Migrating some old stuff from another blog so I can delete it! Hooray for digital consolidation.
Originally written for @iheartmuseums.
Part 1: A flurry of activity
“This shall be a fantastic celebration!”
“Yes, sir, but there is still a substantial amount of work to be done in the exhibition hall…” replied Nic, assistant to the esteemed yet eccentric Warrick Hammersmith.
“Just think of it!” He interrupted. “The 250th anniversary, think of it!” Warrick shook his head in a daze. Only that morning, had he received the final confirmations for the artefacts required for the exhibition – most importantly, the objects from the Hunterian. All the various agencies that held the objects for the exhibition had now started their journey to the Science Museum.
“Warrick, I’m going to need you to sign some papers and meet with some donors…” Nic tried to interject with the regular day’s business to no avail.
“Let me know when it arrives, I’ll be in my office!” Warrick burbled off excitedly as he nearly careened off another assistant on his way to his office.
“Brains” Nic thought, “who can get that excited about that many brains.” Still, she was oddly proud of her eccentric boss, for some reason his enthusiasm was infectious and it was hard not to smile at his odd behaviour.
As the senior curator at the London Science Museum, Warrick was a handful for even the most patient personal assistant. Nic was able to keep him contained; ricocheting him in the right directions, shaking the right hands and making all the important meetings. He brought people into the museum on an unprecedented scale. More impressive than that was his ability to make money appear like magic. Somehow he always managed to persuade the most hardened, cynical and uncommitted grants committees to change their minds. When faced with the indomitable spirit and energy of Warrick Hammersmith, no one stood a chance. His critics liked to credit his mischievous boyish grin, tousled brown hair that flipped over his grey eyes and uncanny ability to always look perfect in a suit for his success. His admirers knew he was a genius. This exhibition was no exception to his amazing ability to make the impossible a reality – but even this was the grandest and most ambitious that he had managed to organize.
Nic was about to go knock on his door but it suddenly popped open and Warrick’s head appeared.
“Yes Nic! Of course Nic, fetch me after tea and we’ll sort out my schedule, shall we?” He flashed another one of his boyish, abashed smiles and was gone once again.
“Except, that you were supposed to meet with them before tea!” She called out to the closed door. They would wait, they always did. Stories of Warrick were famous, everyone wanted to shake his hand and have a word. He had an amazing way with people when he was able to take his mind of his work for five minutes. His charm was that he made people fall in love with these outlandish ideas; Warrick would convince them with the utmost certainty the exhibitions needed to happen. “For the good of culture! No! History! Posterity, the entire Nation!” was how he persuaded the last collection manager to allow the transport of some delicate objects.
When he first proposed the theme of the exhibition, Great Minds, she doubted even he would be able to convince museums all over the world to give up some of their precious objects – even for such a short time. Let alone what he was planning to do once he had some of them.
Nic looked at her watch, it was barely ten and her schedule had been completely thrown. She shifted the pile of documents requiring signatures to her other arm. No time to go back to her office, she trekked through the museum floor in order to meet the donors at the entrance. Part of the floor’s collection had been moved to the exhibition hall already. She passed some of the remaining Babbage engines and looked at the almost empty case of Babbage’s effects.
“It is all your fault, you know” she said to the case. “Charles, I think you are the only person he cares about.” Nic explained to the brain stem and right hemisphere of Charles Babbage’s brain. He was scheduled to be removed to the lab to be reconnected with the left lobe coming from the Hunterian. “I’m going to have to keep it secret from him all day in order to get some work done!” Warrick had always been interested in Babbage’s Brain and some of the jokes around the Museum cantered on this eccentric interest. “I guess it is your birthday and I should play nice, Happy Birthday Chuck, you are making my job impossible.” She checked her reflection in the glass case, pulling a stray lock of her black hair behind her ear, and adjusted her glasses. “I’m getting as bad as him, talking to objects!” Nic shook her head and took leave of the cabinet, in a hurry to meet the guests.
It was late afternoon and Warrick was sipping a cup of tea, having just shown the donors off. He poured over the exhibition specifications and lists of objects.
“Sir?” One of the exhibition’s curatorial assistants knocked on his office door. “You asked us to tell you when we were moving the object.”
“Yes? Oh! Yes!” Warrick stood up in a flurry, knocking over pens and papers. He looked around distressed at the sudden avalanche of paper but shook his head and let it be. “Let us move him shall we?” Warrick grinned and rubbed his hands together. “Terribly exciting, isn’t it?”
They made their way to the floor. The display case had already been opened and they were about to transfer Babbage’s brain.
“Carefully! Carefully! We don’t want to give him a headache with all that jostling!” He giggled at his own joke and fluttered about the assistants as they loaded the object onto the trolley. Soon they had the case put back together and were whisking the eminent mathematician’s brain to the lab, where Warrick would soon be putting the two halves back together again for the display. There would be tests taken and papers written when it was all done, to be sure.
