Mariah was about to enter the kitchen when she heard the voices inside. One, she recognized immediately as Miss Bookworm’s. The other was unknown to her, but judging by their conversation, it guessed it must belong to the ghost Bookworm had told her about, Henri Metier. Mariah was not best pleased to hear Bookworm agree to follow Metier somewhere. She slipped into the kitchen as Bookworm exited and, before Bookworm closed the door, heard what their destination was.
Dashing out the front door of their home, Mariah took her own route to the building the Van Creed had used, or so rumor had it. She was surprised to see she’d made it ahead of them, and used that lead time to install herself in a hiding place, one that gave her a good view of the boarded-up door.
Not long after she settled down, she saw Bookworm and the ghost coming down the alleyway. It was the first time Mariah had seen the ghost–or, indeed, any ghost–and she was surprised at how…easy it was to detect. She watched as they entered, frowning at the goading of the spirit.
After several minutes, the ghost exited…alone. She saw it drift off toward the south, and waited a while to see if Bookworm would come out. When she didn’t, Mariah, after a careful look around, slipped over to the entrance and ducked inside.
She saw for herself what rumor had painted, and realized that, for once, rumor hadn’t exaggerated. She read the papers, studied the diagrams, and shook her head over the pool of blood. But nowhere did she see Miss Bookworm, or any sign of her.
‘This is not good,’ she thought as she hurried to the entrance. Ducking down, she eased through the gap, and straightened up on the staircase. ‘How the hell do I track a ghost?’ She looked around, and sighed. She’d last seen it going south. South it was, then.
She made her way toward the canal through alleyways, moving slowly, always looking around and listening. As she approached the canal, her silence paid off, as she heard laughter, tinged with more than a touch of madness. She paused at the edge of a building, the canal-side street in front of her. Mariah poked her head around the corner and ducked back almost before her mind had time to register what her eyes saw. The ghost was standing at the edge of the canal. It seemed to be…waiting.
Mariah didn’t know how acute the senses of a ghost would be, so she decided she didn’t dare try to move to a place where she could keep an eye on it. She would stay where she was, and rely on sound. With that, she settled down to wait.
An hour passed with leaden pace. Mariah began to wonder if she was on the wrong track after all. But finally, she heard…something. Was it a splash? A scream? Reality tearing itself apart and repairing itself in a split second? She didn’t know. But then Metier giggled.
“Ahh, there you are, Bookworm,” he said. “Fun, wasn’t it?” He laughed maniacally.
Mariah peered around the corner again, and saw the ghost. He was peering down…down *into* the canal. Without another thought, she dashed from her hiding place, ran to the edge of the canal, and dove in. She swam down through the murky green water, head thrashing from side to side, looking, looking…
And then she saw Bookworm lying on the bottom of the canal, weighed down by clothing and rifle. She grabbed Bookworm’s arm, pulled her up, divested her of her rifle and jacket, and towed her to the surface with strong kicks of her legs. She gasped for breath as her head broke the surface, and worried that she heard nothing from Bookworm.
“Oh, bravo!” cried Metier. “Excellently done! Though, considering what is coming, you might have done better to let her drown.” He laughed.
Mariah ignored him, concentrating instead on towing Bookworm over to the southern edge of the canal where, thankfully, a staircase offered an easier exit. She shoved Bookworm up until she was perched precariously on one of the steps, then hauled herself out after.
“Breathe,” she said, working at Bookworm’s stomach, trying to force the water out of her lungs. “Breathe!”
Finally, with a cough and a splutter, Bookworm vomited up some water and took a gasping breath. Then another. She opened her eyes, which rolled around, unseeing. “The eye,” she said, her voice barely audible, but full of fear. “The voice.” Then her eyes rolled back as she fainted.
Mariah, grim-faced, hoisted Bookworm up in a fireman’s carry, and started off for their home. Metier followed along, laughing and taunting her, but she continued to ignore him, concentrating on getting Bookworm home as fast as possible.
