Dr. Sonnerstein had some difficulty crawling inside in order to check on the patient, but he did so, though he found Arnold’s condition had not changed from the unresponsive state that he had stabilized to after Maddox had managed to call him back…though there did feel like there was something vaguely growing within him. Sonnerstein made his way to Arnold in the confined space as best he could, and as he examined the situation he sighed, “Dear dear Arnold…”
Sonnerstein made a quick inspection to once again make sure that Arnold didn’t perhaps have another sample on him or perhaps even the slightest bit left over in his pockets while also seeing if maybe he’d eaten the meal they’d left in his pocket. He found the voles uneaten…but they were moving lethargically, and almost mechanically. Sonnerstein wrinkled his nose and picked one up and sniffed it, inspecting it. After a few moments he was sure of it, there wasn’t any soul within them left. That wouldn’t have been the case last night…He winced and rubbed his brow as if clearing his eyes, and then turning his head back to Arnold with his physical eyes closed still.
Sonnerstein rested his hand on Arnold’s side for a moment and frowned as he considered the situation that he could vaguely perceive within now. He’d heard that Arnold was ‘broken’ months ago, and now he was perceiving at least a piece of that puzzle. Arnold’s soul was fractured, and it was also obvious that this kind of fracture would have predated the effect of that stone.
“If we were elsewhere, I could probably help to heal this…but here….” The doctor paused at a thought as he looked down at the soulless vole in his hand. Perhaps Arnold had taken their soul to fill in the gaps within his own…
He decided to have a word with Tepic later that day as he disposed of the vole and then muttered, “Always something lacking when it’s fled, isn’t it?”
*Sunday late evening* After attending a wedding that was hosted by their mutual employer, Dr. Maddox and Sonnerstein went to a meeting at the Cocoa Java that had been arranged with Erehwon Yoshikawa and the forewoman that had worked on the asylum.
“Bea, you’re here. Do you have the plans to the asylum?”
“No.” the large mouse replied.
“Do you have them in your head?” Mrs. Lionheart asked hopefully.
“I hope not!” She yelled in alarm as she started to inspect inside her rather large ears. Sonnerstein murmured something to the extent that if he ever got that bad to just shoot him.
Maddox shook her head, and tried to explain things a little more simply and suggested they all sit down since she had the feeling this was probably going to give them all a headache, and Erehwon helped herself to some more coffee. The first step was to describe what the asylum looked like so she could make a sketch. She told them how she’d ‘fixed’ the design so that it wouldn’t be so ‘boring’ anymore, while Yoshikawa made a sketch of what she was hearing described.
After Erehwon had gotten a good enough description she asked, “And the main structural members?”
Beatrixe stared at her for a second, “The ingredients?”
“Yes, the ingredients.” Erehwon smiled as she tried not to become frustrated.
“Well, the two smaller ones were lined with lead, and then with layers of steel and some iron. Glass eyes said it was to protect them from the middle one or something.”
“And the middle one?”
“No lead, instead we had this weird stuff that we mixed in with the steel and iron into the whole mold and glass eyes room.”
“Weird thing, what was that?”
“I don’t know. Glass man said put it in. You can ask him, I told him we’d be meeting about it!” Beatrixe smiled happily, and for one very brief moment caused by extreme stress, Maddox had a very strong desire to strangle the large door-mouse.
Erehwon shivered uncomfortably and clutched at her coffee mug, while Dr. Sonnerstein’s ears twitched. “I can even smell him…”
“Where?!” Beatrixe shouted as she looked about randomly for whatever was scaring everybody else, while Dr. Maddox’s good hand clenched angrily. Kristos looked about for a moment before pointing across the street from them, not quite at the man standing there watching them. “…There…in the Academy yard.”
Erehwon shot the doctors a ‘what are we going to do now’ look, and Sonnerstein made a placating gesture, “Calm yourself, Erehwon…he’s just a man…” Though he did mutter under his breath that there was some sort of absence about him.
Beatrixe smiled and waved at Canergak as she finally saw him, “Hello Boss, or had been boss!” The short, stout man crossed the street, but did not enter the Cocoa Java completely. His clockwork eyes looked a little like glass but closer inspection revealed them for what they really were.
Erehwon Yoshikawa stood and curtsied, “Sir.”
Canergak looked to Dr. Maddox, “I was told you had questions about the facility.”
