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To: Office of the Clockwinder

From: Dagger, J. CDRE, NBM

Re: Van Creed

After the actions of today's date, I would recommend the following:

1) Seizure of all attributable Van Creed society assets within New Babbage

2) Place all parts of the Porte Terrarum (aka Eliot Device) under city control.

3) Immediate demolition and clearance of the Colton & Co factory building, as same is a hazard.

4) Sealing of the foundation in concrete.

5) Issuance of a warrant for Barnaby Hopkins.

J. Dagger, commanding.
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The stack of reports on her desk had managed to grow quite a bit over the last few days. With  everything that had been going on in town, the field agents that Jed had employed were feeding a steady stream of information back to her, and the news was not good. The Van Creed had kept a pretty low profile overall, but they were still working in the warehouse. She'd need some more eyes on the building, and perhaps another look inside. After writing a short note, the pneumatic tube carried the request on it's way to the maze of drops that would eventually place the instructions in the hand of an operator.

It had become apparent a while back that in order to efficiently and swiftly gather intelligence, there would need to be a network of people out in the field gathering information and sending it back to be checked, verified and processed. She laughed to herself that while this was possible on her own a few years ago, it wasn't nearly as easy or simple now. While Jed could still operate in some places with the impunity she enjoyed back in her anonymous days, it just wasn't possible to do that in New Babbage anymore. So for once, she was the handler, and she had managed assets to do the fieldwork.

She'd been diligent, reading all the reports, putting together briefings for the Mayor, working on keeping him informed. Tenk would do what he always did, nod, fiddle with his pipe, make a few sotto voce comments, and say thank you. She had hoped there would be more firm resolute action, hoping he would say “take care of it Jed” or something like that. Instead he just looked distant and peeved that this kept coming up. The man was inscrutable.

The last two bits came in very close together. One of the people watching the port reported a large number of crates being unloaded and carried to the warehouse in the Gut. Loads in, empties out. They couldn't identify the exact types of cargo, only that some of it was heavy and there seemed to be quite a bit of it. The other was a direct action report, that made Jed more worried that the cargo going to the building.

“Doors are now intact and secured. What appears to be a storage tank and distillation equipment installed in the rear of the building. Mechanical noise coming from inside. Orpheus sited on grounds. No sight of any Pluto members. Continuing to observe, will ingress if opportunity presents, or orders to contrary. JdA”

Jed read the note and made a few entries into the bound book that kept the information on this whole affair. She had codenamed Moriarty 'Orpheus' since he came back from the underworld, and the Van Creed had gotten the moniker 'Pluto' since they apparently wanted to send us all to Hades...

She fired off a note in reply, and prayed it would be enough...

“Maintain your watch. If opportunity arises, send Orpheus back home, with expedition and prejudice. If Pluto's minions are afoot, seek to identify and potentially isolate a subject for closer conversation. Morrigan”

She thought about the Writer, what the book had said about the raid. Maybe it was right, maybe she would...somehow, in the midst of that thought, she caught herself in a new habit that made her stop for a moment. Jed looked down at her left hand, and noticed that she had been absently twirling the band on her ring finger as the ideas of what the Writer had said swirled through her mind. The ring, the silver of the band and the crimson of the stone sitting against the faint lines of the scars on her hands. When Moriarty had nearly killed her before, things were different. Now, she had a few more reasons to fight. Maybe the book will be fulfilled. But maybe, the book is only what could be. Jed leaned back and decided that she was going to make sure that the future was not written.

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The congregants filed out of the Cathedral of the Builder, shaking hands with the Brother who delivered the service and gathering in little groups there in the lee of the chapel. Many talked quietly about the strange goings-on in town, or the more nervous folk who decided to evacuate. One attendee had another plan and another reason for sitting through the sermon. The man slipped into the alcove of the chapel, and there found the object of his attention, a crate marked “For Clerical Use Only”. The crate was filled with squarish parcels wrapped in brown paper and string, and as he lifted it the contents made a muted metallic click. He slipped the package into his coat pocket and he joined the group outside, shaking the Brother's hand and complimenting him on the logic of his sermon.

The man walked off towards Ruby's Pub to see a friend, collect a debt, and have a pint.

