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Ever since Bookworm had returned from America, she had set herself to whatever militia tasks she found needed doing. In all that time, though, she’d not seen nor talked to the new captain, Ashiko Kuroe. It seemed that they kept very different schedules, and Captain Kuroe had not, so far, sought her out. Nor, truth be told, had she been anxious to see him herself, preferring to keep things as they were for as long as possible.
Now, though, the note she’d been expecting had finally come. Captain Kuroe asked that she come to his house that evening to discuss her future with the militia. After dinner, she went upstairs to her room and opened the wardrobe door. She stared at her militia uniform for a moment, then shrugged and put it on. Until he said otherwise, she was still a part of it.
It was a short walk to Captain Kuroe’s house–just across a couple of the frozen canals, and near the asylum. The new Militia headquarters were stationed right next door. Bookworm approached the house rather warily, not sure what her reception would be. As she neared, she saw Ashiko Kuroe standing in the doorway. “Do come in, Miss Hienrichs,” he said fairly affably. “No sense in having you catch a cold.” She nodded noncommittally and stepped into what seemed to be a front reception room. A good deal of the floor space was taken up by a round table. A flag of the now-disappeared realm of Armada hung on one wall.
“My maid is out for the evening,” Captain Kuroe continued, “so there’s not much I can do for tea and food. Though I do have a bottle of spirits, if you are interested…”
Bookworm narrowed her eyes a bit, studying him closely. Was that truly a reference to the… issue she’d had with drink during the summer when Dr. Obolensky had taken over the city? Or was it merely the usual offer, that most residents of New Babbage would accept without hesitation? She simply couldn’t tell, so she merely replied, “No, thank you… Captain.”
Captain Kuroe grinned. “Perhaps we should adjourn to my office, then. Do follow me.” He stepped into the side room, which was longer, with large windows at the far end, as well as windows looking onto the street. A desk stood near the windows, and Captain Kuroe sat behind it, gesturing to the two seats placed opposite him; one was an overstuffed chair, the other a spare, hardback one.
Bookworm’s eye, however, had immediately been caught by one of the flags hanging on the inner wall. It was the usual sort of skull-and-crossbones pirate flag, but on this one, the skull sported additional accoutrements of a tophat, monocle, and very familiar mustache. She gave it a very long look, before finally deigning to seat herself in the hardback chair.
Captain Kuroe staried at the flags for a moment himself. “Armada… Obolenskidonia… and now Babbage. “I must confess, I’m rather proud of my career.” He looked back at her. “I’m sure you can say the same of yours.”
“I can,” Bookworm replied a bit coldly, “though the goals of our careers have been… very different.”
He grinned, smoke from his cigarette wafting from his nostrils. “But of course. Not many can be an uncompromising defender of market and industry, though even the smaller roles have a part to play.”
“Defender of market and industry?” she repeated incredulously. “At the cost of personal freedom?”
“A clash of two novel ideas, to be sure.”
Bookworm snorted. “That’s one way to put it–though not my way.”
“Precisely why I have asked you here,” Captain Kuroe said smoothly. “While industry and markets need to be defended, the citizenry itself has always required a…” He paused, pondering his words. “A certain touch that I seem to be lacking. I’m most definitely well equipped to handle the defense of the city at large and to uphold the tenants of free enterprise. But–to be frank, the history I have with the citizenry shows that if I took more… personal roles, I would not have many of my original limbs left by Easter.”
Bookworm said nothing at this point, though she let her look convey her thought that she didn’t disagree with that assessment. Captain Kuroe pulled out a piece of paper and a pen. “Which is why I need an intermediary. One that is less likely to be shot, and one that… well, to be honest, one I might not mind seeing shot, should the occasion arise. Which is why I would like to offer you a commission as Lieutenant, Mademoiselle Hienrichs.”
For a moment, all Bookworm could do was stare at him in mingled astonishment and anger. Finally, though, she pulled herself together and let her tongue off its leash. “Let me be… equally frank,” she replied coldly. “I will accept–but mainly so I can keep an eye on you. I trust neither how you got this appointment, nor what your motives may be in accepting it. I will also accept it so that I can continue to serve the city as best I can.”
Captain Kuroe looked at her briefly, with a steely look in his organic eye, then smiled and bent his head again to sign the paper. “Hopefully, this will lead to less work on my part. I would so like to think of this as a nice retirement.” He shoved the paper and pen toward her. “Do sign here, Lieutenant.”
Bookworm leaned over and signed the indicated place. He nodded once and folded the parchment, handing it back to her. “Now then,” he continued, leaning back in his seat again, “I noticed there was quite a bit of smoke coming from the tower across the canal a few days ago. Give what I’ve heard of you… I wait for you to impress me.”
Bookworm took a moment to gather her thoughts. He obviously wanted a report on matters, but there were some things she’d much rather not tell him, if she didn’t have to. “Over the past few weeks,” she began, “there have been a number of clanks seen around the city. The first ones were small, and apparently were searching the city for… well, for someone.”
“Not Chess’s work, I take it?” he asked.
Bookworm shook her head, making a mental note to find out what Chess Clowes’s work did look like. “Last week, two large ones went into the tower and captured Kasa, who owns it. They did so in order to hold her hostage until Beryl turned himself in to them.”
“Any particular reason? And who is Kasa, if I can ask?”
“Kasa works as a nurse at the hospital,” Bookworm replied. “And they knew Beryl wouldn’t stand for them kidnapping her. Beryl did turn himself over to them, but Kasa was not, at that time, released. They were, however, both rescued later.”
“Are the culprits still at large?”
“At least some of the clanks were destroyed during the rescue… which also resulted in the explosion in the coal mine north of town, as that’s where they were being held. The… being behind it, though, apparently escaped.”
Captain Kuroe sighed and pressed fingers to his brass eye, turning gears and swapping out lenses. “Best we can hope for, I suppose. What of Mornington’s tax on sweets?”
Bookworm blinked in surprise. “I haven’t heard many rumblings about it–not since Halloween. Though I suppose, with Christmas coming, it might come to the fore again.”
“And I doubt we’d see any revenue,” he muttered. Bookworm shrugged. “Well, if the business with sporadic clanks and fires is dealt with, I suppose I should show you your office.” He stood up and ushered her out of the building, leading the way next door. They entered, and Captain Kuroe made for a separate office off to the left side. “And here we are,” he said, opening the door. “You’re free to have whatever help you need. I’ll see to it that Avok reports to you.”
“Thank you,” Bookworm replied, nodding.”
“But, of course, do not hesitate to come to me with anything you feel requires my close, personal attention and involvement.”
“Of course.” Bookworm couldn’t help but let a bit of irony color that, as Captain Kuroe left her. She looked around the empty office, making a note of what she’d need. Desk, chair, bookshelf, cabinet for files–she rather expected that was all she’d need to make it a good working space. The working environment, though… only time would tell on that.
((And with this, I am *finally* up to date on blog posts. A condition that will probably last… oh, maybe five hours? *chuckle*))