Arnold was trying his best to not think about the events of the past week, but it was not easy. Bits of conversation kept playing in his head and then repeating whenever he stopped to think and sometimes even when he didn’t…
Sonnerstein…”He may be connected to that book too… The third page has something that seems suspicously like him…”
Gadget…”No Sir, the ‘orrible beest of babbage wot I caought in my trap, but wos broken out and so forth.”
Scottie looked at the young doctor, “I know about it and I would keep away from there if I were you. Something’s not right.”
Sonnerstein seemed surprised he was so dismissive, “I’d say not..! You know about it then? What if it crawls off somewhere?!”
Scottie Melnik returned and shrugged, “I didn’t see anything.”
Sonnerstein insisted, “It howled..! It was something living!”
Melnik waves his hand dismissively, “Silly kid things, I guess.”
“It’s giving me a headache.” Arnold gripped his head as he felt something start to shift within him.
Kristos closes his eyes, rubbing over his face while Melnik smiled, his eyelids drooping a bit, “Yeah, it’s been here for a few days now. Funny people suddenly stumbled upon it…”
“You two alright Sirs?” Gadget asked Sonnerstein and him
“I’m fine.” Arnold said, though he had just grabbed his head and his eyes had flashed orange again. “I’m just recovering from something to begin with.”
Tenk looked at Scottie at ‘Cuffs later, “I’ve ordered the remaining assets of the church released back to them, and I want to a full accounting of the Dagonites.”
Scottie Melnik shrugs, “So! It’s open season on the Dagonites!”
Phaedra Byrne smiled, “Yes. and I hope you all burn.”
Scottie Melnik grinned, “That you’re not in the book yet just means you burn before the rest…provided it’s actually writing the future and it’s set in stone.
“It’s not.” Arnold then grimaced.
“I am unmarried.” Phaedra gloated.
Scottie Melnik smirked, “File those papers, did you?”
“Congratulations are in order then…but why did you come back? Do you actually know?”
“Why did I come back?” Phaedra considers for a long moment before she provided an answer of some kind.
Sonnerstein pointed at the creature in the graveyard across from them, “It was one of those metal cylindars earlier! Just like the one under Sweetwater Square!
“What’s that stuff it’s spitting out of the top of it’s head? Aether? Gas? Poison?”
“Well, it doesn’t seem immediately dangerous, but for some reason I have the feeling……..Dr. Sonnerstein, do you know why you’re here?”
Sonnerstein blinks, turning his head back to Arnold. “What do you mean?
“Out of all the places you travel to, all the places you could live instead, do you actually have a reason to live here above or before the others? Do you really? Or do you just do so without realizing it.”
Dr. Sonnerstein paused and then explained after a moment, “I am here because the people and the city itself intrigue me… And because it reminds me of the home I grew up in…”
Arnold…”It makes you drowsy doctor?”
Junie…”Hmm…odd. I don’t recall feeling drowsy either. Perhaps it affects individuals in different ways.”
Junie…”I think it….is hurting.”
Junie…”I’m beginning to feel rather peculiar”
Junie began skipping around the graveyard in a daze, like a child until the ‘monster’ did something unexpected…
Arnold…”Why do I keep checking this! I don’t want to be involved!”
“When it involves the whole city… It’s hard to remain indifferent…” Dr. Sonnerstein whined and covered his ears.
Dr. Sonnerstein blinked at Arnold a moment as if surprised to see him there at all despite having walked with him away from the area. “Better…? What..?”
“My head feels heavy…” Dr. Sonnerstein said as they had continued to talk.
“You did get close to that thing.” Arnold said, who had never gotten closer than gate of the cemetery and had been further back than that usually.
“I think I should go check that book and then… I don’t know..”
“It’s not updated.” Arnold shakes his head angrily, he’d never read it, how could he know that! “AUGH!”
“I keep losing moments in time where my mouth moves and I speak, and I don’t get why.”
“Is Id trying to take control…?”
“It came back Doctor.”
“I put her existence on the same level as I do Losses his head up there.”
“I lose control of myself and go about doing things in a dream like state, sound like anyone we know who’s also a cat?”
“Have you heard about the city hall meeting?”
“No.. I have not…” Cyberfaustus admitted. “You are in fact the first person I have spoken with since my return… I have been having some problems at the shop…”
“And yet you returned just in time Dr…do you know why you choose that day to return and not earlier or later?”
Sonnerstein shook his head while they spoke of Scald, “He wouldn’t leave even if I tried to make him though…”
“You’re not going to evacuate are you?” Tenk said as he sat outside of city hall. “Someone came in the other day screaming at me and saying I had to evacuate the city.”
“Of course not, I’m not going anywhere.” Tesla agreed with him.
“I love my city.” Stargirl said.
