“Now where did she go?” Bookworm asked, looking around. She’d wanted to ask Lisa more about what she might know, but the girl had apparently slipped away. She sighed in exasperation. “I’d better go to militia headquarters, once I take my equipment home.” She looked down at Wisp and smiled at him. “Thank you for your help.”
Wisp shook his head, signing with his hands and arms for a moment, until Bookworm finally realized he was trying to remind her of what Beryl had said. “Don’t worry–we’ll be discrete.” As Wisp lowered his ears nervously, she patted him on the head, then carefully made her way down the now-precarious ladder.
Bookworm hurried back home, toting the firefighting equipment she’d brought to Kasa’s tower. She couldn’t help but feel exasperated with Beryl; she knew perfectly well that rescuing Kasa was the top priority, but she also needed to understand just what was going on–who was behind this, how these automata from different sources had been brought to work together, and what their goal was. How else would she have a chance of stopping them?
It didn’t help that she had the distinct feeling that Beryl was keeping things from her–perhaps quite a few things.
She clattered in the front door, dropping her burdens to one side, and went straight to the kitchen to clean up a little. Mrs. Sawyer and Mrs. Pritchard listened intently as she gave them the bare bones of what had happened, and were not pleased at the thought of something connected with PJ still being on the loose. Neither was Bookworm, and she was determined to do something about it.
Back in the main entrance, she dressed for the weather this time, with hat, scarf, and gloves, and took up her militia rifle again. As she threw open the door and stepped outside, she thought she heard a faint voice call, “Bookworm! No!” But it was too late–she’d stepped beyond the door, closing it behind her, and exposing to her view the Steam Hare. She gasped and fell back a step.
“Bookworm Hienrichs.” The Hare pointed its flamethrower at her threateningly. “Bang,” it said, but no flame came. It raised and lowered its shoulders in a fair approximation of a shrug. “There. Would have been easy. Now, let’s talk.” Bookworm paled a little, but said nothing.
“We have a message from those that want the cat. If it fails to show itself for the rabbit–and that is unlikely, as we’ve been assured such desertion is not in its nature–let everyone know what will be targeted should he choose to run away.” It held out a piece of paper, half impaled on its hand. Bookworm reached out carefully and took it, glancing down quickly. “A few of them might be illegible, but these are his documented favorite places.”
Bookworm looked back up, her eyes stormy. “Which, I suppose, you will target.”
“We all will,” it said indifferently. “There’s enough of us, and they’re repairing more.” It pointed its flamethrower at her door menacingly. “Next time.” With that, it turned and headed. east. Bookworm was tempted to follow, but she heard Mac’s voice beside her. “Miss Book, I’m so sorry!”
“What happened?” she asked quietly.
“We saw the commotion going on at the tower, so we went over there,” he said, sounding distinctly embarrassed. “We stayed around there, talking–never realized that thing had doubled back until it was practically on your doorstep.”
“It’s all right,” she replied, looking down at the list again. One entry caught her eye quickly. “In a way, it’s just as well this happened. I need to go to the asylum, before militia headquarters. You and the others please stay here, in case… well.” She felt Mac’s wordless assent, and took off at a swift trot toward the asylum.
As Bookworm pushed open the gates at the asylum, she saw Beryl and Lisa outside, talking with Miss Momoe. ‘That’s lucky,’ she thought as she came up to them, panting from her run.
“Bookworm? What now?” asked Beryl. “Did you find them?”
Bookworm swallowed noisily. “That clockwork rabbit just paid me a visit at home.”
“He didn’t blow up your new home already?!” he exclaimed.
“No, but he’s threatened to burn it down if you don’t give yourself up to them.” She looked down at Lisa. “He also threatened the asylum.” That drew a gasp from the girl.
Beryl’s eyes narrowed. “Okay. Anywhere else?” Bookworm handed him the list, and he looked it over. “The tower, the asylum… half of these names are missing,” he muttered. “Plank bar… or is that dank bar?”
“Gangplank?” Bookworm hazarded.
“It could be.”
“Oh, dear,” Momoe said. “Come to think of it, I haven’t seen anyone around recently.”
“So they’re threatening a bunch of buildings, too?” Beryl said impatiently. “They must not know me as well as they think. Those can be rebuilt. They already have Kasa–the rest is… kind of pointless.”
“Well, it gave no indication that there would be a warning to those inside,” Bookworm replied.
Beryl frowned at that. “Point taken. Was there a time limit? Or a location to turn myself in?”
Bookworm thought back, and frowned. “No, neither.”
Beryl rolled his eyes. “Yeah, come surrender yourself,” he said spitefully. “Where? Wherever.” He sobered a little and looked at Bookworm. “The Steam Hare was on display at the Power Station. You might want to alert Avariel she has thieves.”
“Hmm, yes,” mused Bookworm.
“Anyway, it’s freezing,” he continued, “and I have to look. Goodbye for now, and… stay away from those things.”
Bookworm nearly told him the same thing, but rather doubted he’d follow her advice–just as she wouldn’t follow his, if she got the chance to follow them. Instead, she watched as he left the courtyard, while Momoe called after him, “Yes!”
Bookworm turned her attention to Lisa. “Keep your eyes peeled, and let me know if you see any of them here.”
The girl nodded hastily. “Yes, ma’am. I’d best go inside and warn those in charge.” She hurried inside, closing the door behind her with a bit of finality. Bookworm looked back to Momoe. “Please keep your eyes open, too.” She got Momoe’s nodded assent, and waved a goodbye as she left the asylum ground to go to Militia headquarters. No matter what Beryl might think, it was her duty to do what she could to resolve this crisis.