((Private entry, but feel free to comment!))
The past week had not been an easy one at Bookhaven, the residence of Bookworm Hienrichs and Mariah Lanfier. Neither of them felt fully recovered from their bouts of influenza, and even Mrs. Pritchard, the housekeeper, and Mrs. Sawyer, the cook, confessed to feeling more fatigue than usual. It wasn’t until Wednesday, though, that the reason was discovered.
Bookworm had left for one last check of the Writing Automaton at City Hall when Mrs. Sawyer sought Mariah out. “Ma’am, I think you’d best come and see this,” she said soberly. Mariah followed her out the kitchen door.
To the west of the house was a narrow alleyway. Bookworm, when she moved in, had had a small shed built in it–a little south of the middle of the house–where she had her darkroom. At the northern end, crates, boxes, and other odds and ends of equipment were stacked–not used for the moment, but kept in case they’d be needed at some point. Consequently, there was a section of the alleyway that was effectively screened off from sight. Now, though, as Mariah peered over the stack of crates, she saw a strange gas curling up from behind them.
Grimacing, Mariah climbed carefully up the stack and peered over the edge. She didn’t need to get any closer to recognize the machine that had forced its way up through the cobblestones. She’d seen machines just like it all over town, and had heard the rumors of what happened to them at night.
Mariah clambered back down, and fixed Mrs. Sawyer with a stern look. “Don’t tell Miss Bookworm about this yet. I need to…think.” Mrs. Sawyer looked a little startled, but then nodded.
Mariah did think about it over the next few days, but found herself strangely…indecisive. She wasn’t sure how Bookworm would react to it, nor was she herself sure if it would be best to leave–the house, or the city. Saturday, though, she could no longer put it off, as Bookworm, heading to the shed for her photographic equipment, spotted the strange gas.
After Mariah told her about the machine, she pondered for several minutes. Then–
“No, I don’t think we should move–at least, not yet. People know now where I live, and that this is where to find me or leave me word if I’m not at Militia headquarters. For now, I’d rather be where folks can find me.” Mariah couldn’t argue with that, and so they stayed, despite the foreboding they all felt whenever they spotted a stream from the hidden machine.
Bookworm, meanwhile, was having no luck at all in moving her investigations forward. She kept trying to track down Moriarty, but wherever she went, it always seemed as if she’d just missed him–or, in the case of one particular cafe, he’d been there for three straight days, but completely avoided it the one day she chose to wait and watch there the entire day. The man seemed to have an uncanny ability to avoid her.
There’d been no word from any of the urchins, either, and Bookworm was starting to feel discouraged–and a little hurt. Hadn’t she proved to the urchins that she was their friend? Didn’t she have resources as a member of the Militia? And wasn’t she a Heroine now? Wasn’t it up to *her* to stop this menace? But even Jimmy hadn’t come to her since the day he’d told her about Moriarty. How was she supposed to help if she didn’t have information?
Late Monday afternoon, Bookworm entered the house, after another visit to the Writing Automaton. “Anything new?” Mariah asked.
Bookworm nodded. “Yes, finally–and two pages this time. But nothing that really tells us more. The group at Piermont Landing is ferried there by Mr. Cleanslate, and begins fighting their way there.” She paused. “I wonder why they were on the boat, though. Was that simply a faster way to get there, or were they actually coming from somewhere across the sea?” She abstractedly sat down at the dinner table, lost in thought, only occasionally remembering to bring food from the plate in front of her to her mouth.
Suddenly, Bookworm’s fork clattered on the plate. “The monsters!” she exclaimed.
“What?” Mariah asked, startled.
“The monsters described in the pages. Could they be connected to the strange things in the machines? Could it be that they’ll *come* from the machines?” She leaped to her feet.
“Where are you going?”
“City Hall. I need to read those descriptions again.”
“But–” It was too late. Bookworm had dashed past Mrs. Pritchard and Mrs. Sawyer, and was slipping quickly through the front door. The other three stared silently at each other for a moment.
Finally, Mariah said, “I want the two of you to promise me something.” At their questioning looks, she continued, “If–or, as seems more and more likely, when–I give you the word, I want you to leave New Babbage.”
She held up her hand to forestall their protests. “I also want you to do everything in your power to make sure Miss Bookworm leaves with you…even if it means knocking her out and tying her in a sack.” She smiled wryly. “Though I’ve managed to pound some self-preservation instincts into her, I don’t trust her to use them right now.”
Mrs. Pritchard looked at Mrs. Sawyer, then nodded. “That’s understandable. And we do promise.”
“But…what about you, Captain?” Mrs. Sawyer asked.
“Come now,” Mariah replied heartily. “You should know I can take care of myself!” Mrs. Sawyer looked at her a moment, then nodded, apparently convinced.
Mariah had not, however, convinced herself…
((Yeah, so the shed and stack of crates don’t actually exist inworld. But I needed to figure out *some* reason the machine wasn’t noticed right away. So sue me. *grin*))