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October 10 – Catching Up (Dark Aether)

((Private journal entry and events, but feel free to comment!))

It’s Monday evening, and I’m finally starting to feel somewhat like myself again.  Mariah and I have both been laid low by influenza–Mariah caught it first, early last week, and then I succumbed on Thursday.  I was quite incapacitated over the weekend.  It was only today that Mariah and Mrs. Pritchard told me of the new zombie plague that struck the city during that time.  I suppose they kept it from me until today because they were afraid that, even sick as I was, I’d insist on going out there to lend whatever assistance I could.

They know me too well.

Strange, though, that we didn’t suffer from it.  Did the virus somehow not make it this far?  Or was it the fact that Mrs. Pritchard kept the house sealed up during that time, as I heard her tell Mariah?

Then again…while I heard Mrs. Pritchard several times on Friday and Saturday, I never actually *saw* her.  And I neither saw nor heard Mrs. Sawyer during that time at all.

Oh, dear.

Well, at least they seem to have recovered with no ill effects.  Still, I shall have to have strong words with Mr. Mornington about this…though I’m sure I’d have to wait in line, and let my fellow New Babbagers have their turn.

Still, I wonder why Mariah and I didn’t succumb to it.  Perhaps even a zombie plague is powerless against influenza.

—–

Bookworm chuckled to herself as she wrote the last sentence in her journal entry.  She still felt fairly weak, but at least the hacking cough and fever were subsiding.  As she set the journal aside on her nightstand, she heard Mariah and Mrs. Pritchard talking outside.

“I’ll just look in on Miss Bookworm,” Mariah said, “and then run over to City Hall and see if the writing automaton has produced anything new today.”

“Don’t tire yourself,” Mrs. Pritchard warned, and Mariah chuckled a little.  She entered Bookworm’s bedroom, came around the panel that screened the bed, and checked, seeing Bookworm propped up against a pillow.

“Oh!  I didn’t think you’d be awake,” she said, startled.

Bookworm raised an eyebrow.  “Writing automaton in City Hall?”

Mariah inhaled sharply, then sighed.  “You’re not going to let me leave without telling you, are you?”  Bookworm said nothing, but merely looked sternly at Mariah.  She sighed again, sat down in the chair by Bookworm’s bed, and told her what she’d learned:  the arrival of the strange flying ship at City Hall; the man who had looked like an elderly Jimmy Branagh; the delivery of the writing automaton; the crash; the two pages written, pages that seemed to tell of future events in New Babbage.

At that, Bookworm tossed back the covers and levered herself to a sitting position.  “Please get me something to wear,” she said.

“Oh, no,” Mariah said, standing up and shaking her head.  “No, no, no, no.  You are *not* well enough to go trudging all the way to City Hall.”

“Mariah, I must see this for myself,” Bookworm replied seriously, looking up at her.  “I *must.*  I’ll be going with or without you–I’d rather it was with.”

Mariah looked down at Bookworm’s determined expression, sighed again, and stalked over to the wardrobe to find something warm for her to wear.

It was a long trek to City Hall, one made longer by Bookworm’s slow pace.  But she climbed the stairs to the entrance with no signs of having overexerted herself, and she led the way to the room where the automaton was being stored.  They stood looking at it for a few moments, before Bookworm stepped forward and flipped the pages.  “I thought you said it had written two pages,” she said, looking back at Mariah.

“That’s what I saw,” Mariah replied.

“Well, there are three now.”  Bookworm flipped back to the newest page and began to read.  Mariah stepped forward and looked over her shoulder.  A feeling of dread tightened in her stomach.  “Bookworm, wait…”  But it was too late.

“Mayor Tenk and Myrtil backed into the corner of the platform as Ceejay was overcome by the crab creatures and torn apart.”

Bookworm gasped.  “Ceejay…” she said weakly, feeling her knees buckle.  Mariah caught her, and helped her to a nearby seat, where she buried her face in her hands.

Mariah stepped back to the automaton, reading the page closely, then flipping between it and the others.  “It really is writing the story backwards,” she mused.

Bookworm was suddenly at her elbow.  “Let me read.”  At Mariah’s glance, she said impatiently, “I’m all right now.  Please, let me read!”  Mariah stepped back, watching as Bookworm read the pages over slowly, and then read them again and again, flipping back and forth.  Finally, she resumed her seat in silence, obviously deep in thought.