The assistants left the lab but Warrick lingered awhile, looking intensely at the jar.
“Difference engines, yes.” He said absentmindedly.
“Warrick?” Nic poked her head into the lab to find the curator still looking intently at the old brain.
“Hmm?” He replied dreamily.
Part 2: The Exhibition opens
Screams rang out through the night, still audible over the growing chaos. But he just kept running.They all needed to run, why didn’t they realize this? Screaming and begging would not help, they would all be lost if they did not move.But he couldn’t help them; he couldn’t waste his breath to shout at them, he needed it all to run.
He felt the ground shake before he heard the noise of the explosions. At first they were first far away and he felt hope rise, believeing that he could outrun it all. That he could escape. Boom. Quickly though, they started to get closer and the ground shook so much it made his legs buckle. If only they would stop, he could run fast enough to escape this time. Boom. Boom. He could feel the temperature start rising around him and the explosions were nearly right on top of him. BOOM BOOM BOOM!
“Warrick?” Nic shook the shoulder of her boss.
“Gnah!?”Warrick awoke with a start. He looked around, panicking for a moment until he focussed on the objects in the lab. The dreams were getting more frequent, more urgent. But a voice told him to forget, to let it go. That it didn’t matter. He shook his head, trying to shake the images and the voice from his mind.
“Are you alright, sir?” Nic peered over her glasses, her blue eyes examining her boss closely. He looked shattered, like he had not slept in days. His normally bright eyes looked dull and red rimmed, underscored by deep blue circles.
“Yes. Nic. Fine.” Warrick stood up slowly, pinching the bridge of his nose. “It is just that you startled me.”
“Sir, have you been here all night?” Nic asked. Warrick looked at her for a moment and then to the window, where the early morning light was shining through.
“I only put my head down for a moment…” he replied dazed. Worse than that, he thought, I don’t remember what I had been doing the entire night. He quickly checked his watch “oh my stars and galaxies!” He clasped his head in his hands for a moment, shaking his head from side to side.
“Sir, you can’t keep doing this. It is not healthy, I know you are concerned about the exhibition opening but everything is on schedule for once! You can have a rest, go home and sleep properly.” She looked at him shake his head and begin to protest.“ Sir, if this had happened once I could understand but…”
“Nic,” Warrick interrupted, trying to think of a way to argue his way out of this situation, but she was right, he needed to rest. The nights and days had blurred and he didn’t even know what the work he was doing anymore. He didn’t feel like he was in control. Warrick sighed and finally gave into the concerned looks of his faithful assistant, “I will go home, I promise. I finished it last night.”
“Really?!” Nic couldn’t help but grin, the exhibition was opening in just under two days and this was the last piece to go in.
“Yes. Finally. It has been quite difficult as you know. There were…complexities that I had not foreseen in my original research.” He gathered up his jacket and looked at the cloth covered object on the lab bench.
“Make sure they move it very carefully, it is extremely delicate.” He kept staring at it for a moment longer before shaking his head. He slowly walked to the door and grasped the handle. “Are you sure, you will all be okay?”
“Go, sir,” Nic said smiling, “come back shiny and new, ready to open the Exhibition.”
“Maybe…” he tried to venture before being cut off by the command of his assistant.
Nic looked around the Exhibition. She had only lost sight of him for a moment.
“Drat,” she muttered. She had so far been successful in avoiding her least favourite person in the entirety of the heritage industry. Daniel V. Waßerhaus, the collection manager at the Hunterian and her former colleague. He knew he’d want to talk to her at some point in the evening but Nic was determined to avoid it altogether. Warrick had looked even more tired opening the Exhibition than when she had sent him from the lab two days earlier. He had still managed to put in a brilliant performance but Nic could tell he was drained. He was leaning heavily on the cane he usually adopted for affectation, never straying very far from the new Babbage display. She knew Daniel would want to quiz her about Warrick’s appearance but more importantly the procedure of putting the hemispheres of the Mathematician’s brain back together again. She had managed to keep Daniel in her sight most of the night, as he was also obsessing over the Babbage display.
“Where did that arrogant, good for nothing…” she started to mutter.
“Nicole, my dear, this exhibition turned out simply marvellous,” said a voice from behind Nic, startling her enough to spill her wine. Daniel V.Waßerhaus, the golden-haired foreigner who swept London society of its feet, delighted on catching Nic of her guard. He had never been pleased with her decision to leave the Hunterian and join Warrick at the Science Museum.
“Blast it, Daniel!” She swore, glaring at him while she flicked the drops off her hands.
“Charming as always,” he replied, offering Nic his handkerchief.
“You approve of it then?” She finally replied after regaining her composure.
“Ha!” He snorted “we could have done a much better job, I imagine” he stated, launching into a lecture of the deficits of the exhibition.
“You are just jealous because you wouldn’t have been given the chance,” Nic replied after the tirade.
