Ashiko Kuroe

Snatched From Steelhead: Chapter 4 – Owls, bunnies, kids & cake…

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.

Arriving in Clockhaven_001

Arriving in Clockhaven_002

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.

Ryne at the William Wilde Hospital_001

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.

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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…

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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.

Cross-posted to the Steelhead Ning and the New Babbage Ning.

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Snatched From Steelhead: Chapter 3 – Back to New Babbage

The owl gazed at Dr Beck with eyes as inscrutable as time itself. For his part, Beck stared back with his one open eye full of confusion and sleep. He propped himself up on his elbows and blinked a few times. The owl sitting on the back of his chair failed to vanish and instead stared coolly back him.

“Erm, hello?” Beck mumbled. The owl blinked once very, very slowly. “You’re one of the Mayor’s owls, aren’t you? One of his messengers?”. Blink. Beck stood up and gingerly walked towards the owl as if it were a fiver pound note on a windowsill in danger of blowing away. The owl just sat and watched him. “Do, er, do you have a message for me then?”. Blink. Beck waited. The owl watched him. Beck shuffled his feet a little. The owl tipped his head almost imperceptibly in such a way as to make Beck feel decidedly nervous. “If you do, may I have the message, please?” he asked. The owl did nothing for a very, very log second before tucking its beak under its wing and pulling something small out from its feathers and flicking it towards Beck. The still sluggish doctor missed it and it fell to the floor at his feet. He bent to examine it and saw it was a small, folded piece of paper roughly half an inch square and one eighth of an inch think. “Thank you. Does the Mayor expect a rep…?” he stopped as his hair was ruffled a sudden breeze and he looked up to see a small cloud of soot fall from his chimney as the owl left. “…ly. I’ll take that a no, then” he completed to himself. He looked at the paper in his hand for several seconds before unfolding it. It was a letter from the Mayor himself, handwritten in his swirling spidery script…

To: Dr. R. Beck.
No. 13 Shamian Alley, Shanghai, Stlhd.

Dear Sir,

Following your rather vocal appeals to the citizens and civic leaders of New Babbage over the recent incident involving one Captain Kuroe I have been visited by a representative of Mayor Tenk who wished to discuss the matter as well as possible solutions.

To cut a long tale short the accused will receive a fair trial in a location still to be decided (although I favour Steeltopia, it is possible that Caledon may be chosen). In the meantime, and following rumours not only of limb amputation but also of beatings meted out to the prisoner, I have agreed you will travel to the William Wilde Hospital in New Babbage and act as his personal physician and, after a fashion, his guard until the trial is completed and justice seen to be done.

I realise you are a busy man and therefore I have booked you on the noon steamer from Steelhead Harbour to Clockhaven.

Travel well and I know I need not remind you to uphold the proud reputation of our city at all times and be the best ambassador we can expect, so I won’t.

Respectfully yours,
TotalLunar Eclipse.
Mayor of Steelhead & Environs.

Beck read and re-read the letter several times as the full weight of its message sunk in. He had to go back to Clockhaven. Today. Now. He had to pack. He had to be ready and on that steamer in time, Steelhead was counting on him. “Oh God, I need a cup of tea,” was all he could say.

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Half an hour after the Clockhaven Queen had paddled away from Steelhead and out to sea with a nervous Beck onboard a tall, worried Chinese man was knocking on the locked surgery door. He was scared and upset. Back at home his wife had sunk further in to the darkest places of her mind and had become all but lost to him. He was sure she was in danger from herself and he needed the English doctor to come and help. The doctor had been so good to his wife since their child had been snatched and killed. The doctor would be able to help. The man knocked louder, “Dr Beck! Dr Beck! Li Fe father! You come help Dr Beck! Please come help!”

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To be continued…
All the “Snatched From Steelhead” posts can be read here.

