Beryl Markham usually kept a sentry post at the entrance to Edenham during the day, as long as David Livingston was around to hold their claim on All Souls Church. Indeed, she had helped build the fortifications blocking off all but this one path into the small hamlet when Barrow Holm was designated the dumping ground for those who developed Joy intolerance. Most of the people she had built the barriers with had since succumbed to the various hazards of Wastrel life, but she remained. She was lucky, in her way. She’d seen the mistakes others had made and so she made it her duty to catch new Wastrels before they made the same errors and school them in the etiquette of the Garden District. She had posted the signs on the way in to help prevent mob murders, but a friendly face was a better teacher than passive aggressive notes.
She did this not just as an act of camaraderie with her fellow Wastrels, nor only to extort whatever goods they might have come here with – that was an important lesson for life in the Garden District itself: everything came at a price. She did this out of spite towards Mr. Kite and his safehouse.
Mikey Forrester always knew the day would come when Sally called in the favor he owed her, but he never thought she’d be so absolutely bollocks-for-brains careless about it. Thanks to her, he would have to skip his lunch break to clean up after the mess she’d made for him. He waited in his office until ten minutes past noon, then headed down the Wellington Health Institute’s records room. Hopefully the girls who ran that office had gone out to lunch.
The records room was clear thankfully. He checked that no one else was in the hall and slid through the door. He needed to find and remove their copy of Sally’s request so whatever she was doing couldn’t be traced back to him.
Mikey scanned the file cabinets until he found the F section, then looked at each label until he found the drawer that would contain his own records. Sliding the drawer open slowly so as not to make a racket, he looked over his shoulder before rifling through the folders. Faris, Farrell, Forrester. There it was. Now to find the B for Boyle file under that and… Mikey yanked out the offending missive and reread it just to reassure himself that it was just as egregious as he thought when he read the original in his office.
From the Desk of Beatrix Reeve
Voting Member, Executive Committee
Arkwright Labs, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research
Dear Mr. Arkwright,
It has come to the attention of the Executive Committee that Dr. Faraday has been suffering from an exhaustion borne of extraneous workload from her neighbors in St. George’s Holm. She even went so far as to be pretend to have blown up her own lab to convince the townspeople she was indisposed. All that property damage just to get a break from their requests! Though we found her attempt to address this problem herself quite novel, we felt the need to intercede once we confirmed she was not, in fact, dead as she had claimed.
It had been a whirlwind couple of months. If she’d been told that rainy night when she’d left their – Anton’s – house to go to Nick’s stupid party that she would never return, she wouldn’t have believed it. Yet here she was now in her own office with the lights off just in case, snatching notes out of her file cabinets and looting her own chemistry bench. Anton wasn’t in the office. Sally checked with Betty, his secretary, to make sure he’d be out at a lunch meeting when she came to collect her things. The absolute last thing she needed was for him to catch her here making off with company property. She tossed everything – gently, in the case of the chemicals – into a single banker’s box on her desk.
She only needed one last thing. Sally yanked open the fourth drawer of the last file cabinet and pushed the hanging folders back to reveal her new Joy formula notes lying hidden at the bottom of the drawer. She’d finally perfected it a couple months ago and had started using it herself, but she hadn’t told Anton. Her mother had always been so worried about Sally’s ability to keep a man around, but Sally had also learned that it was prudent to have a backup plan in case one needed to rid themselves of a man too. This new Joy formula was hers.
September 6th, 1964
Haworth made concerted efforts not to get comfortable with his life in the glass cell. Getting comfortable was dangerously close to getting lazy. Getting lazy would leave him unprepared to take an opportunity as it presented itself. So every morning, he dressed in his full attire just as he would have were he at home – or as if he had full intention of leaving Haworth Labs that day – before Dr. Hughes came around to dose him with Coconut.
Some mornings, though, he woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
When the lights flicked on overhead today, the light filtering in under the blanket he always pulled up over his head as he slept exactly because the lights flicked on so abruptly, Haworth eased into wakefulness and an oppressive gloom. He woke with that feeling often so he got out of bed like he always did and dressed before his usual morning audience arrived in spite of it.
Sometimes the Coconut would help, pushing the dreary feeling into the background. By the third day of the same dosage, however, the odds were in favor of the morosity winning out. He’d been in a sour mood since yesterday’s visit with Verloc, brief moment of fun working out that code with Gemma notwithstanding. His patient notes had really said it all. Admitted November 10th, 1960, the day his entire world inverted on itself.
