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Nov. 28 – Brought Into the Loop (Dark Aether)

Bookworm Hienrichs was working in Militia headquarters again when she heard a step at the door.  “Ms. Bookworm, just who I hoped to find.”  She looked up at the familiar voice and said, “Hello, Dr. Sonnerstein.”

“We have a missing person,” he stated.

Bookworm stood up, concern on her face.  “Who?”

“I’m afraid Gadget’s been kidnapped. It’s quite certain by the Van Creed.”

Bookworm looked dark at this news.  “Tell me everything you can,” she said, grabbing her notebook and pencil from her desk.

She scribbled notes as Dr. Sonnerstein told her the sequence–the destroyed entrance of the lab, the missing equipment and devices, the video monitor that worked intermittently.  She didn’t entirely understand that, but now certainly wasn’t the time for technical questions.

He told her of the brief sight of the other person, who seemed to be part of the Van Creed, and that Gadget seemed to be drugged.  And that, according to Miss Falcon, he was definitely not in New Babbage.

Finally, he said, “There is worry that this is a precursor to one of the events in the Writer’s book–the brain-driven machines.”

Bookworm’s pencil faltered at that, as she remembered that page, and her own fate written upon it.  “How?” she asked, somehow keeping her voice steady.

“Apparently, it’s a work of Gadget’s.  Somehow, they found out.  I’ve little doubt that’s what they kidnapped him for–to build the machines for them.”

She frowned.  “Gadget’s been working on…on transplanting brains?”

Dr. Sonnerstein nodded.  “I should have inquired more.  He asked me some weeks ago if I knew the process.  I’m afraid I do, but seldom have I managed it with a machine.  It’s not something particularly safe or clean…”

Bookworm hissed in a breath, but then shook her head.  ‘Rescue first,’ she thought.  ‘Castigate for tampering in God’s domain later.’  And then, another stray thought– ‘I wonder if either of them were connected with Dr. Martel?  Another question for another time…’

Out loud, she said, “So. Gadget’s lab has been broken into, he’s missing, and you believe the Van Creed did it, and have taken him out of New Babbage. Is that correct?”  At Dr. Sonnerstein’s nod, she continued, “All right. I’ve…learned…that they’re active in Steelhead and Caledon. I’ll send messages to the authorities there and ask them to investigate and see if they can find Gadget.  I’ll see if I can find anything out here.  Where is his lab?”

“Oh, dear!”  Dr. Sonnerstein looked taken aback at her question, as if he hadn’t realized that she’d want to investigate the scene.  Obviously, the lab had been a closely-guarded secret.  Bookworm waited, keeping her face pleasant, open.  “It’s in the Gut, beneath his freak house,” he finally replied.  “The destroyed entrance is on the southwest corner of the building.”

She smiled.  “I promise I’ll be careful, and won’t tell anyone.”

He nodded.  “To be honest, I hadn’t known of the entrance before last night when we found it blown open.  The urchins keep their safe places quite secret.  Stormy never even told me and he seems to be counted among them.”

“Yes, the urchins do tend to keep things close.”  Bookworm smiled wryly.

“There is a touch more,” he continued.  “I went to see Miss Falcon today, to hear–” He broke off, then lowered his voice.  “Off the official record, if we may?  This isn’t related to the kidnapping.”

Bookworm nodded and set aside her pencil and notebook.

“Sebastian, the knight of Malkuth had arranged a meeting with her today. So I went to see if he would permit me to hear what he had to say as well.”

“Hmph.”  Bookworm sighed a little.  “I’d certainly like a word or few with him myself.”

“Miss Falcon told us of the power station’s power source.  Sebastian believes it’s not entirely the same as the cloud angels–lesser in power, but still very potent.  She has another as well, in a box.  The writer called them cloud angels though… Sebastian seemed confused about this.”

“Strange,” Bookworm mused.

“Either they have to change somehow before then, metamorphose, or the Writer perhaps just recorded our own mistaken label of them.  Or we have yet to find the real ones perhaps.  Either way…”  He paused, and Bookworm shrugged, feeling quite out of her depth at this point.

“We ran into Ms. December again the other day, Miss Falcon and Brother Lapis and Cyan and I,” Dr. Sonnerstein continued, switching topics.  “I wanted to mention to you, as she made a particularly strong point.  All of the city knows something of what’s going on.  But we’re all keeping secrets to ourselves.  This has to change, at least in these times.”

Bookworm nodded.  “I wholeheartedly agree,” she said, remembering all of her frustration at knowing there was more going on than she had access to.

