how he always belittled his peers–including her–and was always showing them up in whatever they tried.

"He laughed at you?" I asked.

The flow of memories continued. She remembered how often…so often…she tried to get him to take her seriously, to understand that she was as well-read as he was, even if she wasn’t in–couldn’t go to–college.

"It was…so complicated," she finally answered. "On the one hand, I hated that he never took the others of our age seriously. But on the other hand, I so wanted to join him somehow in showing them up, as that would mean that he’d accepted me as being as good as him. But whatever I tried always seemed to…backfire." She sighed. "Just like yesterday."

I nodded. "So, Nathaniel never took you seriously, and yesterday’s experience brought up similar feelings because of Dr. Obolensky’s prior belittling treatment of you. You just transferred the feelings."

"I guess so." Bookworm rubbed her forehead again, then looked at me and sighed. "I’m a mess, aren’t I?"

I smiled gently, shaking my head. "You know, Book, that was Nathaniel’s loss."

Book asked in a serious voice, "Was it?"

I placed a hand on her arm, seeking to comfort her. "Yes, it was. From what I saw, he walked away from a greater prize than you did. You don’t need to prove anything to Dr. Obolensky either. You never did."

She looked away and stared into the fire, blushing. I gave her a moment to ponder the thought before interrupting her musings.

"So…you said your suitcase is packed?"

She nodded. "Yes, I put a few things in it."

"Good. Because Nell isn’t expecting me to return home without you." I grinned at my student. She smiled back weakly.

"Thank you."

"Show me your bag and I’ll walk you back. I suspect you could use a soother to help you sleep. Nightmares?"

Book shuddered. "Ohhh, yes." She stood, gesturing towards a bag sitting by one of the book cabinets.

"In that case, let me try something before we head over. Mindwork is a lot more tiring in Clockhaven." I rose from the couch.

"All right."

I lay a hand gently over each of Book’s temples. She closed her eyes, letting her mind open fully to my mental touch. Through the link, I gently eased my healing touch into her mind, placing a buffer around the traumatic memories. She would still recall them, but without experiencing the full immediacy of the trauma. Then I withdrew, letting my hands fall to my sides, and gave her a reassuring smile.

"That should help." I reached for her suitcase. "Shall we?"

"Yes," she answered. "And thank you. Hmmm…I do seem to keep saying that to you, don’t I?" She smiled wryly, opening the apartment door. I offered her my free arm. We both stepped forward. I felt her hesitation as I stepped onto the landing, and looked down at her. She had stopped abruptly at the threshhold.

"Problem?"

She looked up at me, mute appeal in her eyes and a tinge of panic in her voice as she answered. "I…my mind knows it needs to go, but my body doesn’t seem to want to obey."

"Can you think of why?"

Book looked back into her apartment. "I think…I think I’m thinking of that as a safe place…my only safe place. And…I think I can’t help but worry what will happen if I leave it."

I nodded in sympathy. "Book, no place is any safer than what we make it."

She nodded her agreement. "My mind knows that. It’s my body that needs convincing."

"Do you trust me to take care of you?"

She nodded again. "I think…just make me do this."

"Then take my hand."

She hesitated, then slowly reached out and placed her small hand in mine.

"Let’s go."

Book took a deep breath and followed me down the stairs.

"We could take the Transfer Portal." Even as I said it, I knew that wouldn’t be the better option, but I allowed her to make the decision.

She inhaled sharply, then let her breath out with a long sigh. "Tempting as it is to use the Portal, we’d better walk. I need to face these fears."

I nodded my approval of her choice. We set off together through the Port. As we headed north and then east along the waterfront towards Clockhaven, Book caught a glimpse of the Observatory through the evening smog and shuddered. Her body began to tremble.

"I’ve got you." I squeezed her hand reassuringly. She nodded, gulped, and continued walking. "Just focus straight ahead."

She kept her eyes fixed to the pavement before us, taking one dogged step after another until we reached the Arcania Adventure Supply Company. The buildings now hid the waterfront from view, and Book began to relax a little. The Gangplank sign soon broke through the evening mists.

"Want to stop and take a drink for Mac?" I teased.

Book laughed, her voice still tinged with a slight edge of hysteria. "No, we’d best not encourage him."

I smiled. "We’re halfway there."

We continued on, past Market Square and then northeast to our corner of the neighborhood, at last reaching my home. I opened the door for Book. She sighed with relief at our arrival, immediately settling onto one of the loveseats.

"Tea? Coffee?" I grinned at my tee-totaling student. "Cognac?"

She smiled. This time the expression looked more genuine as her fear began to subside. "Tea, please."

I prepared a fresh cup and brought it to her. "We made it back in one piece. See?"

Book looked at the teacup in her hand, and chuckled a little. "I just realized…I never cleaned up the cup and saucer I dropped early this morning."

I chuckled in return. "Well, I doubt it’s going anywhere."

"True."

"Be right back." I bounded up the stairs, returning in a few moments with a small stoppered vial. "A bit of the soother I promised you." I poured a few drops in her teacup.

She took a cautious sip. "Thank you." She continued to drink the warming beverage, savoring its faint minty taste. Through our shared link, I could tell when she began to feel the warmth of the tea seeping into her veins, relaxing her muscles. Soon afterwards, the pounding in her head began to decrease.

"That’s helping?"

She nodded, yawning suddenly.

"Shall I go upstairs and check on that daybed for you?"

Book smiled. "Please. I think I’m going to need it soon."

I heard my wife’s footfalls on the stairs. A moment later, she emerged from behind the mother-of-pearl curtain screening the stairwell from the parlor. "Book!" She beamed at our guest.

"Hello, Nell." Book returned my wife’s smile.

"I’m so glad you’re safe! I have a sleeping area set up in our attic chapel. I hope that’s OK." Nell glanced worriedly at me.

"Yes, that’s fine. Perhaps even better than fine." Book set aside her teacup and stood, following Nell up the stairs with her suitcase. I heard their voices drifting down through the small house.

"I’ve set the daybed up on the third floor, fresh towels are on the side table, and there’s a pitcher and bowl. Let me know if there’s anything else you need."

I picked up Book’s empty teacup to wash it.

"That should do, I think. Thank you so much for letting me stay here."

"Anytime. Just don’t think you have to go provoking Dr. O to get an invitation!"

I heard Book chuckle at Nell’s teasing words, and smiled.

"Well, I’ll leave you to get settled in. Good night!"

"Good night, Nell." Book raised her voice a little, calling down the stairwell to me. "Good night, Zac."

"Goodnight, Minx!" I called up. Nell re-entered the room. I set Book’s teacup back down for the moment, gathered my wife into my arms, and gave her a light kiss.

"Thank you," I whispered.

"She’ll be fine." Nell smiled. "You need your rest too, mo chuisle. Dishes can wait."

I nodded as the day’s stresses suddenly washed over me, leaving me exhausted. "I do at that. Come tuck me in?"

She laughed. "Upstairs with you then, boyo."

We went up, talking quietly at first, then through our link alone, not wishing to disturb our houseguest’s rest, until at last sleep overcame me.

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