Erehwon Yoshikawa sat back down and then tried to continue, “Yes sir, I am a recent graduate of…” She trailed off as she realized that once again Canergak was only looking at Mrs. Lionheart, though he did occasionally look at Beatrixe Rouse, the rest of them might as well have not existed.
Maddox nodded uncomfortably, trying to keep control of herself, “Yes I do. I want to know what you’ve made it of and why.”
The elderly man paused for a moment as he considered the question, “An element that should pose no harm to normal people, if you are referring to the one I specifically requested.”
Dr. Sonnerstein narrowed his unseeing eyes a bit at that claim. Erehwon shrugged and looked to Maddox, “Mention to him that the element in question affected normal laboratory mice.”
Canergak added as an after thought, “Well, provided you aren’t attached to your soul.”
Maddox was stunned at how flippantly the man was willing to admit that, “You knew this element would harm anything with a soul?”
“Is that a problem?”
Dr. Sonnerstein frowned deeply, brushing his finger over his lips in thought. “It is very much a problem. A person becomes much less alive without their soul.”
When Canergak didn’t even turn his head towards him, Dr. Maddox was forced once again to continue, “It is when you will have things with souls working within the place, yes.”
Canergak nodded, “If it means that much to you, I’ll have the interior lined with lead. The walls of my room shall remain the same however.”
None of them realized or pointed out that Beatrixe and her crew had not lost their souls, even after having over a month of constant exposure to the building, not even her. Then again, she was too busy checking to make sure her shoes hadn’t been stolen.
Erehwon Yoshikawa whispered at Maddox quietly, “Is he just ignoring me, or can he not see me?”
Dr. Kristos Sonnerstein turns his head to Erehwon and tugged on his ear. “As I understand it, he is likely ignoring you and I.”
Mrs. Lionheart continued as calmly as she could, knowing that it was this man’s fault that Arnold had almost vanished off the face of the earth and beyond, “Perhaps you should reline the main room with something that will not harm everyone within. What kind of business do you think that we are running?”
“Your business is whatever you want it to be. I do not care.”
“And just what is your business, Mr. Canergak?” Dr. Sonnerstein asked, but he might as well have not said anything for all the notice he was given.
“It is my business when I and the patients are not any safer than when they arrived,” Maddox stared at the old man defiantly, but he didn’t seem moved by the outburst.
“The asylum itself is lined with lead and a lattice. Your patients are safe, so long as you choose to keep them that way. I’m not interested in them, just in what you may learn by studying them.”
Erehwon Yoshikawa tried once again, “Pray tell, Mr. Canergak, what becomes of those who aren’t in the shielded portion?”
At the same time Maddox had asked, “But their souls being stolen is safe?”
“I did believe it not a problem,” Canergak explained. “I do fine without mine.”
“You are not the common man or woman either…” Sonnerstein responded, and then stopped as Canergak took out a much larger version of that unnatural stone that had almost caused Arnold to fade away. “Just to what purpose do you have that for…?!”
“I keep this on my person for my own safety,” Canergak said, though not in answer to Sonnerstein. He was continuing his previous explanation to Maddox. “The soul to me is excess, like you might consider your appendix.”
Dr. Lionheart ground her teeth and tried to restrain herself while Erehwon got up and distanced herself far away from Canergak’s ‘insurance policy’. Once again Dr. Sonnerstein felt the need to speak out, even if he would be ignored, “That is your decision. And it is of no right of your’s to deprive another of their soul, especially when it endangers their life.”
It took some time but Mrs. Lionheart finally managed to say through her teeth, “I care about the soul of everyone and everything in that place, Mr Canergak. The soul makes one whole and true, and you cannot be foolish enough to think that it’s not that *important.*”
Canergak was putting the stone away slowly and securely, and looked up at her, “Is that all? Then I’ll keep that in mind for the future and make accomodations for you Doctor. But that is all I will do, if that is unsatisfactory, and you care to resign, I shall find someone else.”
Maddox stared at the man defiantly, ignoring her exhaustion, “No, I will continue to run the place.”
The short man nodded and departed, as he left Erehwon came back and stood behind Mrs. Lionheart. Kristos stood as well, frowning deeply.
