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Bookworm, dressed in her Militia uniform, was reaching for her wool hat and gloves, which were hanging by the door, when there was a knock at the door. She opened it, and was startled to see the diminutive form of the asylum administrator. “Good evening,” he said, looking up at her.
“Mr. Canergak.” She gestured for him to come inside, and closed the door behind him.
“I’m afraid that there has been a situation at the asylum.”
“A situation?” she half-asked, half-said. ‘Why does no one ever come just to visit?’ she thought fleetingly.
“One of my employees took leave of their senses.”
“Oh? Who?” Bookworm tried to recall who was working there now; the amount of staff turnover made it rather difficult for her to keep up.
“The young girl named Lisa.” Bookworm felt her jaw drop as Canergak continued, “There is more I must say about that one than just her momentary lapse in judgment.”
She stared at the man, shaking her head incredulously. “She was always so level-headed when I saw her.”
“Yes, she hardly resembles a young woman who torched her previous employers’ place of business.” Canergak’s voice was heavy with irony.
“According to the private investigators I hired to track down her employers in America, she was wanted for the arson of the greengrocers where she worked previously.”
“I see…” Bookworm rubbed a hand over her face, her eyes momentarily unfocused as she thought hard. What were his words trying to bring to her mind?
“Then, too, the paper trail on her ended with a Dr. Martel, here in Babbage,” Canergak continued.
“Dr. Martel… yes…” Why was she not surprised that Dr. Martel’s name had come up? Before she could pursue the thought further, though, Canergak remarked, “Regrettably, it appears my habit of hiring individuals who are truly criminals at heart has not changed.”
Bookworm nodded slowly. “So it seems.”
“Well, I have her in custody at the asylum as we speak. I will want you there to hear one of my doctors give her a psychiatric evaluation. Perhaps later today–unless you are free now?”
“I can come now, actually.” Her work at Militia headquarters could wait–this, she sensed, was far more important. She opened the door for them and stepped outside, following him toward the asylum. She’d forgotten her gloves and hat, but didn’t feel the chill, as her mind worked to pull together the threads Canergak’s words had stirred up. Almost, it seemed, she had the answers, but then they arrived at the asylum, and reluctantly, she set aside that train of thought.
Canergak conducted her to a hallway, where an elevator had been installed. Bookworm hadn’t seen it before, and murmured her approval of it as she followed the man inside. They rode it down to the basement, and there found Professor Rance Vartanian waiting there. “Hello, Ms. Hienrichs,” the professor said, and Bookworm returned his greeting.
“Professor,” Canergak said, nodding. He led the way to a large metal door and unlocked it; it irised open, and they stepped into a rather bare room, containing only a couple tables, a bed, and a strange, blue-lit chamber to one side.
Canergak moved to a metal door set in the far wall. “Now,” he said, looking intently at them, “beyond here are things that were better kept hidden. But this must be done. Keep your wits about you, and touch nothing.” Professor Vartanian raised an eyebrow, and Bookworm nodded, her eyes veiled, keeping her face expressionless. She had a feeling she wouldn’t like what she saw in there.
The asylum administrator led them through the door into a short hallway, lined on one side with filled bookshelves. He paused on the threshold of the next room. “This… is my office. My real office.” He glanced back at them. “Brace yourselves.”
They stepped inside, Professor Vartanian immediately wincing away from the trapped tentacles to his right. Bookworm, meanwhile, stepped to the left, looking around, storing up details. She looked, as she caught sight of the specimen jars on the table, as if she had a sour taste in her mouth. Professor Vartanian passed her, hardly glancing at the large metal cylinder beyond the table. Bookworm gave it a longer glance, though, wondering what it could be.
Professor Vartanian was staring at the contents of a fluid-filled cylinder, his brow furrowed. Bookworm took one look and involuntarily stepped back a pace. “Good Lord…”
“This one should appear familiar,” Canergak said, “though it is short a hand now.”
Bookworm hadn’t been in the city at the time of the attack on Mr. Footman’s observatory, but she’d heard enough descriptions of the creatures involved to realize this was one of them. As she stared at it, equally revolted and fascinated, Professor Vartanian turned away, looking toward their right. “Is that?” He strode a few paces, then turned back, looking accusingly at Canergak. “What are you doing with Beryl in there?!” Bookworm whirled around, staring at the second tube, and gasped at the sight of the black cat floating in it.
“Look again,” Canergak said impatiently. He approached it, and tapped loudly on the glass several times. The cat’s eyes opened, revealing their golden-brown color. It hissed and struggled for a few seconds before subsiding again. “That is not the cat you know as Beryl,” continued Caneragk.
“A… doppleganger of sorts?” the professor asked.
“No, just the same species.”
“Is it necessary to keep it in such a state?”
“This one would consume you as soon as look at you,” Canergak replied. “It is completely unstable. No different than the other, really, in its own way.” Bookworm frowned, but kept silent, knowing she had no jurisdiction in this matter.
“This one, however, is why we are here.” Canergak stopped at a metal cell, released the lock on the door, and opened it.
((To be continued…))
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