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Sept. 11 – An Added Burden

During the first week of Martha’s employment, as Lisa was hauling out a large collection of trash for the rag-and-bone man, she heard an imperative mewing from above. Looking at the top of the wall, she saw her brother, Fourclaws, balanced there, waving his tail. She quickly deposited the trash in the usual place for pickup, and went to a corner of the yard, away from the door. Fourclaws dropped down into the yard and joined her there.

“What is it?” she asked him softly.

“Strifeclaw is having a meeting at the younglings’ lair,” Fourclaws replied, referring to the Imperial Theatre. “He wants you there, if you can come.”


“Right now.”

Lisa looked back toward the door. “I’ll try,” she said a little doubtfully. She hurried inside and searched for Jane, finally finding her on the second floor, cleaning one of the offices. “Jane,” she said hesitantly, “would you be all right if I left for a bit? I’m sure it wouldn’t be for more than an hour.”

Jane looked up, considering the question in her deliberate way. Finally, she replied, “I think so.”

Lisa smiled at her. “Thank you,” she said, and hurried back downstairs. She grabbed some more garbage, hauled it out to its appointed place… and simply kept on going. Fourclaws joined her as she trotted north and east. “Strifeclaw actually had another meeting earlier,” he explained. “This one is for those who couldn’t make it to that first one.”

Lisa sighed to herself. She felt so out-of-touch now with Beryl, and with the urchins, what with being so busy in the asylum. The only news she’d gotten during that time were the few things her cat friends and family could tell her–and there was much they didn’t know. They had, however, told her about the disappearances of first Tepic, then Beryl. She’d been wild with worry, until they were finally able to tell her that Beryl had returned and that Tepic was, at least, still alive.

Hurrying through the opium den, she took the path to the hidden room with the speed of long experience. She looked around, trying to spot Beryl, and finally heard a voice from above say, “Hello, Lisa.” She peered upward and saw him perched on a rafter. “Hello, Beryl,” she replied, staring at him worriedly, trying to find any traces of his ordeal in his aspect.

Beryl’s expression seemed to have as much concern for her as she had for him. “Lisa, are you all right?”

“Getting there, I think.” She rubbed her eyes.

“You don’t sleep anymore, do you?”

“I do,” she replied wryly, “but my sleep is as busy as my waking. It’s good, though. I’m learning so much from the Master Old-Singers.”

“I’m just glad to be done with the dreams about the clockwork. Nightmares, really.”


“I dreamed about the explosion at the Candy shop, the factory, the Warrens,” he explained. “And about the metal man, all before they happened. I never saw when they would happen, though.”

Lisa shuddered, thinking about what it must be like to see future events, like the Far-Seers among the cats did, but be unable to do anything about them. “I’m so sorry.”

“It was just moments I foresaw, like Tepic’s tail.”

“How is he?” she asked anxiously.

“He’s left the city, just like Bookworm, to recuperate.”

“Poor boy.” She shook her head. She knew how important a tail was to someone born with it, and to lose it so suddenly would make life quite difficult.

“There’s more,” Beryl said after a moment.

“More?” Lisa sighed. “There’s always more.”

“Tepic was told by the Man in Blue–no. I’ll tell you that when the others come. Have a muffin until then–I think they’re mostly fresh.”

Lisa nodded and sat down at the long table, reaching for the muffin basket. She took one and, despite the growling in her stomach, nibbled it, wanting to make it last longer.

Almost immediately, other urchins started arriving, seating themselves at the table and snatching up muffins to devour. Once Beryl was reasonably sure no others were coming, he leaped down from his perch and stood before them; all eyes turned to him as he launched into the tale.

He reminded them all–though for Lisa, at least, much of it was actually being told her for the first time– of the sequence of events, starting with the attacks on unchin establishments, the bombing of Miss Bookworm’s home, and the capture of first Tepic, then himself, and their subsequent escape thanks to the help of the other two captured men on board the submarine. He told them all he knew of the Man in Blue–what he’d done on behalf of the mysterious PJ, and why. Though his eyes had ranged among the urchins through most of this, his eyes couldn’t help but lock on Lisa as he said, “The Man in Blue could change his skin, his eyes, everything–because he’s a metal man. His brain was put into a construct’s head, using the notes from Gadget that the Van Creed took.”

Lisa sucked in her breath at that news, her face clearly showing anger, dismay, and guilt in equal portions.

“So he… could show up as anyone?” Nathan asked.

Beryl nodded. “He doesn’t always wear blue. He apparently did that just for this city.”

The other urchins muttered among themselves, and began peppering Beryl with questions about ways they might be able to detect the Man in Blue, or someone like him, since Beryl thought there might well be more than one construct. Beryl said that magnets should reveal their metallic nature, and, apparently, they couldn’t run. When he told them that a shot directly in the eye hadn’t stopped the Man in Blue, this led to rampant speculation about where the brain might be housed in the construct.

Finally, though, the talk turned to what the urchins should do to prepare for winter, with so much of their supplies destroyed. Beryl, though, had potential good news on that front. “Popplefot’s coming back to town–that blacking factory owner. Jimmy mentioned that he will hire and might offer to feed some urchins. It might be gruel, but staying alive’s important.”

Some of the group looked interested at that, though others seemed rather averse to the idea of working, especially in a factory. They pinned their hopes on supplies continuing to come into the city uninterrupted during the winter. Finally, after a brief warning from Beryl about a pawnbroker Myrtil had nicknamed “The Spider,” the meeting broke up.

Lisa tried to get Beryl’s attention, hoping to tell him that she’d had an idea about how to get past the metallic guard dog in Canergak’s hidden rooms, but he quickly disappeared in the crowd of bodies. With a sigh, she slipped out of the room, hastening back toward the Asylum and her duties there. As she trotted along the streets, she wondered if Beryl might actually be angry with her. It was, after all, all her fault–if she’d only destroyed Ambrose’s notebook when she took it away with her, she wouldn’t have given it to Gadget, the Van Creed wouldn’t have gotten their hands on it when they captured Gadget, and the Man in Blue wouldn’t have been made. The guilt she felt now, looking back at that decision, hung heavy in her heart as she entered the grounds of the Asylum.

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