Eyes flutter open tentatively. Scared away at first from the dim light, they squeeze shut. Music fades in my mind, like moving farther away. Sounds like.. circus music, atonal and insane. It fades quickly and leaves completely, replaced by the reassuring noise of steam in pipes – proof of normalcy. After a few moments, one brave eyelid opens again to examine my surroundings. Pale blue light. Definitely natural. I breathe a sigh of relief. Both eyes open and evaluate the ceiling above me. Ah, must be home, I recognize the pattern in the cracked plaster. Yes, definitely home, that is reassuring.
Rotating somewhat into an upright position I take stock of the situation. Hmm. Taste in my mouth like … Over-steeped tea. Bit of a headache, body in one piece though. Seemingly devoid of memory of the immediately preceding events, I look about the room for evidence.
No bottle nearby, I must have been out last night. The Gangplank? Can’t remember but most likely. At least I had the foresight to remove my corset and bustle or I would be achy for sure. But, what was I doing last night?
Mental note: take notes.
Well no matter it will come to me, probably after my cuppa. I look out the window and determine it is just before dawn. My altogether too noisy clock confirming it’s half-six.
Hmm perhaps a little restorative would improve my state and my memory. I walk over to the desk and open my little apothecary box. Scanning the bottles I hesitate. Not sure what I need, do I need anything? Strange that I don’t feel like I’ve been drinking … Not quite. If I had, the taste in my mouth would bear more of a resemblance to a badger’s hindquarters as i have often heard it referred to. I close lid and decide I really only need a cup of tea, feeling various parts of my mind and body slowly awake and feeling more myself by the minute.
I creep downstairs in bare feet, so as not to disturb the opiated bat I call “landlady”. Not that I mind when she’s under, couldn’t trouble a fly in that state. Its the mornings I fear. I smile knowing that in about a week I will see the back of her and move into my own.
Reaching the kitchen and shutting the door, and assured of some pocket of peace, I hum quietly while shoving some wood into the stove, viciously poking the embers back to life. I shake the iron kettle and discover it’s half full, thus saving me a trip to the neighbourhood tap. Good start.
Mental note: make a habit of leaving the kettle full before retiring.
The kettle is on, only a matter of time now. My spirits rise with the expectation of my favourite drink and the realization I’m devilishly thirsty. Come to think of it, I’m famished. When was the last time I ate? Berating myself for again neglecting my health, I reach instinctively for the biscuit barrel and am rewarded with a nice raisin scone. Shoving it into my mouth like an animal, and gumming it like a child, I conclude it is definitely in need liquid accompaniment. Just in time I grab the kettle at that magic moment where it is fully boiled but not whistling and douse my waiting leaves in my little chipped teapot. Mere minutes until my cuppa! Might be a nice morning after all.
Just at the moment I banished the last crumb of my mouthful down my throat, a firm knock at the door disturbs the morning’s peace. Drat! Don’t wake the bat! Stifling a choke on dry scone I dash though the door and down the hall with all speed, draw back the bolts and fling the heavy door wide.
A cold draft chills my bare ankles and I find myself staring at a man. Rather tall and lanky, middle aged with frosted hair, bushy side-whiskers and definitely no one I have seen before. I think. I look on his person for clues. Sturdy boots, rather threadbare tweed suit, a workman of some sort? Obviously not well off judging from his glaringly fake gold watch-chain. He looks at me expectantly. Though I realize I’m in my slip an so presented to this man, and anyone else in the street as such, I decide to skip any embarrassment and go on like nothing is out of the ordinary.
“May I help you sir?”
Battered Bowler in hand, and cheeks quickly turning a bright shade of crimson further outlining his voluminous side whiskers, he looks away furtively, quite obviously embarrassed.
Mental note: wear a dressing gown.
I feel sorry for the man, as he has a kind face. I quickly dispose of the scone by throwing it in a random direction and clutch my undershirt closed, hiding my not-ample but obvious cleavage. Seemingly mollified, the man stood tall, coughed and cleared his throat and began to speak in a lilting working-class accent.
“Er good-morning Miss Fairywren! I should think I can help you. Er.. my boys and I..” he gestures at the two much younger men behind them, both obviously leering … “are here as charged!” this final pronouncement brought with it a jolly smile, which I was glad to receive. I said nothing, though noting my expression, which must have appeared quite perplexed, he continued:
“well, um, were here to collect your things as it’s your moving day is it not? You said me to hire a couple of strong backs and move you this very morning.”