………………………………………….

The deliveryman stood smiling, hand out at the door of the office as the tall redhead fished in her purse for the correct change. She looked at the large silver coins and was struck with a sudden pulse of generosity. Dropping 6 coins in the courier's hand, she smiled and cradled the bundle he had just brought to the door.
“Thankee mam.” He smiled and headed back towards the Post Office.

Jed opened the package, and after undoing the careful wrapping and the layers of crumpled sheets of newsprint, found what she had been waiting for...5 metallic cartridges of a caliber she couldn't recognize and with an oddly formed bullet protruding from the end. Smiling, she placed the cartridges in her pocket, stuffed the box into the stove, and headed back to the building that housed Ying Research. She walked in, kicked the snow off of her boots and looked around the shop for signs of what Kimika was working on today. The submarine was still in the main workbay and as Jed walked closer she saw a booted leg and the hem of a skirt protruding from an access panel on the aft quarter of the boat.
“Hello dear. What are you up to in there?”
The leg promptly disappeared into the access hatch and a few moments later the raven-haired head of the former Miss Ying appeared out of the hatch.
“Hello love. Remember how we were discussing the descent issue over supper? I had an idea to increase the flow rate to the ballast tank, so I’ve been working on the valves. How has your day been so far?”
Jed smiled that crooked little smile that indicated that she was up to something. “I need you to take a look at something for me. It’s a specialized cartridge that I would like to make in a caliber I can use. I need a full metallurgic breakdown, design analysis, and an estimate of how hard it would be to reproduce. I’ll just leave them on your desk.”
Kimika looked up at her, and nodded. “I should be done with this in a bit, and I’ll let you know what I find out.”
“Thank you dear.” Jed said, bending to kiss her forehead. She turned and walked back over to the office to continue sorting through the mass of paperwork associated with the matters at hand.

………………………………………….

Later that afternoon the entry bell on the entrance rang, and Jed saw a very welcome sight. Kimika walked across the workshop floor, carrying a tin lunch pail in one hand and a box in the other. She had that look on her face, so Jed stopped working and waited for her to walk into the office.
“There. I brought you some food since I know you haven't eaten, and I have a surprise for you as well.” Kimika sat the box on the desk, and pulled off the slip-fit lid to reveal 25 large brass cartridges.
“I found the unloaded casings you bought for the Greener, and used them. The bullets themselves had a few curious features, and a few extra things added to the lead, but it wasn't anything that took too horribly long to figure out. The physical design of the bullet itself was actually more difficult. Each one of them has writing on it. Almost a sort of incantation...I assume you'll want to test them, and I also assume you'll try to insist doing it alone, and of course you know I'll not let you go by yourself.”
Jed looked into Kimika's eyes and realized that this was going to be a no-win situation, and despite the fact she had worked very hard to keep her partner out of harm's way, it was apparent that there were two risk-takers in the Dagger house now.

…...............................................................

Jed decided to do the test at the pod in the old cemetery behind the Academy. This would give them a good route of egress should the rounds not work. Kimika stood back at the gate as Jed walked up to the cylinder and gave it a solid kick with the sole of her boot. The kick was rewarded with the appearance of three of the cyclopean little crabs, who rushed to defend the pod from the intrusion. She ran back to the gate, where it was quickly closed. She knew she'd only have a short time to shoot, because the crabs would use the bodies of their cohorts to climb over the fence to get at the two women.

Jed leveled the Greener at the first creature, the steel nosecap of the heavy police shotgun just inches away from the beast. The sound of the shot was punctuated by the scream of the creature, who lurched as the heavy slug punched through it is shell. She reloaded and fired again, the creature screaming as it evaporated into a cloud of slimy smoke. Jed fired and fired until the creatures were all gone, the barrel of the shotgun too hot to hold.

