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“Damn, damn, damn!” Cavendish exclaimed as he stared down from his vantage point on the roof of the hotel. He’d been watching the progress of the battle while his last-ditch weapon warmed up in its concealing shed behind him, and for a little while, he’d been hopeful that his automata could hold their own until he was ready to give them support. Until, at least, the cavalry unit had ridden into town, and proved themselves effective and devastating against his creations. Even as he watched, the last of the automata, outmaneuvered by the speed and nimbleness of one of the cavalry riders, was put out of commission.
Cavendish growled. All he had now were the weapon behind him and the hostages below him. He quickly realized, though, that he’d also lost the latter, as he saw figures emerging from the front door directly below him. He recognized the marshal, the hostages, and one of the women captured just that day. He was absolutely furious by now, and the pitch of the mechanical whine from the shed told him he now had an outlet for that fury. Pressing a button, he watched the sides of the shed fall away, revealing the weapon. Another button started it rolling along tracks that had been installed on the roof, bringing it to the edge.
Cries rising from below him told Cavendish that the townsfolk had spotted the weapon. He swung himself into its seat, looking down and spying the marshal standing with several others. “You’ll be the first,” he growled, aiming the weapon down, hearing its hum rise to a fever pitch.
Bookworm inched up the stairs carefully, not wanting another unwelcome surprise from an automaton. She had no idea if the automaton Mariah had disabled was the only one guarding the hotel–and Cavendish–or not. There didn’t seem to be anything at the top of the stairs, at least. She paused in the shadow of the exit, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the darkness of the rooftop. The night was completely clouded over now, and warm gusts of wind, laden with the scent of moisture, were creating an almost continuous rushing in the pine trees.
She heard noises from closer at hand, and ducked behind a pile of boards. Peering out, she could now see Cavendish standing by a hastily-constructed shed. She jumped a little as the sides of the shed suddenly fell outward; luckily, the sound of the walls hitting the hotel’s roof masked any sound she might have made. The weapon now revealed, though, made her hiss a breath in with consternation. It looked like a cross between one of the Tesla cannons on the New Babbage city wall, and any of the death rays created by Dr. Obolensky or Professor Parx. Blue electrical discharge was building up around its muzzle, and playing in a large, glass chamber mounted at the back. Bookworm could just make out a large crystal or gemstone inside the chamber.
As she watched Cavendish swing himself into the seat attached to the weapon, Bookworm realized she’d waited too long. There was no way she could reach the thing before Cavendish fired it. Frantically, she looked around for a stone or loose brick she could throw, but saw nothing. Finally, she pulled the revolver out of her belt, grasping it by the muzzle. ‘I hope this works,’ she thought as she stepped out from her hiding place and hefted it, taking aim. She flung it as hard as she could, straight at the back of the weapon.
The spinning revolver impacted the crystal chamber handle first, producing a most satisfactory sound of breaking glass. Electricity crackled wildly for a second or two, then died away. Once it had cleared, Bookworm saw that the gun had knocked the crystal out of its housing, and it now lay shattered on the roof.
“Nooooooo!” The cry of rage brought her attention back to Cavendish, who now leaped from the weapon’s seat, head swinging around as he looked for the source of the attack. Bookworm now saw that he was still wearing his mirrored goggles, so she couldn’t see his eyes, but there was no denying that he was incandescent with fury–especially when he spotted her.
“You!” he cried. “A sidekick?!” He advanced on her, grabbing an electric cane from where it was leaning the weapon’s platform.
“Sidekick?” Bookworm yelped, momentarily forgetting that she’d cultivated precisely that role in front of him earlier. “I’ll sidekick you into the middle of next week!”
Cavendish advanced toward her, electric cane held at the ready. “I’ll make you rue the day you lighted in this town,” he growled.
“Ohm afraid you’re in for a shock,” Bookworm replied, jabbing at him with the cane taken from the automaton that had been guarding the hostages.
Cavendish fell back a little, seemingly as much in surprise at her reply as to avoid her attack. “If you had a spark of intelligence, you’d give up now,” he said a little tentatively, as if testing her.
“Oh, no. I don’t bolt from a fight,” she replied.
Bookworm was suddenly struck by what was happening. A hand-to-hand fight between hero and villain on a rooftop, complete with banter. All that was missing was–
A flash of light from the clouds mirrored the flashing of their electric canes, and a growl of thunder came soon after. Bookworm couldn’t help but grin. ‘Dr. Obolensky would be so jealous if he knew.’
