Monday, December 20, 2010

The Adventure of the Black Heart, Part 1

I often have the occasion to think about the nature of evil, particularly the evil that men do to one another. I do not think men of the Steamlands are particularly vile - humankind is fairly consistent, it seems to me - but there is no denying that we have our fair share of mischief and wrongdoing. And perhaps the Steamlands, existing in a strange location in the time stream and subject to influences from other places and times, are susceptible to ancient evils, including those not of our own sphere.

These thoughts were not far from my mind when I read the dispatch from New Babbage: an archaeologist by the name of Bernard Blindside had gone missing. One might think that unremarkable, as the residents of New Babbage are in constant flux, and even an archaeologist might find it desirable to disappear, whether from creditors, an angry mistress, or merely a yearning to wake up to a different view. Yet Mr. Blindside had recently made a remarkable discovery on a site in Babbage Square, near the abandoned Imperial Theatre. He had unearthed a sarcophagus of ancient vintage and was in the process of examining the find when he vanished - and the sarcophagus showed signs of something bursting from within, leaving a thin trail of blood along the edges. This piqued my interest, but what moved me to pack my bags and ask that my airship be readied were the reports of a horrible creature, inhuman in form, having attacked several youngsters. One had vanished and was presumed dead, as no one could have survived that loss of blood (though he was later found alive, and the blood had a different explanation entirely). A young lady, reputed to be Miss Myrtil Igaly, had suffered a gash to her leg, though she was expected to make a full recovery. A third, Master Nat Merit, had also suffered a leg injury, this one so severe that the surgeons were forced to amputate. Babbage's street urchins, legendarily independent, street-savvy, and clever, had devised traps of increasing size and ingenuity with which to trap the creature, but had thus far met no success.

Were the three incidents - the discovery, Mr. Blindside's disappearance, and the creature's attacks - linked? Logic dictated that the answer was yes. I sensed the possibility of a story, one that might transcend the humdrum crimes I had been reporting of late. I left a note for Kathy to tell her where I was going and set out for New Babbage.


Winter had come early to the Steamlands and had hit New Babbage particularly hard. From the air, the city's normal sooty color had changed to white. True, it was a dingy, dirty white as the residue from the city's coal-fired power plants continued to rain on the streets and buildings, but it gave the impression of a soothing, peaceful place. How wrong initial impressions can be!

As I maneuvered the Hangover Two to the mooring tower, I could feel the wind buffet the airship. I managed to reach the grappling hook at the same time a large gust hit the ship and blew her sideways, and the ship shuddered to a halt on the hook after rocking against the tower. I exited the ship and sneaked a glance at the crew in the mooring tower, who were shaking their heads and no doubt complaining about female pilots from the safety of their heated control room. Why don't you boys try docking a ship in a gale, I fumed silently before making my way to the streets below.

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