“I’m sorry for running away like that, but did you see the size of that sample?! That would have made me go poof, ears and all!” She then looked at Dr. Sonnerstein, “But, Doctor Kristos…you were not affected by it…”
“I was, but I did not wish to show it…”
“I want to know what I need to do to make the place safer for us all. But Arnold will not return there. At all.” Usually it was Arnold telling her what she wasn’t allowed to do, but this time she would be the one telling him. “I will be sure of that.”
Beatrixe, on the other hand, was just looking at them all confused now that she was sure her shoes were still there and unharmed. Still, now that she knew there were rocks that stole your shoes she would have to be careful. They must be working with the totem poles, she decided. Since totem poles didn’t have any feet it must be easier to replace someone everyone else had already seen without shoes.
“I need to see someone about that man,” Maddox said as she thought for a moment. “Perhaps Miss Jed… I want someone in power to know what that man is doing.”
Erehwon nodded, “I suggest we go to Miss Jed and inform her that there’s a dangerous substance in the aslyum and that Canergak must surrender it.”
Beatrixe knew that she probably hadn’t understood most of the conversation, but when she heard that the militia might start taking dangerous substances away from citizens she panicked, “No! Then they’d start kicking down everyone’s door and confiscating all our toys and radioactive goo’s! Then where would we get all our radium pools?!”
For the most part now they were paying her just slightly more attention than Canergak had paid to Erehwon and Kristos, and continued as if she hadn’t really said anything, “Krisots. I want you to perhaps go to Doctor Obelensky and ask him to send one of his clockworks in to take the sample and patient out.”
Erehwon didn’t think too much of that idea, “Obolensky? That villain?”
“I doubt he would cooperate.” Kristos pointed out. “Though I do know someone we could ask…Mr. and Mrs. Pearse have a clockwork butler. We could ask them if he would be suited to fetching the patient and removing that…”
“I will go back to the asylum, but I want no one else to do so. Not unless they have cogs for a heart and need oil to survive. I can’t take the chance that he puts some other soulless clod in charge of the place, like Berithos.”
“Be careful, Maddox…” Sonnerstein said softly.
“I will do what I have to, Kristos. I cannot have two madmen running the same asylum. There would be no end to the atrocities they would commit together. I cannot let him do this to anyone else. I have to make sure that he cannot do harm.”
Erehwon and Dr. Sonnerstein seemed confused, “Two..? Who is the other madman?”
Maddox sighed and told them what Arnold had told her when he’d first informed her he’d had them go into business in the first place, “Canergak will ask Berithos to take over if I resign. Then there will be two bloodthirsty fools within those walls. I will not allow that to happen.”
Dr. Kristos Sonnerstein had reached over to brush a finger over Erehwon’s ear, causing her to reach up to see if it was still there, but when the doctor heard this he blinked and turned his head back to Maddox. “But Berithos is not a psychiatrist or psychologist…”
“If Canergak asks Berithos he will probably lie, have you not thought of that? And I don’t think that Canergak cares.”
“But I don’t see why Berithos would have an interest in running a ment…. nevermind…” Dr. Sonnerstein frowned.
Dr. Maddox Lionheart spoke softly, “You see my dilemma.”
Just as she said this Tepic arrived and gave them a hearty, “ello,”
“Tepic!” Kristos said, as he had to ignore Beatrixe trying to explain that they were talking about feet, which the child seemed to believe and asked if they meant inches or yards. He steered the conversation back on course, “We need your help with something, Tepic. Would you be able to acquire a good amount of live voles or rats for us? I’ll of course pay you.” Sonnerstein wondered for a moment what else to say and then added, “It’s for Mr. Arnold. He’s very sick and it would help him get well.
“Ummmmm…….. yes, should be able to, you ain’t gonna use em fer anything mean, are you?” Tepic asked, checking.
“No,” Dr. Maddox said, hoping that she was right. “They’re for keeping his spirits up.”
“Oh, yep, voles it is then, they are great fer keeping your spirits up, rats, well, rats is just rats…..” Beatrixe was outraged by this comment, though she was then confused whether she should be personally offended or not. She could never remember if there was any rat in her and thinking about it soon made her forget to be upset.
“Tepic, I know as a fox, you must know some things about a person’s spirit, yes…?”