Links to other blogs and stories:
1) The background to the Ashiko Kuroe case can be found here.
2) Captain Kuroe’s letter to Steelhead can be read here.
3) The appointment of Mr Byron Wexhome by Mayor Tenk can be found here.
4) Mr Wexhome’s initial investigations can be read here and here.
5) Mr Wexhome’s proposed Plan can be read here.
6) The terrible tale of poor Li Fe can be read here.
7) Dr Beck’s near-fatal last trip to Clockhaven is journaled here.

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Snatched From Steelhead: Chapter 2 – When Justice Is Blinded!

Say No to New Babbage_001

A few days ago a man was taken by force from the streets of Shanghai in Steelhead. Now as this was Shanghai rather than Boomtown or Capital City and given that the man in question could at best be described as a pirate accused of arson & murder many may not raise an eyebrow too high, but raise them high I say, high and arched with concern for what happened to that man was an affront to our fair city and a threat to every citizen who calls it home.

Mr Undertone, the head of the New Babbage Militia, under the auspices of that sooty city’s Clockwinder Mayor Tenk sent armed goons to snatch one Ashiko Kuroe (accused pirate, accused firestarter, accused bunny murderer & odd-choice for an Ambassador for the floating state of Armada) at knife-point from a tea-house in Shanghai. He was spirited away to a New Babbage jail where, it is rumoured, his leg was amputated as part of a payment for a previous contract with Mayor Tenk who then ate it. Yes. Ate it. In discussions with the good bergers of New Babbage I have detected as much shock & horror at this outcome as would be expected among such civilised peoples, but I’m sorry to say that not every New Babbage voice is rational or reasonable – Mr Underby (whom I mistakenly took for the head of the militia) is one such unreasonable soul who has even begun to speak of, and I quote, “open war” with Steelhead!

Now if Mr Kuroe is guilty then I will be the first to say he must pay for his crimes, but to send hob-nailed booted thugs to our city rather than go through the offices of Mayor Eclipse and Sheriff Ortega is disgusting! Steelhead is a fair city, a just city, a law-abiding city. We have rules, regulations, protocols, laws! If New Babbage feel they can simply walk in and snatch people from under our noses, then what’s to say that you or I won’t be next?

Some less than rtional voices in New Babbage have accused Steelhead of wilfully harbouring a dangerous criminal, but I tell you here and now this is not true! Such talk, such mud flung in anger and, dare I say, shame by those guilty of strampling our city’s laws is a mere distraction to the actual matter in hand, to wit the illegal incursion by another city’s armed militia. Do let us not be continually distracted by the erroneous argument that Steelhead somehow condones vile crimes such as arson and murder and is happy to harbour the criminals who perpetrate them. It does not and is not. But at the same time Steelhead believes in higher ideals – the ideals of Justice for all not just those in power; Liberty for all not just those in privilege, and The Rule of Law for all not just those in High Office (or, indeed, clock tower).

Join me, good people of Steelhead, New Babbage and every Steamlands state, in a protest to hold New Babbage’s leaders to account! Take one of the posters below or go to Steelhead’s City Hall for a selection of placards and make your feelings known – if we don’t stand up now, who knows what evil will be perpetrated next?

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To be continued…
All the “Snatched From Steelhead” posts can be read here.

Links to other blogs and stories:
1) Mara Razor’s initial posts on the Steelhead Ning and the New Babbage Ning.
2) My posts on the Steelhead Ning and the New Babbage Ning.
3) Ashiko Kuroe’s post on the Steelhead Ning.
4) Reference to the affair was made in the June 1st Steelhead Town Hall Meeting, the minutes of which were reprinted in the Steelhead Sentinel.
5) Mr Underby meets the accused to measure his neck!

Steelhead vs NB 002 Steelhead vs NB 001

Steelhead vs NB 004 Steelhead vs NB 003

Snatched From Steelhead: Chapter 1 – What price justice?

Steelhead Protests Poster

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To be continued…
All the “Snatched From Steelhead” posts can be read here.

Links to other blogs and stories:
1) A list of New Babbage & Steelhead Ning posts can be found here.

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