“It’s espressinth. And wow, this guy is heavy. Why is he so heavy? You’re small. Mumsy Abigail is small. Why can’t everyone in your family be small?”
Scottie Melnik continued to complain as he and Junie Ginsburg walked up Symington Quay toward Academy of Industry, where he had agreed to deposit her unconscious cousin, Henry Sharp. Henry himself was sprawled like an abused rag doll in the wooden wheelbarrow Scottie was pushing, the side of his head swollen and bruised where Sky had pummeled him with a crate lid.
“He’s Mumsy’s son by marriage,” Junie explained. “Heaven only knows what his blood relatives are like.”
“Ogres, no doubt.” Scottie harrumphed. “And heaven has nothing to do with it.”
Junie rolled her eyes and then scowled at Henry’s limp form as they walked. “Do you think we should take him to the hospital? He doesn’t look very good.” She picked up Henry’s arm and let it drop.
“Oh, I think he’ll be alright,” answered Scottie. “I’ve woken up with worse on a Sunday morning. Hell, Sky has dealt me worse.” He stopped for a moment and chuckled. “Not that I don’t usually have it coming, of course.”
Junie snickered. “Of course.”
“Besides,” he said as he continued to walk, “I’m not gonna push this damned thing all the way back to the Vernian.”
Junie chuckled. “Thanks for helping me, Scottie. I do appreciate it.”
Scottie looked at Junie, swinging her empty hands as she walked, and then at the heavy wheelbarrow before him. “Helping. Yeah.” He sighed with resignation. “You’re welcome, Junie. You don’t have any other relatives planning to pay a visit soon though, do you? Sky’s in a lather over this one, and I can’t say I’m thrilled either.”
“Nah, not that I know of.” She stopped to consider. “Great Builder, I hope not.” Following another pause, she continued, “do you know why Sky reacted like she did? I mean, I knew she had a wild streak, but she doesn’t usually assault her customers.”
Scottie thought for a moment about the customer she’d zapped not long ago, but then shook his head. “I’m not sure. She said she did it for the Steel Raven though, which was the first ship she helmed. All she’s told me is that some mast-hugging blaggard stole it out from under her and her crew. I’m guessing it was this one here.” He motioned with his head toward the man in the wheelbarrow who lay drooling and unconscious.
“Mast-hugging bl-,” Junie started, and then stopped herself, closed her eyes and shook the question from her head. “Well,” she began again, “that’s entirely possible.”
After a long pause, she continued. “You know, Henry’s a Babbager. He was born here. His father was a scientist of some kind but he disappeared before Henry was grown. It changed him; he went a bit mad and left home as a very young man. Last anyone heard he had joined up with some airship outfit . Apparently that’s what he’s been doing for the last few decades by the look of him.”
“How old was he?” Scottie asked. “Looks a bit haggard now. He had to have been flying for quite awhile before the Steel Raven.” Both Scottie and Junie regarded their charge with mixed expressions of disdain and pity.
Junie shrugged. “I’m not sure. Fifteen maybe? Sixteen? He was fairly young.”
“Wow,” Scottie remarked. “What happened to his father? He just disappeared?”
“No one knows, really,” she answered. “He was working for the Academy, I’ve been told, and they sent him on some expedition. He never came back. I was just a bit younger than Henry, and didn’t live in the city. I never really learned much about it.”
“And that was Mumsy Abigail’s husband? I had no idea she had been married.” Scottie cringed slightly as he imagined the shriveled little crone. “I try not to think about it, actually.”
Junie nodded to herself. “After her husband disappeared and Henry left, Mumsy was alone. She wasn’t the same after that either. She moved away from New Babbage and didn’t come back until this year.”
Scottie was silent for a few minutes as they walked.
“Rather puts things into perspective,” he said finally.
Junie only nodded.
* * *
“Great feathered kraken, this hurts,” Henry said, lying on a couch and wincing through the pain.
Junie glanced over at him from where she sat in an armchair next to the fireplace. “Ah, you’re awake. Good.”