“I don’t know how we can get everyone to come together though.”

“Indeed. Citizens here are much too used to trying to handle things on their own.”  She smiled wryly.  “Even me.”

“We hold secrets to protect ourselves.  So that people won’t know our weaknesses, so we may survive.”  He paused.  “But this is one occassion where it’s working against us.”

Bookworm nodded.  Of course, the other problem is, how do you get everyone to meet, and keep “it secret from those who *shouldn’t* know, like the Van Creed?”

Dr. Sonnerstein nodded.  “There’s something more I should probably mention.  I’m not entirely sure why, Bookworm, but I trust you.  You have a good heart and steady morals.”

Bookworm smiled.  “Thank you.

“I met Moriarty yesterday–“

“Where?” Bookworm asked, sucking in a breath.  She’d wondered, these past few weeks, if Moriarty was a phantom after all, considering how often she’d searched for him in the city without success.

“Outside of the hotel across from City Hall,” he replied.  “I had the opportunity to sit and talk with him.  I thought perhaps I could appeal to some glimmer of hope within him.”

“Ach–why do *I* never see him there?” Bookworm sighed in frustratino.

“It almost seemed like he was waiting for me.”  Dr. Sonnerstein brushed a hand over his eyes.  “We talked for some time.  He cares not for anything here, anyone, nothing but his role…”

“His role?”

“He is here to facilitate the destruction of this city and nothing more, nothing less.”

Bookworm bit her lip briefly.  “Ohhh, that is *not* good…”

“He spoke of futility, the truth… Truth and lies.  Gods, it’s so simple, yet so complicated.  He’s been driven to this, Ms. Book.  He’s lost all he loved and dreamed of, and in the end he was left with nothing but the truth of existence–that nothing matters.  In the grand scheme, we are nothing and mean nothing; we wrap ourselves in pretty lies and play games, so that we may continue on without seeing this truth.  He saw this, but his heart didn’t have the strength to endure it, and he gave in to the truth.  He has no desire to return to the lies that could bring him happiness and hope.”

Bookworm shook her head in denial of such words, but Dr. Sonnerstein continued, taking one of her hands in his own gloved one.  “Ms. Book, the truth is, that the truth does not matter.  We live not because we are attached to living, but because we are attached to loving.  The truth doesn’t matter, because we exist regardless of it.  And as long as we do, we have a chance of fighting it and driving that horrid dark aether back.”

Bookworm looked down at her hand in his, then looked up and smiled a little.  “That is…one way of looking at it, I suppose.  I would not believe in his sort of “truth,” regardless.  For me, there is this: ‘You will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.'”

Dr. Sonnerstein have her hand a soft squeeze before letting it go.  “I’ve been in his shoes before.  But I found myself still capable of living within this reality I love so much.  He threatened my boy, Ms. Book. He was ready to kill Scald right there in front of me to try to teach me the futility of this world.  He is so certain that we all will end here and soon.”

Bookworm frowned.  “Oh, that *tears* it.  I *will* meet him, if I have to camp in front of the hotel 24 hours a day.”  She looked at Dr. Sonnerstein with determination plain on her face.  “I’m just as certain that we’ll not meet his certainties.”

“As am I,” he replied with a nod.

“Thank you for everything you’ve told me.”

“You will let me and the urchins know if you have any information on finding Gadget?”

“I’ll do my best,” Bookworm replied.

He nodded, bowling slightly.  “I’m glad there is someone in the militia I feel I can trust.”

“I hope I can live up to that trust,” she replied soberly.

“I know you can, Ms. Book.  Good night, and good luck.”

“And to you.”  She watched Dr. Sonnerstein as he left, then sat down at her desk again.  First things first–get the cables sent to Steelhead and Caledon.  It was probably a long shot, but she couldn’t neglect doing it, just in case.

Once that was done, she hurried across town to Gadget’s building.  It didn’t take long to find the entrance Dr. Sonnerstein had spoke of, with the pile of rubble that not even the recent snow could hide.  Bookworm examined the entrance carefully, then took her examinations inside, first in the upper room, and later into the lab itself.

Her investigations, though, yielded no useful clues.  While she was in the lab, though, the screen briefly crackled to life, showing her a glimpse of Gadget lying on a bed.  She reached out her hand toward the screen, but the image disappeared, dissolving into static.

Bookworm hoisted herself out of the lab, sighing.  On an impulse, she hurried around back to the Van Creed building, but all was as it had been there.

‘I hope we can get more information soon,’ she worriedly thought as she treked back to Militia headquarters.

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