After several minutes, Bookworm abruptly stood up and began pacing–not easy in a small room further crowded by the automaton.  “Well.  Let me see if I have things straight.  What we know is that a mysterious flying ship appeared at City Hall on Saturday.  Its elderly occupant, who strongly resembled Jimmy Branagh, delivered the automaton and a cryptic message to Mayor Tenk, returned to the craft, and almost immediately crashed and disappeared.  The automaton, when activated, began writing this story or account, but is doing so backwards.”

Mariah nodded.  Book paused, chewing her lip.  “The current working hypothesis, formulated by several people, is that the craft, and its occupant, somehow came to us from the future.  And that this automaton is writing about the future of New Babbage–or, rather *a* future, a future that will occur if we do not somehow stop it.  It is also believed that the nameless villain in this account is Jason Moriarty, who has been seen here in the city again.”

“That is what I’ve heard,” Mariah said, nodding again.

“The question is, when will this future occur?”

“Well, if Jimmy was an old man, it must be long from now,” Mariah said soothingly.  But Bookworm shook her head.  “That won’t work,” she said grimly.  “Tenk, or even Victor, I could understand still living when Jimmy’s old–there is certainly something odd about those two–but Ceejay?  Kaylee?  Aeolus?  No, I think this will happen relatively soon.”

Bookworm stopped, arrested in her pacing by a thought that turned her pale.  “What if…what if the closer *that*–” she pointed to the automaton, “gets to the beginning of the story, the closer *we* get to the beginning of it?  But when *is* that beginning?  And at what point will it be too late to change the outcome?”  The paleness of her face was now subsumed by a hectic flush, which greatly concerned Mariah.

“Come,” Mariah said, taking Bookworm’s arm.  “We should go home.”

“The first thing we need to do,” Bookworm said, seemingly oblivious to Mariah’s words, or her guidance out of the room, “is to find this Moriarty person.  No, no, no,” she waved that thought away.  “The very first thing I need to do is talk to Jimmy.  He knows more about Moriarty, past and present, than probably anyone else.  I must find him.”

“No, you must come with me,” Mariah said firmly, hauling her down the steps of the entrance.

“But–“

“Look, I’ll send a note to Jimmy and ask him to call on you when he has time.  But for now, you *will* come home and rest.”

Bookworm sighed impatiently, but acquiesced.  And indeed, it wasn’t long before Mariah had to help support her faltering steps, and find places for them to rest every few minutes.  During one of those rest periods, as they were sitting on a bench by one of the canals, Bookworm said softly, “Mariah…I’m frightened.  Really frightened.”

“Of what?” Mariah asked, startled.

“I’ve read too much Greek mythology…them and their self-fulfilling prophesies.  What if…what if whatever we decide to do only serves to create that terrible future?”  Bookworm huddled in on herself, shivering.

Mariah shook her head, unable to answer.  Instead, she helped Bookworm back up, and pushed herself to bring them both home with no further rests.  When she reached their house, Mrs. Pritchard opened the door, looking very concerned.  Mrs. Sawyer, the cook, was standing behind her.

“Mrs. Pritchard, help me get her up to bed.  Mrs. Sawyer, a cup of tea for Miss Bookworm.”  Mariah gave Mrs. Sawyer a significant look; she nodded back, and disappeared into the kitchen.

Mariah and Mrs. Pritchard, between them, hauled Bookworm upstairs and into her bedroom.  They managed to undress her, get her into a fresh nightgown, and put her to bed.  By that time, Mrs. Sawyer had arrived with the tea.  Bookworm drank it thirstily, then began telling Mariah what the note to Jimmy should say.  She didn’t get far, though, before the sedative in the tea came to full effect, and sent her to sleep.

Mariah let out a relieved sigh.  “She would push herself,” she said ruefully.

“Yes, she would,” Mrs. Pritchard replied.  “And so would you.”  She laid a hand on Mariah’s shoulder.  “Now get to bed yourself, before you also have a relapse.”

Mariah nodded, smiling wryly, and walked slowly to her bedroom, where she stripped down to her underclothes and crawled into her warmed bed.  She was asleep almost before her head hit the pillow.

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3 Comments

  1. Johann Von Thesium Johann Von Thesium October 11, 2011

    A great writing as always Ms. Hienrichs. Congratulations.

  2. Petharic Petharic October 11, 2011

    /Petharic sat on the cold stone wall, staring out at the great grey sea, absently twirling his Colt around the tip of his finger. Why should he so suddenly be contemplating the deeper implications of fate and fee will?

    ((I fully concur with Mr. Von Thesium’s comment))

  3. Bookworm Hienrichs Bookworm Hienrichs October 11, 2011

    ((Thanks!  I must admit, I’ve started wondering why I persist in writing these looooong blog posts, and whether people were getting tired of wading through them. *wry grin*))

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