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Dec. 8 – Clearing the Air

“Hello, Lisa.”

Lisa, passing by the front door with an empty bucket, saw Beryl scurrying inside, wiping the snow off his paws as best he could. She set the bucket down, after glancing around to be sure no one was watching. “Hello again.”

“Lisa.” Beryl looked even more serious than usual. “I just had a talk with Bookworm. You know her, don’t you?”

Lisa nodded. “She was here often after… after Cortman’s attack. She was very nice.”

“I talked to her today–told her about the metal men that could be here. Tepic had neglected to tell her there may be more.”

“Oh, dear.” Lisa frowned a bit.

“She didn’t even know about their connection with the journal you gave to Gadget–though she knows about the journal itself.” He looked at her soberly. “Lisa, you need to be worried.”

“Worried? Why?”

“She was interested in Dr. Martel, and his death. She investigated that personally. And she wants to know *how* it fell into Gadget’s hands.”

“Oh, no…” Lisa bit her lip, growing fear gnawing at her stomach.

“Lisa… I think we need to move quickly. If she figured it out, that you killed Dr. Martel, and Canergak or others in the city subsequently find out, well… you won’t be safe, for sure. I’ll do my best, but that may not be enough.”

Lisa shivered. “When should we do it, then?”

“It has to be this month. Talk to Beatrixe tonight.”

Lisa nodded, though her mind was already on news her cat friends had recently conveyed to her. “Strifeclaw–there’s something you should know. There are mechanical… things… out there now. Not man-shaped, but round. And they’re very interested in cats. One of my brother’s friends was actually caught by one, though it let him go after a moment.”

“Round-shaped cat catchers?” Beryl sighed. “I was hoping to avoid this, though I’ve had dreams about this.”

“Are they after you?” Lisa asked, remembering that her brother’s friend was black in color, like Beryl.

He nodded. “Don’t you recognize the description? They’re Doctor Dinosaur’s little round bots.”

“Oh, dear!”

“He’s not alive,” Beryl hastened to add. “But can a robot want revenge?” He shrugged, turning toward the door. “Who can say?”

“Strifeclaw?” Lisa reached out and gently laid a hand on his arm, making him pause. She was afraid if she didn’t say what she wanted to now, she might not get the chance. “I’m so, so sorry about the notebook. I *wish* I’d destroyed it when I had the chance.” Her voice grew thicker as she spoke, as emotion rose up to choke in her throat.

Beryl turned back to her, surprise on his face. “What?”

“It’s all my fault. If I’d destroyed it, I couldn’t have given it to Gadget, and the Van Creed couldn’t have gotten it, nor PJ.” She tried to blink back tears.

“It’s all right, Lisa.” Beryl reached up and gripped her shoulder gently. “Arnold blamed you–I don’t. You didn’t even know who you could trust in the world. You could never suspect your good-intentioned friends could… do the wrong thing by accident. Just as I have… just as you have done. We all do.”

Lisa sniffled, and Beryl started to purr softly. “It’s all right. Humans cry, when they need to.”

“I… I was afraid you were mad at me, and that’s why you didn’t tell me you were leaving.” It was difficult to say, but Lisa knew she needed to get that out into the open.

Beryl shook his head. “No. I didn’t tell you because you might have wanted to come with me and save my family. But there was nothing you could have done there.”

Lisa smiled wanly. “I would have been tempted… but I couldn’t leave here at that time.”

“I know.” Beryl hugged her a little, still purring. “But I didn’t think you’d get upset about it. Best intentions and mistakes.” He led her to the bench and they both sat down, Lisa wiping at her eyes. “How long have you thought I hated you?”

“Since the meeting you had at the theater.”

Beryl looked startled. “That’s… been a long time.”

“You left so quickly… and the look you gave me when you told us about the notebook. I thought you blamed me for that.”

“If I gave you a look, I don’t recall it,” he replied gently. “I may have just been giving you a glance.”

Lisa thought that over a moment in silence. “Maybe… maybe I saw more in it than you intended, because I was blaming myself. And I was–I still am–angry with myself. So it was easy to believe you were angry, too.”

“I know about that–more than I care to.” They sat in silence for a few minutes. Then Beryl abruptly said, “I didn’t tell Bookworm about you, but she now knows I know. Imagine if she tried to get the truth out of me because she deemed it ‘imperative’.”

Lisa stared at him. “Would she? Really?”

“With all these new clockworks? Yes, she might get it into her mind that I have to tell her, for the good of New Babbage. I wouldn’t.” He paused, looking at her soberly. “And I don’t want to know, any more than you, what would happen next.”

Lisa shivered again. “Well, she hasn’t stopped by the asylum for quite some time. Hopefully, she won’t think about it until after we try our luck, so I can leave and go hide somewhere again.”

Beryl nodded. “I have to go. Will you be all right?”

“I think so,” she replied. “I’ll talk to Beatrixe first chance I get.”

“Good bye.” He gave her another sympathetic look, and slipped out the front door. Lisa, though still feeling unsettled, returned to her work, wondering what the rest of the day would bring.

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