The two cells in which Bookworm and Mariah, and the Marshal, were incarcerated were separated by a hallway that ran the length of the cells. At one end was a closed door. At the other was an open door that, Bookworm presumed, led to the sheriff’s office. Now, though, that opening was blocked by two figures. The large one was one of the automatons she and Mariah had encountered. The other must be Cavendish.
He wasn’t a tall man–only a couple of inches taller than Bookworm–but he looked to be strongly built beneath the lab coat he wore. He was also wearing a large set of goggles with mirrored lenses that hid his eyes entirely. That, and the few wisps of very light-colored hair that escaped the skull cap that covered his head, made Bookworm wonder if he mightn’t actually be an albino. Whatever else he was, though, his mannerisms and mode of speech, even considered apart from his actions, screamed “Villain!” to her.
“Nowhere else,” he said, stepping into the cell room, “have I found the perfect combination of the raw materials I need and the convenience of a free labor force.”
“You monster!” Bookworm said. “What are you doing to these poor people?”
Mariah shot a quick glance at Bookworm. The words were right, but the tone wasn’t. Instead of being a strong, indignant statement, it was breathless, with even a hint of a quaver of fear. It sounded, in fact, the way she would have spoken to Dr. Obolensky years ago, when she first began confronting him. Mariah guessed that there must be a reason for this, but took a protective step closer to her anyway.
Cavendish smiled smugly. “Do not worry, my dear young woman. They won’t always be digging ditches or running on treadmills to generate electricity. It won’t be long now before most of them will be working in my mines!”
“Mines?” Marshal McKenzie shot the man a puzzled look, and Cavendish turned to face him.
“Yes, for iron ore.”
“But we had geologists and mining engineers here years ago about that. It’s all titaniferous magnetite deposits–too expensive to smelt and process for iron, or to extract any other minerals. That’s why we don’t have any large-scale mining here.”
Over Cavendish’s shoulder, Bookworm nodded at McKenzie and made a quick, encouraging gesture. She definitely wanted him to take over the conversation, and take Cavendish’s attention off of her.
“Pah!” Cavendish made a dismissive gesture. “They didn’t have *me* here when they made their half-brained assessments. I’ve developed a process for smelting such ore, and the titanium and vanadium elements are perfect for creating the steel needed for my automata.”
“And just what do you intend to do with those automata?” McKenzie asked warily.
“Once your hard-working townsfolk have finished building the factories and assembly lines I need, and start mining the raw materials, I’ll be able to build up an army of my automata. I think you can guess what happens next.”
“You’ll never get away with it,” the marshal said warningly.
“We’ll just see,” replied Cavendish. He turned on his heel and stalked out, the automaton following. Bookworm peered after them, and watched as they exited the sheriff’s office, even catching a glimpse of the outside world as they opened the door. Then she fixed a keen gaze on Marshal McKenzie. “Follow my lead,” she mouthed silently at him.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” she said out loud, practically dithering. “Whatever can we do? Is there no way out of here?”
“Even if we could somehow open the locks on these cell doors,” McKenzie replied, “there’s one of those mechanical men standing guard outside.” Even as he said this, though, he started at Bookworm. She was pointing to the door on the other side, and mouthed, “That door–where?” He inhaled to reply, and she held a warning finger to her mouth. “Mouth it,” she said silently.
So, while she audibly replied, “Oh, dear, that *is* difficult, isn’t it? I don’t know what we can do,” he silently said, “Storage room. Runs the length of this. Window at entrance end.” Bookworm nodded with satisfaction at that news.
They continued on in this fashion, with both audible and inaudible conversations; Mariah chimed in from time to time to help them along, though both she and the marshal were definitely puzzled by why Bookworm was doing this. But in this way, she built up a picture of where the townsfolk were being held, where Cavendish was staying, where the automata might be stationed. Finally, she noticed that the light was fading with the onset of night. “We should get some sleep,” she said out loud. “Perhaps something will come to us in the morning.”
As Mariah replied, “Yes, you may be right,” she mouthed at McKenzie, “Can you sleep on your back?”
He looked startled. “I can, but I’ll snore something fierce,” he said silently.
Bookworm grinned. “Perfect,” she mouthed emphatically. He shrugged, and said out loud, “All right, then. I’ll see you in the morning.” With that, he settled down on his cot, making sure he was on his back. Bookworm and Mariah sat down on her cot, patiently waiting for him to fall asleep.
((To be continued…))