“Errrrrr….spirits something the churches keeps going on about, unless you mean Jimmy, cus his spirit is rum…”
Dr. Sonnerstein spoke softly to Tepic. “Souls, Tepic. Mr. Arnold’s spirit is damaged… he needs the voles spirits to help patch his up… Do you understand..?” After a few moments of silence Dr. Sonnerstein smiled softly, and patted Tepic’s shoulder. “Nevermind then… But please, don’t tell anyone of this..”
Tepic paused for only a little longer and then asked, “So…. he’s gonna be made up of lots of voles?”
Dr. Sonnerstein chuckled softly. “In a manner…”
“Well, voles is decent creatures, could do worse, specially with New Babbage rats…”
“Whatever you can find.. Just let me know how many and I will pay you for each one.. He is being kept at the Sneaky Vole for now.. You know where it is, correct?”
“Errrr… it woun’t hurt em, will it?”
“They will be slow… and I doubt they will taste very good or give milk after..” Sonnerstein admitted.
“Hmmmm…. not the milking voles then… there are lots of new ones around, being kicked out the nests, they are all over the place…how many do you need?
“We don’t know as of yet how many. Just place them in his pockets. I’ll remove what remains of them as they… er… go bad…”
“But a number of them.” Erehwon suggested.
Dr. Kristos Sonnerstein nodded and reached into his pocket and pulls out a few coins, offering them to Tepic. “An advance on your payment.”
“Ok… ten a day do fer now?” Tepic asked and after they confirmed the order amount he went on, “I’ll leave em at the Vole…..errrr….. you not supposed ter know about that, you know?”
Dr. Sonnerstein smiled, “I know… I won’t tell a soul.”
Now that everything seemed to be sorted out for now, and that man was far away, the adrenaline that had kept Maddox going was gone and the exhaustion from all her stress caused her knees to show their fatigue and they buckled a little.
“ear! you alright Miss?” Tepic asked, as they helped her to a chair she tried to explain,
“I… I just have to go home… I’ve missed out on sleep…and… I haven’t been feeling well for days now. Don’t worry about me, Ereh. It’s just lack of sleep, that’s all.”
Erehwon was not so convinced however, “Maddie, how much time did you spend in the asylum?”
“Two whole days. I was caring for the patient.”
“Oh Lady of Wisdom…” Erehwon prayed, while Beatrixe was left to her confusion. The mouse didn’t understand what the big problem was with spending two days in the place she and her team had worked on inside and out for more than a month. For the most part the only time they’d all felt sick at the same time was when they were just starting to mix the materials together.
Dr. Kristos Sonnerstein nodded and then turned back to the young urchin, “Tepic, one more thing, if you will…? Spread word to the urchins, I will pay with coin or food for any information they bring on the actions or meetings of a man known as Canergak… He’s nearly as short as Mr. Tenk, but a bit stout with a big grey beard and large, fancy mustache…And strange eyes.”
Tepic nodded, “Alright Dr Sonnerstein, i’ll pass the word… errrr… it ain’t gonna be dangerous watching him, is it?”
Maddox stressed the importance of her next sentence as much as she could in her exhaustion, “Just make sure he doesn’t catch you. Any of you. Understand?” Erehwon added, “Keep your distance from him.”
Dr. Sonnerstein tugged on his own ear and then added, “As long as they keep their distance, no… Especially if they’re not quite human. He has a dangerous stone on him.”
“Ain’t a problem, we can sneak good!” Tepic proclaimed.
“The stone will harm anyone it touches, don’t be daring!” Erehwon warned him.
“Blimey! what does it do?”
“It can absorb what makes you you. To put it simply.” Sonnerstein said, at the same time Maddox said, “Very bad things… Just know that. Please be careful.”
Tepic nodded, “Oh……. one of them sort….. mmmmm…. we’ll be careful!”
“And Maddox,” Sonnerstein added after a few moment, “I’d prefer if you don’t go into the asylum… I’ll talk to the Pearses to see if their clockwork butler can get that patient out of there.”
Maddox shook her head, “I have to go back, Kristos. If he thinks I won’t do the job I agreed to, he’ll replace me.”
As they helped her back home Beatrixe was left to her own conclusions about what she had just overheard. Apparently there were rocks that wanted people’s soles so badly they had come to life. When it was time to leave she was so afraid that the cobbles underneath her feet were now trying to steal her shoes, she tried her best to walk on her hands all the way back to her home in the sewers.