Bookworm Hienrichs was upstairs writing when the doorbell rang. She had, finally, gotten used to letting Mrs. Pritchard answer the door–that was, after all, the housekeeper’s job–rather than rushing to it herself. However, when she finished the sentence she was writing, she paused, waiting to see if she’d be needed.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Mrs. Pritchard cleared her throat behind her. “Someone here to see you, Miss Bookworm,” she said. Bookworm set down her pen, wondering who it was that Mrs. Pritchard didn’t recognize. As she came downstairs, she saw the now-diminutive form of Dr. Kristos Sonnerstein.
“Ahh–Dr. Sonnerstein,” Bookworm said. “Welcome.”
“Hello, Ms. Hienrichs,” he replied. “Forgive me for dropping in at a random time like this, I hope it’s not inconvenient.”
“No, not at all. Please, come in and have a seat.” Bookworm gestured toward the living room.
“Thank you.” Dr. Sonnerstein followed her inside, peering around, and sat down on the couch beside her. “This is a splendid home you have.”
Bookworm smiled. “Thank you.”
Dr. Sonnerstein raised a hand to his head, closing his eyes. “I wanted to talk to you about… what was it again…?” Bookworm smiled gently and waited, assuming he was just absent-minded.
“There were two things…” he said haltingly, then grimaced faintly. ” I’m sorry, I thought I came a bit more prepared than….” Bookworm nodded, listening intently, but getting more worried about him.
“It’s about a book… Book… no, no… the book.. the book at…” He held his head, covering his ears for a moment and blinking. “The canisters! That’s what I came here to ask you about.”
Bookworm started upright. “What about them?
“Has the militia attempted to do anything to them or about them?” Dr. Sonnerstein asked, lowering his hands from his ears.
Bookworm shook her head. “Not that I’m aware of.”
“Not that you’re aware of what…?”
Bookworm frowned. Dr. Sonnerstein was definitely looking a little lost. “I’m not aware of any militia members attempting to do anything with them,” she elaborated. “Beyond study, I think.”
“Are you all right,” she asked. She was definitely becoming concerned about him–this was definitely beyond mere absent-mindedness.
“I’m fine… yes…? No.. No, I’m not!” Dr. Sonnerstein jumped to his feet, stumbling a little.
“No, it certainly seems not.”
He reached up and covered his ears again, leaning against the arm of the sofa. “Ms…. Ms. Hienrichs, is one of those things near?”
Bookworm nodded soberly. “Just on the other side of this wall.”
“That explains… explains… Oh dear…” His voice ground to a halt again as he lost his train of thought. “Could we perhaps go for.. a… a walk?” He stumbled away from the sofa, fetching up against the wall. “A few meters…”
“How about the dining room?” Bookworm asked.
“I can try…” he replied. Bookworm led the way across the foyer into the dining room. “Is this far enough? If not, we could go outside, and walk down to the canal.”
Dr. Sonnerstein seemed to peer around a moment, then shook his head, feeling his way along the wall. “That might be best.. If I can get there…” Bookworm nodded, and cupped a hand under his elbow to guide him to the front door. She flung the door wide, and escorted him past Mr. Lighthouse’s dwelling, and to the street that ran by the canal.
“Much better…” Dr. Sonnerstein sighed with relief, shaking his head and still looking a bit wobbly on his feet as he rubbed his ears. “That’s good,” Bookworm replied.
“I’m terribly sorry,” he continued. “They seem to confuse my senses terribly. I was starting to see things…” He trailed off, looking over her shoulder. “Oh, dear…this is…” Suddenly he burst out with, “On the bridge! Ms. Book, do you see him?” Bookworm whipped her head around.
“Oh, hello!” came a strange voice. “The woman who shot me!”
Bookworm sucked in her breath at the sight of the apparition. There didn’t seem to be any face to be seen, but the clothing was familiar, as was the voice. “You!” she exclaimed, frowning. “Me…me…Metier!”
“Good,” Dr. Sonnerstein commented. “I wanted to be sure it was him, and not my mind playing tricks.”
The apparition of Henri Metier chuckled. “I should thank you properly for what you did in the near future. Hmm…now how should I go about doing that? Well, I’m sure I’ll think of something.”
Dr. Sonnerstein frowned deeply. “You had better not, Metier. Don’t make me take action against your spirit. I may not have been able to do anything to your living body, but there is much I could do to your spirit.”
Metier laughed. “That’s what they said.”
Bookworm kept her own frown in place, fighting down the dread in her stomach that Metier’s words had created. She felt Dr. Sonnerstein reach up and give her shoulder a reassuring squeeze, even as the apparition left them, heading east.
“He’s been wandering the graveyard behind Emerson’s house,” he said.
“Hmm,” Bookworm replied a bit absently. “I think I’d best pay a visit to the graveyard behind the Mechanix Arms very soon.”
“Is that where his remains are buried?”
“I don’t know. But there are…some other ghosts there. Ghosts who would help me.” Bookworm smiled a bit wickedly. “I’m sure Mac would love to have a chat with him.”
“Well, that is what I wanted to speak with you about…I was wondering if you and Ms. Hermit could help me put his spirit down and send it to its proper destination. He’s stuck here.”
“Oh, dear,” Bookworm breathed.
“Before his death, he pledged himself to seven altars for his blood feud. Some of the..deities, for lack of a better term, answered him. I called him in the graveyard around the corner the other night to speak with him and find some answers… He told me they’re fighting over who gets him. We may need to rebury his remains.”
“Hmph. From what I’ve seen of him, I would think they’d be fighting to see who *doesn’t* get him,” Bookworm said acerbically.