“I could put some hinges on it, maybe. Or install a knob,” Corporal Hardy said. The only thing Hardy’s skill set as a joiner and that of a shipwright had in common was carpentry work. Fortunately or not, Hardy managed to get the wooden part of General Byng’s boat in working order weeks ago, but that left him with no other improvements to report now. Despite his admitted lack of ability, though, this was a good post to have so he made a symbolic show of looking busy by polishing a smudge of the battered yet shiny hull. “Aside from that, I don’t think there’s much else I can do for it. The engine’s rusted over, but I don’t know the first thing about motorworks.”
“If we was meant to be in boats, we’d be the Home Navy, now wouldn’t we?” Corporal Cheeseman groused. He’d been sent to check on Hardy’s progress in this foolhardy endeavor. “Where does the General think he needs a boat to get off to anyway?”
September 6th, 1964
Gemma felt better today. Not by much, but enough to think there was some improvement. Or maybe she was growing used to the discomfort that it was fading into background noise. As she pulled her blanket tighter and sipped her chicory, she assessed her condition. The headache and fever both persisted, but she found they didn’t take up all her mental energy when she was alone with no one to focus her attention on.
Lucky thing too, as Gemma felt she’d made enough progress with Verloc to proceed into the compliment phase of Mary Ann’s interview tactics. She’d need more to talk about than his hair though, she thought as she bit into her apple. She’d probably played that angle out as far as it was going to go, but she was coming up empty on anything else to praise Verloc for. Gemma couldn’t see what Sally ever saw in him, and her theory that their relationship was only ever a facade on Sally’s part was starting to look a lot more likely. Still, if Sally had managed to stick with him for three years, there had to be something admirable about Verloc that Gemma could use to flatter him into submission.
September 5th, 1964
Freshly gassed with Coconut, Haworth waited at the end of his bed for the mist to settle and his breakfast to be brought in. When his door opened at 8:00 o’clock sharp – contrary to most employers who had to grant some leniency with time once Joy had been introduced, Verloc insisted that the daily schedule be maintained with exacting punctuality – a new nurse he didn’t recognize came in with his morning meal.
“Oh! You’re a new face,” Haworth said, slipping into his tried and true harmless old man act. “And a pretty one too! Just when I thought it couldn’t get any brighter in here.” While he usually acclimated to his increased dosage of Coconut by the second day enough as to be in more deliberate control of himself, this was an act he’d perfected over his years in here so well that he no longer needed cunning to perform it. He could play it entirely on instinct now.
“Don’t try to sweet talk me, Dr. Haworth,” the new nurse said. Her tone was brusque and her posture guarded. She kept a close eye on him as the door closed behind her. “The others warned me about you.”
It turned out the robots weren’t actually equipped to troubleshoot faulty programming in a human being. It was not a matter of simply opening a file, looking over the code, and editing broken logic. Humans didn’t work that way. The only way to interface with them was to explain the correct logic and hope they understood and would amend the errors in their programming themselves.
Nonetheless, after being made to observe the robots in their own world, Dr. Faraday had to acknowledge the evidence suggesting the robots did possess more emotional range than lobsters at least. Once she conceded that point, then she could admit that perhaps it was unethical to kidnap and enslave them.
The one point on which Dr. Faraday was adamant was that it was not wrong to force them to feel happy. On this matter, she simply would not concede.
The robots had made their terms clear however: a portal would be opened only once more and any parties who did not cross at that time would remain in their world thereafter. If Roger and James wanted to take Dr. Faraday home with them – and everyone agreed that it was in everyone’s best interest that they do – she would need to acknowledge the robots’ feelings about being reprogrammed in full.
September 5th, 1964
The fever had set in today, and Gemma oscillated back and forth between sweating like a pig and being chilled to the bone, but at least the headache finally seemed to plateau. It still cut a sharp, persistent throb in her sinuses and eyes, but served to distract from how cold Gemma felt. She kept her blanket pulled around her tightly, even as she left the bed to eat her breakfast, making herself into a puffy marshmallow shivering at her tea table.
After breakfast, Gemma sat herself on the bed with her back to the wall with the window into the next cell, bundled up in her blanket, and waited for Dr. Verloc. When he arrived, they shared the space, but neither spoke. He didn’t even announce himself or greet her today. He simply let himself in, leaned against the wall by the door, and favored her with a glance every so often. Gemma sincerely wondered what these visits were meant to accomplish. Verloc did not seem the least bit interested in her or her condition or how she was adjusting to the switch between Blackberry and Coconut.
“What are you actually doing in here?” Gemma asked finally, her voice weary. “I can’t imagine you’re finding out much just standing there.”
“I’m observing,” Verloc said tersely.
“Have you observed anything interesting yet?” Gemma asked, trying to put on some of her flirtatious charm but her tone faltered midway through and she came off snappy instead. She felt too sweaty and shivery to convince even herself that she was up to that approach in this condition.