“But they razed her house! It’s gone, torn down!”
“Mind the condenser, Pilipo. You are not concentrating…”
“Where could she have gone?”
Valeska finally decreased pressure in the device and pulled the blade switch open; his normally taciturn assistant was showing an unusual amount of emotion meant the seasoning of the equipment must wait a bit longer, “Alright, secure the retort and seal off the condensate.”
The young Texan closed down and locked, but remained sitting on the floor, looking through the seams between the boards at the murky canal below the building. He did not look up, and Valeska understood why, having caught a hint of shine in eyes while he protested the destruction of his friend’s domicile.
“Pilipo, you know very well what New Babbage is like. It’s
society, even its topography, is deliciously chaotic. That’s why I
like it here, why I set up here, and hired able assistants such as
yourself who normally thrive in this environment.”
“She was just here a few weeks ago,” said the agitated chemist as he looked up, “I cannot understand how she would just vanish, and then two scant fortnights later her entire house is destroyed?”
“You know people don’t just dissolve into the aether for no reas … well, people seldom dissolve into … among the people that do dissolve … Damnation! Listen to me, Pilipo, you’ve experienced the vexations of life enough to know what can happen, but why assume the worst? She could well have had to leave on immediate family urgency, her sister’s pregnancy, perhaps, and had to liquidate her assets so she sold her house to the Gypsum Slag Company or some such and they tore the place down.”
The Texican sat silently, regarding the luminous green condensate shimmering in the stoppered flask at his crossed ankles. Glaubrius was surprised. He was surprised at how surprised he was. Here was a soldier scientist who had fought the American Indians for the Restored Republic and had lingered on the verge of death for weeks in the poisonous atmosphere of the abandoned city on Nova Insulae until retrieved by Agent Gideon McCullough. “Go see to your requirements, Third Sergeant” the old man said quietly. “And please stop pestering Mss Bergamasco, who wants me to assure you that she will tell you straight away as soon as she hears anything about June.” He sat on the lab stool and scratched his short beard as Underwood left.
Early morning, the East just starting to glow, Underwood noted there was an unusually high note of sulphur today, with it’s concomitant piquant taste. He proceeded through the Gut then angled across to the vicinity of the Academy of Industry, passing the CocaJava on the way and finally reaching the rubblefield that used to be June Forsythe’s house. The corners of the bottom floor still standing like broken pyramids, boards, bricks in piles and singlets everywhere, some hints of broken furniture, dust and barrows and boulders scattered like mayhem. And then he witnessed an odd thing.
Just as the Child of Morning, sooty-fingered dawn, appeared, Underwood spotted a woman and a short individual, an urchin maybe, standing just in shadow across the lot, in the shelter of a breezeway in the neighboring building. The woman’s attitude and the way she held herself caused his heart to leap up in his throat, he fancied he recognized her. And the urchin turned out to be wearing oversized boots, and wore a silver gorget-like badge of office. The small man had some kind of smudge pot burning in front of him, and Pilipo noticed, now, a dozen more like it scattered around the ruins. The little figure was weaving his arms and hands in complicated tracings, a modulating whistle pierced the air.
Then something like a roiling fog back came in over the city wall and plunged the militiaman into darkness, within the gritty darkness came a rumbling and a shuddering. As the sun seeped back in, and the opaque steam dispersed, the Forsythe manse was revealed restored, its silhouette emerging from the gloom.