“Well, that proves they can be killed, and if they can be then maybe we still have a chance” Jed said. Kimika smiled, and nodded. “A chance is all we need.”
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Jed walked into the militia office with a mixed sense of dread and relief. Fleet Week was nearly over, and with the end of the Winterfell festivities, it was time to get back to work. The Smokes were safely back in port or back on their normal station, and now came the time to take care of whatever had accumulated in the inbox. She walked upstairs and settled into her chair behind the desk when she started to notice signs that someone had been using the facilities. The inkwell was woefully low, the paper box was nearly empty again and her favorite pen, the Esterbrook with the rosewood holder, was not on its spot by the blotter. This would not do. The final straw was the errant cup and saucer that had wandered onto the stack of invoices from the victuallers. She examined the cup, and the residue contained therein. Tea. There could only be one person who would be drinking tea at her desk.

After removing the cup to the side table, she removed a fresh pencil from the side drawer of the desk and pointed it with her jackknife. She pulled out the memo book from her jacket, and started a fresh page with the title “Militia Items to be done”. One, appoint an aide. Two, remind volunteers that they should use the staff desk on the 1st floor.

Satisfied that she was off to a good start on her list, Jed leaned back and began to read through the stack of papers that had accumulated in the Inbox while she had been taking care of the fleet. It seems that the incidences of vandalism were up and that the chatter in town was beginning to take a decidedly unfriendly turn with respect to the Mayor’s office. It was odd that the report seemed to use many of the same phrases that Scottie had the other night. Almost word for word in fact, so much that she checked who had sent the brief in and who had made the statement.

Jed picked up the memo book and wrote another entry. Three, prepare for civil unrest. Tenk was mayor, and while she had questions about some decisions he’d made in the past, he had given her the commission, and the authority to act not only as Commander of the militia, but in the other capacities in which she served the city. This was a matter that would require a bit more observation, and a bit more preparation.

The next few reports were concerning the strange crablike creatures that seemed to have appeared in concert with the pods scattered around town. They were getting more aggressive as time passed, and it seemed that only the strange gun she picked up at the church had any real effect on them. This would be another item on the list that will take more work, and more research.

The final sheet of paper bore a surprise that was not only unanticipated but rather welcome. There on an old piece of 6th Company (Ladies' Coy) letterhead was a request for reactivation of commission from one Stargirl MacBain. Jed looked long and hard at the words on the page, and caught herself looking at the bottom of the page. Capt. Beq Janus, Commanding, Sgt-Major J. Dagger Senior NCO. She realized that was a world away now, as far removed from today as the Moon from the Vernian. The greater irony was that now as then New Babbage was being threatened by Jason Moriarty. She looked at her hands, and even after three years you could still see the fine lines and scars where she had been burned on that cold afternoon on Jefferson Way.

Jed collected her thoughts, and returned to the matter at hand. Star had been a very interesting case, between the perils of laudanum and her issues with dear sweet Samuel, someone would surely question the command decision of not only returning her to active service, but what she was thinking now. I need an aide, she thought, and I need one I can trust, both in ability and in action. She leaned back and absently put her hands into her coat pockets as she thought. Her fingers touched something metallic, and when she pulled it out to examine it Jed found a medium sized nail. Sister Loxley had given it to her while the fleet was preparing to leave for Winterfell, saying that it would be a reminder of the Builder's plans. The nail was placed on the blotter, and a fresh sheet of paper was taken from the desk drawer. Once upon a time Star had hinted that she hoped that I didn't know everything about her past and what she had done. As she wrote, Jed hoped that everything she had heard wasn't a lie. This was about to be a time for people with scarred knuckles, a time where the city itself would hinge on having people in its service who would do what needed to be done to save the city, no matter the deed or the cost.

Jed thought back to a chat she'd had with Moses Mureaux in the old Topographical Service office, when he said that there are hundreds of things that must be done to preserve the world as most people know it, things that are necessary and distasteful, and might cause some to wonder why. He smiled that same old smile at the end when she gave him the package that contained a single rifle round and a household signet ring and told her she had learned well.
If Star wasn't sober or reliable, she'd be assigned as quartermaster to the detachment in Raimondo to deal with the warehouse and the marines at the coaling station. If she proved to be untrustworthy, she'd long to be sent to Raimondo.
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Private Journal (and all that entails)
2 Nov NByr5

I managed to walk home, and sitting here in the apartment I can still hear that thing ringing in my head.  I’m really surprised at how well my handwriting looks as badly as my hands are shaking now.  I moved down to the sitting room with my writing box, lights lowered, and I almost had to laugh as it reminded me of being back in school staying up past curfew.  Unlike those days, I have my back pressed to the corner, pistol at my side, eyes darting to the doorways with every tenuous word written.

