The quiet duties have kept me busy. Frequently I visit the infirmary to check on Miss Clara. I've ordered stock of laboratory equipment for the Consulate. Occasionally I'll unwind at one of the midnight shows or rousing pub crawl.
Last night was different. Those who have suffered a trauma will tell you that there are times when one feels exactly as they did at their moment of greatest terror, and are then drawn back into that very scenario in their minds.
Maybe it was just a cat yowling in the snow. But I swear, ever fiber of my being told me it was the neko that my father had raised as his servant. The one to which I had given my heart. It was in this same sort of merciless December wind that I hacked off the padlock to my father's supply shed and pulled Lucian from the toxic fumes that bled off into the night air.
I had abandoned my correspondence with the Baron in mid-sentence and bolted through the twisted streets of Babbage. I made out the ever-present Clockwinder's stoic visage on the corner. I'm sure he suspected more of my "usual madness" as I called out my lover's name. I had no time for another leisurely double-distracted conversation this night.
My intellect knew I wouldn't find her. But I did find someone else.
The miserable waif had curled up on the manhole cover, trying to find protection from Winter's embrace in the cloak of fetid steam. The wind was too strong tonight. The added humidity and quite possibly the vapors from the sewers below may have hastened her demise.
The Urchins of Babbage cared for their own, and several shelters and inns welcomed and fed them, especially in this weather. What could explain this? I examined her pupils for signs of life. They were swollen and infected. Effectively blind. Her hands clutched tight a box of matches. A pile of charred splinters lay on the slick surface of the manhole cover.
The story was clear to me. She had been enslaved by some wretched excuse for a guardian, and she had burned her eyes away making the matches without even the cheapest pair of goggles for protection. Did she flee her Master, or was she turned out to raise funds for his loathsome ends?
"Herr Scientist! What is going on over there?"
I could not answer as I brought her into the laboratory and lay her frozen form down on the table. I rifled the inventory, screaming for a turnkey and finding none. This was not Mason Labs. Tools were not arranged and supplied to my specifications. Did I give up? NO! Not when I could hear her soul crying out to me, begging for another chance at a life squandered by another! I was a combat medic, dammit! You think I don't know how to improvise?
The matchbook fell from her hand as her body thawed. I opened it. There was one matchstick left. Yes, yes...it was all clear to me now. On the Festical of Lights, no less! I removed the stick carefully, and placed a coin in the box. I wrapped her hand tightly around the box.
"Thank you for the match, little one. Here is your payment...not only shall you live again, but you never suffer the cold again.
I replaced her diseased heart with an oil-burning engine and a pilot light. I bade her to wake, and she arose, staring down at her new Father adoringly with brand new eyes!
The Christmas revelry at the saloon across town died down as the residents leaned out of the doors and windows to hear that loony old Scientist at the Consulate bellowing SHE'S ALIVE SHE'S ALIVE SHE'S ALIVE...
I will endure any indignity, suffer any punishment, pay any price, so long as I am permitted to continue that practice which I consider the pinnacle of my training as a master of Science and the Hidden Arts. The most precious resource of the Steamlands is not coal or cavorite, My Friends. It is its children. And as long as YOU continue to waste their lives in the factories and mines and the most unspeakable places and toss them away like scrap...in the forests, the canals, the graveyards, the sewers and snowdrifts and shacks like my sweet Lucian...I will rescue them and care for them as my own! Will it take an ARMY of them patrolling the streets to ensure that another waif need never awake with a windup heart again? THEN SO BE IT!!!