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It had been several days since Bookworm Hienrichs and Mariah Lanfier had left New Babbage for Boston, to stay at the house of Bookworm’s parents. In that time, though, Bookworm had only regained partial hearing in her right ear, and there was no improvement in her left ear. After talking the matter over, they all decided it was time that she saw a specialist. Mariah, of course, knew of one, and the next morning, she and Bookworm set out in a hansom cab.
Their journey took them to the outskirts of the city, which was not what Bookworm was expecting. The house to which they pulled up, set in its own grounds, was somehow both eccentric and imposing, and put her more than a little in mind of something Dr. Obolensky might have built. As Mariah ran the bell, Bookworm shot her a look. “Trust me,” the older woman muttered in her ear, just before the door was opened by a most correct-looking footman. Mariah identified herself and Bookworm, and the man nodded.
“You are expected,” he said. “Please, follow me.” He led the way through the foyer and front hall, to a waiting room that, at least, looked more like what Bookworm expected from a medical man – a solid oak desk; comfortable, leather-bound chairs sitting before it; walls lined with shelves full of books. The two of them settled down into the arm chairs, while the footman went through a side door, closing it behind him.
After a few minutes, Mariah glanced around at the sound of the side door opening, admitting a man a little older than her, slight of build, with white hair, but with an intense, almost unsettling, intelligence shining in his brown eyes. “Captain Lanfier,” he said, his rich baritone voice welcoming. “It’s been quite a while.”
“That it has, Dr. Miller,” she replied, shaking his hand. “I moved to New Babbage a few years ago.” She turned to Bookworm. “This is Miss Hienrichs, your patient.” The two of them shook hands, and Dr. Miller sat down across from them. “So, tell me what happened,” he said.
Bookworm explained about the bombings in New Babbage, that their house was targeted, and about the explosion itself, how it injured her and robbed her of her hearing. That during the recovery time since, her hearing had only partially returned. At the end, Dr. Miller nodded once. “I’ll need to examine you, and run some tests,” he said, enunciating his words clearly. He stood and gestured to the side door. “Please, follow me.”
When Bookworm stepped into the room and got a good look around, she came to an abrupt halt and turned an outraged glare on Mariah. It wasn’t any one particular thing that she could point to, but the sum of the impression–the equipment, the supplies, the scribbles on chalkboards set up around the room, on a wide variety of subjects–it all put Bookworm in mind of something Dr. Obolensky or Professor Parx would have. If this Dr. Miller really was like them…
The said Dr. Miller had turned around and seen her expression. He looked from her to Mariah. “What’s the matter?”
Mariah sighed impatiently–she should have known. She quickly stepped forward to Dr. Miller’s side and said softly, “She’s a Heroine.” As he gave her a look that was the mirror of Bookworm’s, she swiftly continued, “Don’t worry–she’ll listen to reason.”
‘I hope,’ she added silently as she moved back to Bookworm. “I know what this looks like,” she said in Bookworm’s ear. “And yes, his methods are somewhat unorthodox. But he isn’t evil–I would never have brought you here if he was. This is the product of a genius mind, interested in a wide variety of subjects and with no patience for formal education.”
“Which could also describe several Villains of our acquaintance,” Bookworm replied wryly.
“Yes, but he isn’t one of them,” said Mariah insistently. “I’ve known him for many years, and the goal of his work truly is to help–well, anyone.” She smiled a bit lopsidedly. “I sent several members of my crew to him over the years, when he still lived in Caledon.”
Bookworm thought that over a moment, chewing on her lip, and finally nodded. “All right. I’ll trust you. Just… stay with me, yes?”
“Of course.” Mariah led her further into the laboratory, where Dr. Miller had placed a large, padded stool; a table with a few instruments was nearby. “Sit here, please,” he said in a rather neutral tone. Bookworm sat, and submitted with good grace to her ears being poked repeatedly as the doctor peered inside them. Finally, he stepped back and swung two large boxes around to sit on either side of her.
“What are those?” she asked curiously.
“These are called loudspeakers,” he replied, going behind her. “With this,” and she peered around to see him gesturing to another box of a definite electronic nature, “I can reproduce sounds through those speakers, at precisely the volume and pitch I desire.”
“Interesting–but how will you use that here?”
“Well, for several years, I’ve tested the hearing of many volunteers, building up a picture of the average hearing of men and women of all ages. Now I’ll measure yours, and compare it to that average.”
Bookworm looked impressed. “Quite ingenious, sir.”
“Thank you,” Dr. Miller replied, looking rather more friendly now. “I’ll play a sound out of one speaker or another; please raise your left or right hand to indicate which side the sound is coming from.” Bookworm nodded and turned around, alert now for whatever she might hear.
((To be continued…))