I flogged my brain and nothing fell out. Moving, yes I was, but not for about a a week surely! What day is it? Unable to say with certainty, and famous for being temporally challenged, I decided today was as good a moving day as any other. Rather than stand there and continue to look obtuse I quickly replied:
“Why yes of course, and so prompt too! Mister…?”
I groan inwardly. Speculative etymology of that horrid surname quickly paled in comparison to the realization that I didn’t much fancy being called “mum”. Knowing full well the unlikelyhood of myself being proclaimed Queen since I went to bed, it would seem that I appear much in advance of my years this morning. Must make a quick exit and compose myself. He stands there, grinning with tobacco stained teeth, expecting my answer.
“yes of course um… As you can see I am a little short of being prepared, would you and your men care to wait a few moments?”
“Not a problem, mum, we will be waiting here for you for your return in your own time.”
I mumbled my thanks and shut the door. I pause to shake some life into my freezing legs and gaze at the calendar on the wall. “November 3rd”. Applying the well-used algorithm I employ to translate the bat’s timekeeping into something sensible I deduce it is indeed November the 10th and moving day!”
Mental note: buy a calendar, maybe one of those nice clockwork ones…
Rushing by the kitchen I quickly fix me tea and dash upstairs carelessly leaving drips on the threadbare carpet. The scene in my room was more pleasing than I had imagined. Apparently all of my things apart from essentials were already crated up. Quickly I wash and dress myself with frequent tea intermissions and start throwing handfuls of clothes into my travelling chest.
Moving day, moving day, yes! This day is rapidly improving. Temporarily not minding my apparent loss of one week, I’m caught up in the energy and looking much more myself. In record time I am packed and I descend the stairs with purse in hand, my hair in place, and with much more confidence.
I re-open the door, better braced for the chill fall morning, and see the boys sharing a joke – hopefully not at my expense. On seeing me, Mr. Fitzwaffle bounds the steps and again removes his hat politely.
“All rrready mum?” he intones, rolling his “r” with enthusiasm.
“Certainly sir! you will find my cases upstairs in the left bedroom.” Funny how being properly dressed can allow me to issue in such a commanding tone.
He nods and turns to his men, shouting “RIGHT, you lot, c’mere and shift the crates in the left bedroom, sharpish.”
The property was soon a chaotic jumble of crates that gradually spilled out into the street towards the waiting horse-cart. Satisfied they got everything outside at least, and by some small miracle not waking the bat, I stepped out to notice an urchin going through my clothes chest which I had neglected to lock.
“HEY! put that down! I say!” I shout chasing after him. His little legs carried him much faster than expected, and I soon realized I had no hope of catching the grubby boy. He continued on running down the road, waving his prize – a pair of my bloomers – triumphantly like a grotesque frilly flag. I laughed in spite of myself and locked the chest which was then promptly loaded on to the cart.
The grunting and swearing troupe soon had all my worldly possessions more or less securely loaded onto a rickety looking cart. I stare inquisitively at the bonds holding my treasures. Seeing this Mr. Fitzwaffle sides up to me and says in a low voice:
“Oh not to worry mum, t’will be safe for the journey, worry not. I know my cart isn’t much to look at, but I’m somewhat of a traditionalist you see, perfectly good horse and cart can’t be beat and costs less in coal to be sure!”
“I am sure” I reply with a bemused smile. “Shall we be off?”
“Certainly mum, will you be hailing a cab for yourself?”
“Certainly not sir, I would like to ride with my possessions”
“Right you are mum, you can ride on the box with me, the boys will be in the back”
After we were all seated, a light flick of the wrist set the rather tired looking horse in motion down the cobbled street. Ah a fine morning! Out of that dratted rat hole finally! We had barely made it to the nearest intersection when a familiar shrill voice broke the morning scene like nails on a chalkboard.
“Oy come back ‘ere you wench! you ain’t’nt leavin me like this! ruined my room you did!”
I lean over to whisper at Mr. Fitzwaffle, “drive on, pay her no mind, dope field you know” I give him an arched eyebrow and an expression that would accept no discussion of the matter.
“Oh yes mum” returning my look with one of understanding and an earnest affirmative attached. “off we go then, and please call me Basil”
I laughed. “only if we can agree on Erica rather than ‘mum'”
“Right you are er.. Miss Erica!” With a smile, he flicked a bit harder encouraging the horse to a goodly clip. The shrill pronouncements of the bat fading behind us into unintelligibility, the scene again returned to a pleasant New Babbage morning.