Mrs. Sawyer heard her shout outside the kitchen door, and opened it to let them in. “What happened?” she asked, shocked.
“I don’t know, entirely,” Mariah replied. “Help me get her upstairs to bed.” Between them, they got Bookworm to her bedroom, changed into a dry nightgown, and tucked into her bed. Mariah went to her own bedroom to change, then went back downstairs, collecting Mrs. Pritchard and Mrs Sawyer to sit in the dining room, all three with hot tea.
Mariah sighed, and looked at her two servants–and friends–seriously. “The time has come,” she said. “Not only do we have this whole problem with the dark aether–and now there are reports that strange creaters are coming from the machines–“
“What?” Mrs. Pritchard asked, startled. “We’ve not seen them here.”
“Yet,” Mariah said grimly. “Not only that, but now this Metier ghost seems to be targeting Miss Bookworm for trouble. Whatever happened to her this morning, it was his fault. It’s time to get her out of the city.”
“She’s not going to like this,” Mrs. Sawyer observed.
“No, she won’t. So this is what we’ll do.” She detailed her plans to them.
Mrs. Pritchard smiled wryly. “Oh, she is *very* much not going to like this.”
“I don’t care,” Mariah said bluntly, “so long as she has the opportunity to dislike it for years and years to come. There’s a ship leaving for Caledon in two hours. I’ll make sure you have passage on it.”
The other two nodded. “Will you be staying here?” Mrs. Sawyer asked.
Mariah considered a moment, and shook her head. “No, I think I’ll find a room somewhere. It’s probably better to get away from that machine.”
And with that, the three scattered throughout the house, making their preparations.
Bookworm awoke at last from a sleep that had not been refreshing, filled as it had been with nightmares that now dissolved, but left behind a feeling of terrible dread. She lay, eyes closed, trying to remember what had happened. She’d followed Metier to the building, and gone inside, and then…and then…what? Try as she might, she couldn’t remember.
After a while, sounds outside pierced her attempts to recall that time. She suddenly realized that she couldn’t reconcile what she was hearing with anything she usually heard around her home. And her bed…it actually felt like it was rocking. And the blankets…they seemed to be wrapped tightly about her, making it difficult to move. She thrashed about a bit, trying to free her arms.
She struggled more, trying to figure out what was going on, when a voice said, “Softly, Miss Bookworm. Softly.” It was Mrs. Pritchard.
Bookworm opened her eyes and saw Mrs. Pritchard and Mrs. Sawyer sitting by her bed. The surroundings were completely strange to her. “Where are we?” she asked. “What’s going on?”
“We are on a ship bound for Caledon,” Mrs. Pritchard replied. “Captain Lanfier decided it was time to get you out of New Babbage, for you own safety. We are…accompanying you.”
“Are you insane?” Bookworm asked incredulously. “I have to go back! I have to *help!* I’m a *Heroine!*”
“No, *you’re* insane,” Mrs. Pritchard said implacably. “At least, that’s what we’ve told everyone. Thus, your…restraints.” Mrs. Pritchard drew back the blackets covering Bookworm, revealing that she was firmly bound in a straightjacket.
“And there’s no use trying to get anyone on board to help you escape,” Mrs. Sawyer added. “They’re well aware of your supposed condition.”
“Now. If you cooperate, we *might* let you out of the straightjacket, and just lock you in the cabin,” Mrs. Pritchard continued. “But trust me, you will not be returning to New Babbage until it is safe.”
For the next two hours, Bookworm tried reasoning, pleading, threatening, even screaming at times. Everything she tried broke against the indifference of Mrs. Pritchard and Mrs. Sawyer. Finally, she gave up, and turned her face toward the wall, feeling the swell of waves beneath the ship. They wouldn’t listen to her, so she would have to affect her own escape. First things first–get out of the straightjacket. That wouldn’t happen right away, of course, but she would do her level best to make sure it happened before they reached Caledon.
Then…well, then, she would wait for her opportunity.