Her grin seemed to disconcert Cavendish, who paused, then intensified his attack. Bookworm was holding her own, though, thanks to Mariah’s training, easily blocking or sidestepping his attacks. Her dodges, though, had brought her into the debris field of the weapon’s glass chamber, and in the darkness, she missed seeing one of the pieces of the crystal. Her foot came down right on it, throwing off her balance. Cavendish pounced on the opportunity, using his cane to knock hers out of her hand. The cane went spinning into the air, flying off the roof.
Bookworm immediately threw herself to one side, avoiding a jab that would have delivered a very nasty shock. She rolled away from him and the glass debris, then bounded to her feet. She scanned the rooftop frantically, looking for the revolver she had thrown, but even the fitful flashes from lightning didn’t provide enough light for her to see it. Ducking away from another jab by Cavendish, she tried to spy something, anything she could use to defend herself.
“Oh, hell,” Mariah said, watching Bookworm’s electrical cane falling from the roof. She, the marshal, Lieutenant Richards, and several others were watching what they could of the rooftop fight, after seeing the reveal, then the disabling, of the weapon. Mariah hadn’t been particularly worried about Bookworm when the fight started, but she certainly was now. She rushed to where the cane had landed, but it was obvious that the impact had damaged it.
“I need another one,” she shouted back to the others. “Find me another one, quick!”
Marshal McKenzie looked around, and spied Deputy Allen nearby, wrenching a cane from a disabled automaton. He whistled shrilly, catching the deputy’s attention, and waved him over urgently. Allen trotted over, handing the cane to McKenzie, who then tossed it over to Mariah.
Mariah backed up several steps, watching the rooftop intently, biding her time. When she saw Bookworm by the edge again, temporarily cornered by Cavendish, she yelled, “Bookworm! Catch!” She took a few running steps, then hurled the electric cane upward like a javelin.
Bookworm heard Mariah’s shout, and guessed what she was at, but she didn’t dare take her eyes off Cavendish. How, she wondered, would she be able to catch the thrown weapon before it was in a position to be batted away by Cavendish?
But then, as Cavendish looked down, she saw the spark of the working electric cane reflected in his mirrored goggles, and a desperate hope took hold. She waited until she thought it was close enough, then shot back her hand and, using the reflection as a guide, actually managed to pluck the cane from mid-air behind her back.
‘I’ll never be able to do *that* again,’ she thought, amazed. ‘Or that, or that,’ the thought continued, as she first made an unorthodox block of Cavendish’s attempt to shock her before she could bring her new weapon into play, then actually managed to drive him back, giving herself room to maneuver.
Cavendish fell back a few steps from her assault. Bookwork couldn’t see his eyes, but his demeanor seemed… bewildered. “Who are you?” he finally asked.
“Who am I?” she replied, pressing forward her attack, and involuntarily exclaiming during some of her moves. “Ho! Ha-ha! I am Miss Sarah Hienrichs.”
“Member of the New Babbage Militia.”
There was no mistaking the shock Cavendish felt at her last statement. That shock turned into a renewed, furious attack, but Bookworm felt the unthinking desperation behind it, and easily turned it back, circling around him and pushing him back. He didn’t even notice that he was now in the debris field of broken glass and shattered crystal, not until a piece of glass slipped out from under his foot. He staggered, tripped, and fell backward–and over the short parapet that marked the edge of the roof.
Bookworm inhaled sharply, and rushed forward. She found him dangling, his left hand gripping the parapet, his right hand still clenched around his electric cane. Bookworm dropped her own weapon and held an arm down. “Take my hand!”
Cavendish stared up at her. All she could see was her own, wild-haired reflection staring back at her. “Take my hand!” she repeated.
His right hand moved, swinging the cane a little, then suddenly thrust upward. Bookworm reared back, seeing the cane pass within inches of her face. But his sudden movement caused his left hand to lose its grip, and with one short cry, he plunged downward.
Bookworm leaned forward, looking down. Cavendish lay below, unmoving, among the ruins of the shrubbery that had been planted by the hotel’s front door. “You didn’t have to do that, you know,” she muttered, before grabbing her discarded electric cane and hurrying to the stairs.
((To be continued…))