The night had started off well enough, with a quick visit to Cuffs to see how the Melniks were faring.  We talked for a bit about the current goings-on around town, and Scottie mentioned that he was going to try something in respect to the pod that was underneath Loner Lane.  Kane flew in, and I was getting ready to follow them to the sewer, when one of the Clockhaven runners sprinted by jabbering at the top of his lungs.  I managed to catch him, and after a short bit of breath-catching was told that Kristos Sonnerstein was running around Clockhaven raving like a lunatic.  I told the runner to sit down for a bit, get a glass of Sky’s cider and relax before going back to work. He gave me a look, and I smiled and said I’d take care of it.  He giggled and smiled broadly.
 
I headed back to City Hall for a second and picked up a tranquilizer gun from the emergency stores locker, then headed back towards Clockhaven.  Walking up the stairs just past the Militia Building, I heard him talking.  He was standing next to the fountain, babbling about something or another.  Figuring that given his current state he’d need a little more help, I dialed up the ‘macho man’ serum setting and potted him with a dart.

He kept on talking and said something about the basement.  He pointed down towards the fencing salon of Dr Cyberfaustus, and then returned to the nonsensical sing song chatter he was spewing before.  I corked him with another dart at that point, and apparently 2 doses was enough to take the edge off of whatever had ginned him up.  He walked off towards the Gangplank, and I decided to see what was down the stairs.

It was another one of those podworms, that huge eye staring at me out of the slimy tube, mouth writhing.  This time, something happened. Unbeknownst to me at the same time I walked up to the pod to take a look at it the same time the Melniks were using Kane to dislodge the one on Loner Lane.  It screamed, screamed like nothing I had ever heard before.  I fell back to the wall and tried to invoke the Iron Keep, but that scream burnt through my head like a hot poker.  My legs did manage to keep working and somehow the unconscious part of my mind kept my feet moving and I was able to get more clearheaded the further I got away from it.

I wasn’t really sure how long it took me to walk across to Cuffs from Clockhaven, or how long it took me to walk to the circle of folks gathered around that manhole cover.  Everyone looked exceptionally shaken.  Both Scottie and Sky seemed particularly upset by what had happened.  Sky didn’t talk much as I walked up, and Scottie seemed unusually jittery.  Kane was lying on the sidewalk, steam leaking from rent spots on his glossy metallic hide.

Whatever had hit the humans there, it also whacked the automata as well.  I tried to talk to Kane and figure out what they had experienced, and based on what had happened to me, I came to the conclusion that the pods are like bamboo shoots or certain varieties of cottonwoods, many plants connected to a single taproot.  

Everyone seemed dazed, in shock.  Poor Kane was nearly shut down, to the point he repeated what seemed to be a blackcylinder recording stating that he should be delivered to the Europan Consulate for repairs.  I volunteered to go get the steam gurney at the shop to drag the poor thing off.

I returned to Cuffs and sat with the Melniks a while.  I finally asked them what happened, and Scottie explained what had triggered the scream.  He started to explain what he felt, but in actuality I was getting ready to see for myself.  While I had managed to protect my mind in the moment the scream began, I had no way of knowing that once I relaxed, once I felt comfortable with my friends that whatever had been stopped in Clockhaven would still be waiting to come out like shorting out a charged capacitor.  Scottie kept talking, but all I felt was anxiety.  Fear, dark and primal.  Long repressed emotion. Heartbreak.  Abandonment.  Death.  I saw Father leaving for the frontier, Mother’s funeral, Grandfather putting me on the train, dark basements, the smell of blood... The Melniks looked at me oddly as I staggered to the doors and vomited on the sidewalk.  Just as it came, it left.  All of us looked spent, so we went our ways to our own homes.

I walked into our bedroom, and sat there in dark for some time. Kimika stirred in her sleep, restively turning.  I sat, too shaken to sleep, listening to the slow rhythm of her breathing.

It was going to take a lot to stop these things, and I hope we can figure out how.

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Jedburgh Dagger

April 2014

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