I’d been in Babbage for a week when the cake was delivered. I had been billeted in a high attic room in the hospital, the type usually reserved for trainee nurses, servants and the like. I assumed this was a small way of trying to make me feel unwelcome but in truth the room was warm and dry and therefore several degrees more desirable than my own back in the Shanghai slums.
A week. It was hard to believe I’d been away a week. Seven days had passed since the Clockhaven Queen paddled into harbour and, still sporting my black eyes and swollen face from the tong attack but three nights earlier, I had walked nervously down the gangplank to the quay below.
If it hadn’t been for Madam Luck smiling upon me by arranging a serendipitous meeting with young Tatsuya Skytower I fear my journey through the ever-sooty streets of Babbage would have been considerably less friendly. I knew of Tatsuya’s cousin, Sheryl, from Steelhead and although I had never met the young woman tales of a small, clockwork dragon tend to make an impression and do not go unremembered. Tatsuya (once I had apologised for assuming the small clockwork dragon in front of me was in fact Sheryl) offered to act as my guide and led me through the streets right to the front door of the William Wilde hospital.
The hospital itself (built at great personal expense by one Blackberry Harvey, my generous & genial host) was a marvel to behold. Clean and modern with attentive and polite staff. I made a mental note there and then that once home I would write a letter to Steelhead’s Town Council to beg them to build such a place in our fair city, but for now I was only too pleased to see that both myself and my patient would clearly be in good hands.
Indeed, the accused Captain Kuroe couldn’t have hoped for better medical care as I was not the only doctor charged with his well-being during his pre-trial recuperation. Dr Darien Mason was a name many knew, some feared and all respected. Long before my time he had been a resident of Steelhead and like me had been the sole medical provider for the whole city, but his family’s knack of courting trouble had seen him (and most of his relatives) lost, presumed dead. For months all trace of the Masons were lost, indeed the very fire that burnt Antfarm had taken place in Dr Mason’s abandoned Steelhead laboratory and nearly a year later whatever chemicals and compounds Mason had been experimenting with still prevented anything beyond the hardiest of grasses from growing on the ever-vacant lot. Then only a few weeks back I heard that a certain Dr Mason had been spotted in New Babbage, but I never for one moment thought we would meet like this! He was Babbage’s representative and I Steelhead’s and we had both been charged with ensuring Ashiko Kuroe recovered from his treatment at the hands of the Mayor and the Militia so he could stand trial for his alleged crimes.
As for the patient himself, after a few days his cuts and bruises began to heal (as did mine although my jaw ached all week and I still have a terrible headache all down one side of my skull) and a new leg was crafted for him. I won’t detail the matters surrounding the loss of his original leg as even though I feel physically sickened at what appears to have happened, it has been agreed by Mayors Tenk & Eclipse that the matter is a private one between Mayor Tenk and the prisoner. Even Ashiko seems content with that arrangement, but I know there are others in the city who are less happy to let such an act lie.
(As an aside to my recounting of events that led up to the gift of cake left for me, I would say a word or two about the state of fear that hangs over this city like a shroud. There is a palpable air of dissent in New Babbage, the city seems divided into several camps, all of them arranged around the Mayor and his “ advisers”. These, for want of a better word, rulers appear so high-handed and dictatorial in style that they polarise the people; some can see in them no wrong, only the inevitable and unstoppable march of progress as the city expands and grows and damn the eyes of any who stand in its way, whilst others see an authoritarian and uncaring (and possibly corrupt and evil!) regime that oppresses its people and the wider environment in the most heinous ways. Let no one tell you this is a happy city, revolt & espionage seem to lurk around every corner, or at least the ones not already taken by the threats of cut-purses and the hollow promises of fallen women. Of all people the chief plotters at the moment would appear to be the street urchins. They feel marginalised, misunderstood and disliked at the best of times but the events surrounding the removal of Ashiko’s leg has really put fire in their bellies and now they speak openly of revolution! I’m sure the only reason Mayor Tenk and his attack dog Undertone haven’t fallen upon them like a ton of bricks is because they perceive them to be of little threat. They may be right, but it is the Devil’s own gamble because I’ll wager these urchins know this city like no others and have connections beyond its limits that would be the envy of any military tactician. Small these street children might be, but powerless? I think not.)
And so the week passed, I tended to my ward; helped with the fitting of his new leg; lent my services to the wider hospital (which seemed to be in the middle of treating a minor epidemic of tram crash injuries and deaths – obviously the New Babbage trolley system is not to be trifled with!); sent reports back to Mayor Eclipse via the owls which arrived at my window; toured the city with various urchin guides; and sent urgent telegrams back to Steelhead regarding evidence I came across of Babbage arming itself with fearsome machines of invasion. In short it had been a busy week and I was exhausted. The knock on the door woke me from my half slumber and I opened the door half expecting a call to yet another tram mishap, yet there was no one there! Instead, on the floor and in a plain paper wrapper was a rather tasty looking cake. A small note sat atop it, scrawled in what looked like a child’s hand it said simply “Fank yoo Dr. Bek”. How lovely! And I was ever so hungry. What a pity Mason was out of the hospital right now… I’d save him some of course, but in the meantime I fancied a good quarter of this to myself with a nice cup of tea.
Ten minutes later, three small figures hiding in the shadows outside Beck’s room heard a thump followed by a series of noisy snores. One of the figures turned to the others and nodded, whispering “Roight chums, ee’s ander. Let’s go!” As one they turned and scampered of into the hospital to keep their pre-arranged assignation…
To be continued…
All my “Snatched From Steelhead” posts can be read on my blog here.
Links to other blogs and stories:
1) My background in the Ashiko Kuroe case can be found here here.
2) Some posts from the New Babbage Ning outlining the actions (or not, he is awaiting trial as I type this remember) of Captain Kuroe can be read here and here and here.
3) Captain Kuroe’s letter to Steelhead can be read here.
4) The appointment of Mr Byron Wexhome by Mayor Tenk can be found here.
5) Mr Wexhome’s initial investigations can be read here and here.
6) Mr Wexhome’s proposed Plan can be read here.
7) The details of Ashiko’s new leg can be read here.
8 ) The Urchins’ call to arms (and cake) can be read here and here.
9) My telegrams to Steelhead regarding New Babbage’s Engines of War can be read here.
10) Dr Beck’s near-fatal last trip to Clockhaven is journaled here.