We rode in silence and my eyes and ears drunk it in. The walls and cobbles looking moist, as if it always had just rained a few minutes ago. The morning smog now firmly replacing the dawn mist. The sun casting a bright yellow-green glow, filtered through the New Babbage air. Row after row of houses, offices, stores and of course factories, their chimneys showing much internal activity though the streets were almost deserted. Rounding a corner, a fat bearded man in a spotty greatcoat lay on the pavement, retching loudly into the gutter.
As we rode on, the neighbourhoods gradually began to improve. Just in little ways. The street was cleaner, the boards more recently whitewashed, and the few people about walking more erect with each passing block. We rounded Abney Parkway and encountered the beginning of the days business. A steam car passed noisily going the opposite direction with a comical “honk honk” of its horn. A few shops had visible activity inside though their signs proclaimed them to still be shut.
Finally, we arrived at our destination. My destination. Basil helped me down from the box and I surveyed my new home. Red brick and nice woods, corner lot, lots of windows, as advertised. A satisfied smirk on my face, I set to work directing the boys who efficiently discharged my goods inside. It seemed no time at all until the cart was empty.
“I thank you dear Basil, what a wonderful job you have done for me”
“‘Tis nothing Miss Erica, my pleasure indeed”
I opened my purse and searched out my portfolio in its cavernous depths
A look of surprise crossed his face.
“Oh no Miss, paid in full you have last time we met, and then some! Gave me a tenner even.”
Suppressing a look of surprise on my face I blurted “Oh yes of course, thank you”. Seems there are good men in this town, or at least enough gentleman in them to not take advantage of a forgetful lady.
Mental note: adapt to using currency.
“We will be off then! Good luck! and if you need me for anything, you know where to find me”
“The pub then?”
“Yes indeed, take care!”
I hadn’t the vaguest clue which pub we were referring to. Oh well, nevermind.
“You too Basil!” I sent them off with a wave and a bright smile.
With that they mounted and were off, back the way they came. I wanted to make another mental note, but seeing as how my memory is proving faulty of late, I decide my first task is to unearth my notebooks. One last look at the morning I walked into my new shop and shut the door, bolting it behind me. Looking about my new domain, a feeling of satisfaction filled me.
Finally! Well, lick of paint here and there, but much improved! Though my new furniture wasn’t scheduled to arrive today, at least all my things were here. Looking about I spy the nearest collection of boxes likely to contain notebooks and begin the work of prying it open. While I work, grunting, sipping tea, and making a frightful mess of my new abode, I try to find some thread to piece my memory back together with. How on earth could I miss an entire week?
Each box contained some clues, and copious amounts of straw stuffing. Discarding the latter until my floor looked like that of a cattle barn, I set aside my belongings. One pile for my wares to sell. Hmm. Apparently I had been busy, having made up new stock from my previous failure, and in great abundance. At least I can be assured I wasn’t idle! Ah here’s one notebook, I flip open its leather binding to find all sorts of scribbles, doodles, arcane diagrams and bad poetry. “No no no, this is last year’s”. I tossed it aside and kept digging. Another pile for my house-wares. Ah another notebook. I flipped it open and soon shut it with much vehemence. No, not from that time. That was bad. I pushed the bad memories out before they could get a foothold and kept digging. Another pile for my books. Hmm many notebooks in this pile. I scanned their covers which I had dated and tossed them aside one by one. No no no NO! Dash it where is the current one?
Having unpacked, rather haphazardly, all of my boxes, I was left with one alternative. I unlocked the clothes chest and rifled through them, tossing them carelessly on the straw. Then, I found it. Good! I write in this every day so there should be something in here.
I flipped through more sketch designs, calculations, assorted ramblings and yes, more bad poetry until I finally found the more recent entries. At last! I lit an oil lamp, noting it already was getting dark outside, and pulled it close. I read.
November 2nd, 188~
“Finally recovering from last night’s laboratory disaster, making progress not only in cleaning it, but making new prototypes. Still no word from the Doctor. Hired a nice man at the pub with some bloody awful name to move me on the 10th.” Some speculative calculations follow with many ink blots and cross-outs and a not half-bad sketch of an eye. Normal so far. I skip to the next entry.
