((Yes, this horribly late. I haven’t had time, unfortunately, to complete it until now. Please see ‘Oct. 17 — The Nerve of That Man!’ (http://cityofnewbabbage.online/reader/node/1057) for a reminder of the events of the Salon.
This is a private entry, but feel free to comment!))
“Seen enough?” came the hushed voice of Lord Mureaux’s contact, Anna. Lord Mureaux himself might be away for an extended period of time, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t keeping track of doings in New Babbage.
“Yes,” Mariah replied, voice muffled with emotion. They quietly edged themselves off their hidden perch on the roof, dropping down behind the Salon. Edging through back streets and alleyways, they entered Lord Mureaux’s holdings, and swiftly made their way to the office Mariah had seen before. As the door closed behind her, Mariah finally felt free to stop suppressing what had been building inside her ever since the unexpected events at the Aether Salon.
She fell into one of the chairs, her laughter ringing around the office for several minutes. Anna contented herself with a somewhat bemused smile, even as she poured two glasses of scotch and then sat down to wait out Mariah’s amusement.
Finally, Mariah toned herself down to chuckling, then wiped her eyes and reached for the glass of scotch, downing most of it in one gulp. “Ahh, I wouldn’t have missed that for the world!”
Mariah had arrived in New Babbage on Saturday, having arranged with Anna for a place to stay. The two of them had slipped over to the Salon quite early, finding a place on the roof to watch the proceedings without being seen themselves. Mariah had only said that she had hopes that her questions about Miss Bookworm would soon be answered.
“So?” Anna asked. “What are your conclusions?”
“We have a budding Heroine on our hands,” Mariah replied, grinning. “Oh, I don’t mean the sort that will occasionally do the right thing when a situation arises. I mean someone who will actively, consistently fight Villainy. And the best part is, she doesn’t even know it yet!”
Mariah shook her head. “I would bet there are only three people who know about this. Myself, you–because I’m telling you, and Dr. Obolensky.”
“Dr. Obolensky?” repeated Anna incredulously.
“Well, he certainly ought to know, considering he’s been deliberately pushing her toward that goal for some time now.”
Mariah laughed at the dumbfounded look on Anna’s face, then relented. She settled back in her chair, steepling her fingers in front of her.
“I worked for a few Villains in my time, and one thing I noticed about them is that they are, like many people, quite competitive. But where most people are content with fencing, or a chess match, Villains go in for much more grandious persuits. They’re always looking for the next challenge, the right person to try to oppose them and their schemes.”
“A Hero, in other words.”
Mariah nodded. “And if they can’t find one, or attract one, they might damn well *make* one. Pick out a likely-looking person, and make sure that person can’t help but get involved in trying to stop the Villain. If that person survives the encounter, they may get the dubious honor of being steered into more and more encounters, until finally, steering is no longer necessary. I believe Dr. Obolensky is taking this route.”
“With Miss Bookworm?” Anna said in disbelief. “She hardly seems the type to give him the sort of challenge he wants. Why not Captain Undertone, or Miss Dagger, or Miss Netizen?”
Mariah chuckled. “I know, she’s not the likeliest of candidates. But I think there are several contributing factors to his choice. Mind, these are just guesses, but I’d bet at least some of them are correct.
“When Obolensky first used Miss Bookworm, to keep that piece of equipment safe during the first days of his seizure of control of New Babbage, she certainly was no match for him. She could have let herself stay broken by what happened. But instead, she took it as an opportunity to learn, and to grow, and to find ways to help the city during crises. I would bet that caught his attention.
“And while she doesn’t have any mechanical or building skills, she *does* have the intelligence to counter him. After all, she was the one to think of tracking his mechanical bees, and so gain proof that he was behind the oil shortage this spring.
“There’s also the fact that many people here in Babbage–indeed, throughout the Steamlands…well, we tend to view the world in many shades of grey. We choose expediency over morality. Miss Bookworm…doesn’t. There’s still a lot of black and white in her world view, a trait that Heroes and Heroines need. Though, thankfully, she has a good dollop of common sense to help balance it somewhat. Otherwise, she could be quite the crashing bore.”
Mariah grinned. “She certainly seems to know the right Hero way of speaking, too–calling him ‘cad,’ ‘villain,’ ‘fiend.’ I can’t help but wonder if her mother marked her before birth by reading dreadful adventure novels. You know the sort–‘Reef Rogers vs the Witch Doctor of Borneo,’ ‘The Doddsley Twins in The House Without a Roof.'”
Anna chuckled, nodding.
“And finally, there’s the simple matter of availability. The people you mentioned all have other calls upon their time. Miss Bookworm, except for her photography, has rather more free time on her hands. Time enough for training, time enough for improving herself…time enough to actually devote herself to opposing him.”
“Interesting,” Anna mused. “Are you going to tell Miss Bookworm this?”
“Oh, *hell* no!” Mariah replied with a laugh. “She’s not ready to hear this yet.”
Anna raised an eyebrow. “Doesn’t she deserve to know?”
“Oh, certainly. But…well, look at it this way. What are the ways in which this feud with Obolensky could be ended now?” Mariah ticked them off with her fingers.
“One: her death. Not acceptable.
“Two: *his* death.” Mariah snorted. “Not bloody likely.
“Three: his capture. But to capture him will require the skills of a hero, which leaves us right back where we started.
“Four: another hero or heroine comes to confront him. Possible, but it hasn’t happened yet. I wouldn’t care to count on that.
“Five…” Mariah paused, and looked at Anna soberly. “She leaves New Babbage. Permanently.
“Now, if I was to tell Miss Bookworm all this at this stage–well, she doesn’t have enough confidence in her abilities yet. It’s coming, but it isn’t there yet. She’d be afraid–very afraid. And odds are good she’d opt to leave New Babbage. But if I wait through another confrontation or two, until her confidence has grown enough–“
“She might still decide to leave.”
“She might,” Mariah replied with a wry chuckle. “But at least she won’t be making her decision based solely on fear.”
“I see,” Anna replied thoughtfully. “What do you plan to do in the meantime?”
“There’s someone in Caledon I need to talk to; I think he could be of help. It could take a while though–he’s…not easy to see. After that, it’s back to Boston, to make arrangements to sell my house there.”
“Sell your house? You mean–“
Mariah nodded. “All things return to their beginning. Including, apparently, me.”