These conversations bore into Arnold’s head repeatedly, unless he was running through the city or doing work for Emerson. The place had probably never been alphabetized, arranged, dusted, or put into so much clear order before, but it still wasn’t enough. He’d balanced what he automatically assumed were inaccurate accounts, and tended to the graveyard everyday, stored food into the icebox, anything to keep working. It was refreshing actually to know that in many ways he was still the same person he was before even if parts of him were changing he was still at least partially himself still, and that alone was more of a relief than anything else in his life right now.
He was on one of those runs when he came into contact with Stormy walking along the road, and they stopped to greet one another. “Deacon.”
“Ah, Mr. Arnold. How do?”
Arnold was brought back to the situation he was in by the question, and the state the city was in. His momentary ability to forget about all of that faded away, “It is getting bad enough that I actually wish I’d gone with Emerson Lighthouse instead. I can understand why I shouldn’t have knowing what I know now…but at least I could have actually remained detached even if everything was blowing up around me…and around him, that wouldn’t even need my…well I’m sure you know.” Maddox had apparently spoken with him while he was out.
Stormy nodded, “Indeed, and I wish I had no knowledge. It’s almost enough to make me wish I had taken an airship to Steelhead.”
“And yet neither of us do,” Arnold sighed and recalled part of what she had said last night. “Perhaps Id was right after all…”
“I can imagine so… Perhaps a hasty escape is in order?”
“For the past few days, especially around those canisters, she’s been coming out when I’m not asleep saying things and then I’m myself again. The first time it was asking Stargirl a question…about why she would come back here, why here and not anywhere else in the world.”
“How queer, the canisters seem to have a different effect on everyone it would seem..”
“The city just seems to call people back and doesn’t let go of them until it’s ready, or so she implied at the time…and so that left the question, why did so many people come back last week, before the Town Hall. Stargirl, Phaedra, Cyberfaustus…there had been over a dozen urchins the morning after the event and most of them I’d never seen before and dozens of citizens on the street…some of them could say why they returned just at this moment in time…but that’s a lot of coincidences for so many people who had been ‘away’ or ‘busy’ until now, and others didn’t even have that.”
“It’s a rather curious, and vexing question, is it not? Perhaps there is some sort of metaphysical draw that it possesses.”
“Sonnerstein agreed that the city seems almost alive at times,” Arnold said as he thought about that conversation. “And if so, it does beg why would it call so many people now. When I think of that I do want to run. Run and let the city deal with the problems it has, I have no love for it.”
Stormy looked in the direction of the old quarter “Alive… Heh, yes I think that is a rather accurate idea.”
“But I don’t think Maddox will…so it has me to some degree….but if things did get bad enough I’d still send her to Caldeon to stay with Erehwon but as of now I don’t think she’d listen. I don’t know what else to make of it.”
“Indeed..” Stormy mused for a moment. “She seems very tied to New Babbage, bound in a very literal sense.”
Arnold didn’t like the sound of that, and wondered if she just naturally makes bonds without knowing it…but shakes his head. He’d rather not know that just yet…
“There is much you would rather not know…” Stormy said, probably guessing what he was thinking. “If you will excuse me, Mr. Arnold.”
As Stormy left Arnold could only think about the other conversation he’d had with Dr. Sonnerstein on this matter…
” You think it’s the city that does it… some spirit perhaps or force that sucks people in? It probably does.”
” The question was for what.”
“What else? To be a city and to remain whole.”
” I don’t want to be one of those it can influence on its terms.”
” Don’t care to be a symbiote for anyone but Maddox, hm? Do you feel used?”
” Why would it need all of us that it’s calling if there was no danger?”
” I never said there was no danger… The danger is to the host as well as it’s symbiotic friends..but those living on the host animal are better suited to fending off particular dangers than the host itself.”
Arnold frowned…he had been trying his best not to think about that. That analogy implied that they were either beneficial bacteria or perhaps the cities white blood cells, or part of the cities immune system. Did that mean that whoever was behind this, Moriarty or whomever, was an illness? Considering what he’d learned from the books in the hospital he would say that would imply he was a virus…Arnold didn’t like the implications of this line of thought at all, especially since he could not be sure it was only a metaphor. Before his collapse in September he would have scoffed and refused to believe the idea that the city was alive at all, but he had fewer reservations about the idea now.
If the city was alive then just like a body’s immune system it would call in its defenders even if it was not sure it could win, and would send everything it had no matter how weak those defenders might be against the infection. Being summoned by the city didn’t mean that the city had called the best defenders it had at its disposal to avert a crisis. It had called everything it could lay hands on and was hoping for the best. One of its defenders it may influence into its defense could well turn out to be a heavily intoxicated Emperor Crumb.
“Indeed..” Stormy mused for a moment. “She seems very tied to New Babbage, bound in a very literal sense.”
Arnold froze for a few moments, and then forced himself to start running to get his mind off of things. He had to get Maddox away from the city…and if she would not go…well he’d have to think of something else…