November 3rd, 188~
Some more calculations begin the entry with apparently not much success. A brief note follows:
“God I hate when I’m stuck, this knotty inductance problem is driving me spare. Much progress in the last day, prototypes complete and ready for production. Think I might need a breath of fresh air, a bracing walk and a pint or three to clear my head. Maybe I will pop into the Gangplank and stop by the Doctor’s to see if he is about. Right, I’m off out, all work and no play makes … something something…”
Though hazy, I can kind of remember that, like foggy afterimages…
What follows isn’t even dated. Though not unusual in of itself, the content certainly was. I sat for some time trying to decipher the cryptic pictorial diagrams, annotated with hastily scribbled notes. My normal flowery script seems to have degraded into some childish chicken-scratch. What on earth was I writing with, charcoal? It seems I had abandoned my pen at one point where there was a whole in the paper haloed by a gigantic blot.
I begin to feel most disturbed, yet enthralled by these entries. Its almost as if some lunatic got a hold of my notebook and commenced a brain-dump onto its pages. No this is too familiar. Its me, or a shade of me. The more I look the more I see cracks, sketches of cracks, with lines to indicate illumination. Stranger-than-usual machines. This was beginning to strike a very real chord in my mind. Almost imperceptibly, the music returned. Starting softly, as if approaching its source. The dreaded merry-go-round carnival music again. The off-tune notes, the whiny organ-grinder timbre rails at my senses irritating them like sniffing sulphur. The glow from my lamp grows dimmer and the darkness surrounds me, closing in. This is too real. I’ve felt this before.
Half crazed blurry memories clash in my mind. In some, I’m a younger girl, during the bad time. In the hospital. Locked away. Screaming. Restrained. Alone. Power dampened by the elders. Others, I’m here, in Clockhaven … oh my … the Doctor! He’s gone mad! The blue glow……his voice “Fly little birdie, fly little wren, FLY.”
I shut the book with a start. Shaking my head to make that dratted tune go away. Tears streaming down my face, throat sore with sobbing. No, I will keep control. I will be cool and rational. The warm from the lamp again fills the corners of the room, my will pushing it outwards to stave whatever it is off.
This did happen. No exact memories, but I know what happened now. Sort of. Good thing I took notes – such as they are. I smile ruefully to myself. I must have been in a fit the past week. That explains the work that was done, I was trying to cling to something, some reality. There was the Doctor, he was raving. Wandering the streets mad as a hatter.. oh I’ve never seen such a discouraging sight. A man of renowned intellect, and much respected, reduced to gibbering in the streets. I did call for help, another came. What was his name? Another doctor. Sonner-something. New Babbage has far too many Doctors to keep them all straight. I went with them. No. We chased him, the Doctor. Then, the glow. The madness. Oh my. I must stop there. I have enough information to proceed. I must find him, to make sure he is all right. To verify I am not myself mad, which is entirely likely, given my history. No matter. I will find him, and the answers.
Standing up and brushing stray straw from my clothes, I search the room for my apothecary kit. Finding it half buried in my randomly strewn possessions, I retrieve a bottle of bright green liquid. That’s it. Two drops on my tongue and my that tastes foul. I soon feel my nerves relax to a stable level. All right. I am ready.
Almost as an afterthought I retrieve the note book and flip to a new blank page. I scare up a reservoir pen and stand as I record the next entry:
November 10th, 188~
Move went well. Will begin the renovation of my shop and new lodgings on the completion of a very important errand. I must find Dr. Cyberusfaustus, my dear friend, and verify if he is well, if not, I must assist him somehow. Domestic duties will have to wait.
Tossing the notebook in a random open crate, I straighten my clothes and quick-fix my hair. Running out the door, I grab my Aetherpistol. I heard the zombies have now been replaced by metallic crabs…
November 15th, 188~
My search has borne fruit after several days and nights turning over every cobble in the city. Last evening I did indeed find the Doctor, and what’s more, I found him in a state resembling his former self – much to my relief. He tells me of something called “Dark Aether”, and the effect its having on the city and its citizens. Sadly, he can’t return to his apartments until the source of this madness is removed. Still, it is good to see the effect is temporary. Indeed it has shed some light on my own condition and recent holes in my mental history. Though I am confident that the sum of New Babbage talent can devise something to rectify the situation, I have a bad feeling for what is to come….
((OOC: I attempt to record events as I witness them and not interfere with your story lines. Some wonderful writing on this site, I am very much enjoying reading them all, though I have quite a bit of catching up, quite prolific this community!))