Dr. Sonnerstein smikred. “Well, the small benefit is that you and Arnold and Maddox could get to decide which hell the man goes to.”
“Unfortunately, I’ve not seen Miss Hermit in quite some time,” Bookworm said.
“Hmm… I know she is a shrine priestess and a spiritualist of some talent… I could smell that on her the first I met her. I had hoped her more blessed and peaceful approach could be a better alternative than my own training.”
Bookworm nodded. “Although I’ve seen part of how she works a couple of times, it isn’t something I’m trained in, and definitely not something I’d want to attempt. I could write to her…”
“If you would, it would be greatly appreciated. Though after hearing Metier just now, I am glad I came to you.. If you would wish to help us to put down his soul to…rest, if you will, I wouldn’t dream of excluding you from the endeavor.”
“I’m not sure what I could do, but anything I can, I’ll be glad to,” Book replied.
” The other thing I wished to speak to you about…” Dr. Sonnerstein continued. “I did ask you if the militia had taken any action on those canisters, yes?”
Bookworm nodded. “So far as I know, they’ve not tried any direct actions. Just…study.”
“I think it’s high time we begin to make attempts to destroy them. The recent entries in the Writer’s book have made it quite clear to me, these things are going to become the crablike creatures in that story…Not to mention the damages it’s leaving on citizens, even if temporary.”
“Hmm, yes. I don’t like at all how it was affecting you.”
Dr. Sonnerstein cleared his throat. “If I may explain that a little…”
” There seem to be two effects it has on me… I am physically blind. I navigate as clearly as if I could see through the keenness of my other senses. That includes in surgery… My hearing can pick up the most minute changes in air flow around objects and shapes. As well as extra sensory perception…what some refer to the third eye… These things, their sound waves and energy disrupt that…Just the other day, I could have sworn I saw a giant dung beetle in front of me. And when Arnold addressed me, my hearing told me he was floating high above and in two other locations within the room.”
Bookworm whistled soundlessly. Dr. Sonnerstein smirked, and reached out to tap a finger to her lips, causing her to chuckle.
” Some do pick up on my blindness, he continued. “I may turn my eyes in the proper direction, but I’ve been told my pupils do not dilate and constrict as would indicate focus. The other thing that these machines seem to play on…” He hesitated a moment. “I was born into madness, Ms. Hienrichs. It’s genetic in my family. I’ve worked very hard to conduct myself in a stable manner. But these things seem to remove the boundaries I’ve put up. Too near them for too long…”
“Oh, dear,” Bookworm said.
“Well, Arnold’s been with me both times for a bit. One of them I wandered over to a forge and just stood in front of it mumbling before he tried to approach me…after which I ran off screaming and fell into the water beneath City Hall. That, at least, seemed to shake me out of it. Then, as I said, when he found me just…I believe it was yesterday. I fear there is one either within or right beside my home. He found me in the midst of the candy shop floor facing a wall and just…incoherent.” He shook his head, sighing.
Bookworm sucked in a breath. “Can you find someplace else to stay, for now?”
“I’ll be staying in the hospital for now. Down there my mind is most at ease, even without those things around.”
“Good idea,” Book said with a nod.
“These things seem to either drain a person of energy or else drive them a little off the deep end. Ms. Ginsburg, when we were inspecting the one in the graveyard north of Brunel…She got close to it and wound up skipping around giddy.”
Bookworm frowned, her attention seeming to turn inward for a moment. Both she and Mariah still felt weak from time to time–was it from the machine, and not just a slow recovery from their influenza bouts?
“Ms. Erehwon as well. She came too close to one and wound up thinking herself a true djinni. She turned dark and wicked. This is having a profound impact on the people of this city, even if at temporary intervals. I have to wonder how long before it incapacitates half of the populace.
“And if the book is right…the canisters will change. They won’t be idly sitting there for long. Part mechanical with a great big red eye–that’s how the book describes some of the creatures.”
Bookworm nodded. “Yes, that’s my definite fear, too.”
“Well, I swear, if I find the one that’s so close to my home, and have enough of my mind left to do so, I’m driving my iron staff straight into its blasted eye!”
Bookworm smiled briefly. “I wonder if the militia should meet about this…” she mused.
“It surely wouldn’t be a waste of time.”
Book nodded. “I’ll talk to Commodore Dagger about it.”
“Thank you,” Dr. Sonnerstein replied. “About Metier–I’m going to speak with Maddox and Arnold about our options and I’ll be in touch.”
“Thank you. I really don’t like him being so close.” Bookworm shuddered, looking back toward her home.
“I don’t blame you. He’s not able to do very much in his situation, but some can build enough energy to…And he’s already moved his hat…I don’t know where it had wound up, but Arnold and I found it in that graveyard the other night.”
“Heh. Just being able to converse is enough of an annoyance.” Bookworm smiled wryly, and Dr. Sonnerstein giggled.
“Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Ms. Book.”
“Do please send word of anything else you need…or learn.”
“Of course.” Dr. Sonnerstein nodded. “And if you start feeling ill effects from that thing, do be sure to find a place to stay? Seems a tragedy to let them drive us out of our homes, even temporarily…”
Bookworm nodded. “Indeed.”
“Good night, Ms. Book.” Dr. Sonnerstein waved, and began walking confidently north along the canal, evidently recovered from his weakness.
“Good evening,” she called after him. She watched him until he was out of sight, thinking. Then, coming to a decision, she hurried back to the house for a hat, jammed it on her head, and rushed away toward the east and north. No time like the present to talk to her ghost friends…
((To be continued…))