Henry turned his head to look over at her, squinting but unable to recognize her. “What the devil is going on? Who are you? Where am I?” Disoriented, he slurred his words slightly as he fought to comprehend his current situation.
“Henry, I’m your cousin, Junie. You’re at my workshop.” She closed the book she had been reading with a sigh, and took a sip of tea from the cup next to her.
“Junie…Junie…” he repeated her name as if trying to connect it with some long-forgotten memory. “JUNIPER? What? Where’d you come from? How….how’d I…what…oh, I’m confused.”
“Obviously.” Her voice was tinged with impatience. “I’ve been in New Babbage on and off over the years. It’s been a long time, Henry. And it seems that of all the rum joints in all New Babbage, you walked into the one with a righteously steamed, only-moderately-reformed, red-headed air pirate. Sky has a long memory.”
He touched the side of his face gingerly and inhaled sharply. “And a long jump. Did you see her vault over the bar? Impressive. She hasn’t lost that fire. So how’d I get here?”
“Wheeled transport,” Junie answered dismissively. “Henry, what are you doing here? I have so many questions for you. Is this the first time you’ve been back in the city after all these years? Why now?”
“I’ve never wanted to come back. Not after…” he paused. “Well, I have a reason now. I have a clue that could lead me to some answers.”
Junie nodded. “Your father.”
“What about Mumsy Abigail?” Junie asked directly, refusing to play games of subtle conversation.
“Oh, don’t start, Juniper. Twenty years and ten seconds after last seeing each other, you’re already nagging. You know as well as I do that she’s not going to want to see me. She’d probably just as soon kill me.”
“Thirty years, Henry, and you might be surprised,” she answered. “She’s been living with my family in the country for a long time. Ever since…well, you know. She came back to New Babbage earlier this year to live with me though.” She watched him carefully and lowered her voice. “Maybe it’s time for you to take over. You’re the closest thing she has to a child.”
Henry shook his head sadly. “I can’t. Besides, I have nothing here right now.”
Junie scowled. “Some big tough air pirate you turned out to be, Henry.”
Henry looked up at the ceiling as Junie opened her book again.
“As soon as I can move without my head spinning I’ll be out of your way, Juniper. I don’t want to vex you more than I already have. Your friends can’t be happy that I’m your kin.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” she retorted. “You can stay here. I’ll be going out of town for awhile anyway.”
“What about Abigail?” he asked.
“Mumsy Abigail is living in my house, a few doors down. She never comes here to the workshop. There’s room for you to move in upstairs if you want to. Since we’re in Academy of Industry, you can find plenty of places to eat.”
“We’re in Academy?” he asked, sounding incredulous.
Junie drew out the first word of her response, obviously unsure of the nature of his question. “YYYYYes, Henry. Academy of Industry. New Babbage. Do you remember where you are? How many fingers am I holding up? What year is it? Who’s the Clockwinder?”
“Bugger off, woman,” he snapped. “You’re as irritating as your aunt. Redheads, both of you. Nothing but trouble. Anyway, I have business here. That’s why I came back.”
Junie ignored the fact that Henry obviously hadn’t seen Mumsy for a very long time. “You have business in Academy? Is it about your father?”
“Yes,” he answered, before pausing. He continued staring up at the ceiling , resting a hand across his forehead. As if formulating his words carefully, he said, “let’s just say that I’m going to be spending a great deal of time in the Academy archives. There is something there I need to find.”
“Henry,” Junie said, in a serious tone, followed by a tentative question. “Does it have to do with Terra Fosca?”
He turned his head quickly toward Junie, cried out in pain, and hissed, “what would you know about that?”
Taken aback by his response, Junie decided against telling Henry about the box just yet.
“I know your father went there and that he never came back,“ she said. Referring obliquely then to Henry, Mumsy Abigail and the mysterious box, she went on. “And that its legacy is here in New Babbage.”
Read part 1: Past Meets Present
(Thanks Scottie for your help with this one!)