“Well, we can’t all be Warrick, now can we,” he smiled in a way that made Nic want to hit him “but even I would not want to walk in his shoes at the moment. Is he ill?”
“Just tired. We all are, it was a very trying week.” They both looked out over the exhibition hall. ‘Great Minds’ was going to be a roaring success, she could feel it. People looked interested or horrified or both when faced with the preserved brains of many famous scientists. Neuroscientists had coordinated with the museum and scanned each one, giving detailed explanations of possible abnormalities that may have led to genius. All manner of biochemical tests were carried out as well. Now they all lay out, their genius matched with the odd grotesqueness of what remained of them in preserved jars. People were milling about, buzzed off the wine and the atmosphere. It was Nic’s favourite moment of a new Exhibition, when she still saw it all with fresh eyes.
“He’ll be back to his old self soon enough, you’ll see,” she smiled brightly, hoping she was hiding her concern well enough.
“I still don’t know how that man convinced me,” Daniel shook his head, “I’ll be the laughing stock of the medical museum association if anything happens to Mr. Babbage.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll get your little half back,” she teased, prodding a well known sore spot.
“It was ours all along!” He blustered on cue, “just because some fool chopped it in half in the 19th century doesn’t make it any less so. You just have it on permanent loan. Traitor that you are!”
“You keep saying that Daniel. If it helps you sleep at night. But you’ll have to excuse me, I need to start ushering people out the exhibition, its time we started closing shop.”
Daniel nodded and said he’d catch up properly later. Nic knew she’d be seeing him during the week quite a bit to monitor the condition of Mr. Babbage’s brain. Once she had a steady flow of people walking out the door, others soon followed cleaning the exhibition space fairly quickly. Eventually, it was only Nic and Warrick left in the empty Exhibition hall with the preserved minds of eminent scientists.
“I’m just going to get the lights and set the temperature controls, sir,” she called out, “we’ll be closed in a minute.” Warrick didn’t even seem notice and kept staring at the display. She knew he was obsessive and absentminded but he was really beginning to worry her. She wanted to return and find him ready for a laugh and a quick joke but he was standing in the same spot, slightly swaying.
“Sir?” Nic could see his lips moving from a distance but couldn’t hear what he was saying. “Sir?”
“It’s alright Nic, you go, I’ll get a taxi,” Warrick replied in a strange voice. Nic needed to do something, it just wasn’t right. But he was the boss. He was Warrick Hammersmith.She wanted to believe that he knew what he was doing.
“But Sir…” she was cut off short.
Part 3: Things take a turn for the worst
It couldn’t be put off any longer, Daniel was coming in and demanding to see Warrick. Somehow, Nic had managed to keep him away from the senior curator for the past week, citing pressures of a new and popular exhibition but no longer. There were no more special galas or important guests to ferry around in person, everything was running smoothly. Except Warrick.
Since the opening of the exhibition, he had gotten worse. He was obsessing over the difference engines but often standing in front of the Babbage display when the visiting hours were over. It was like he had begun to haunt the museum and there was nothing Nic could do but watch him deteriorate further.
She sighed heavily and knocked on his office door. “Sir?” she asked hesitantly as she pushed it open. She hated to look at him right now. His face was drawn and lifeless, the glitter and joy in his eyes replaced with a hollow vacant stare. Sometimes she felt he had to struggle to remember who she was.
The office was empty. Maybe he had gone home. Finally. She knew Warrick had not left the museum in a few days, following whatever obsession that had transfixed him so completely. Even when he came back, he looked worse than when he had left. He probably did not sleep there either. She could only hope that he would soon return to normal. She wandered over to his desk to try and neaten some of the piles of reports and papers he was supposed to have read and signed. Much more of this kind of neglect and there would start to be serious problems, funding for one.
There were so many mad scribbles that she could barely read them, on sheets and sheets of paper. She knew his hand, but it was distorted, as if he was pained or rushed. There were equations and diagrams of difference engines, but why?
“What a Shambles, Nic,” said a voice from the door. “Well, he’s eccentric, isn’t he Daniel?” she said easily enough, even though she knew that he would not buy a word of it.
“As much as I disliked the idea of you coming here, I knew you were going to work with a brilliant man. But brilliance can often turn into…darker things.” Daniel replied solemnly.
She turned to face him. “I think Warrick’s gone home, Daniel,” she sighed “he needed some rest. I’m sure if you come back tomorrow…”
“Yes, tomorrow. Hm. You know we had a contract Nic, you were the one who had to hammer out the details.” He came and wandered around to the desk where she was standing. “I may just end up going to the court and requesting my brain back. I have half a mind to.” Nic looked up and smiled at the joke but could not muster a laugh. She was drained from trying to keep the museum together without its chief curator.
“I’m sorry Daniel, I just don’t know what to do. I think…” she paused, she didn’t want to admit it “I think he needs some rest. I don’t know why he is even obsessing over the difference engines!” She passed over the scribbling to Daniel. He looked at them with mild amusement for a minute but then he frowned deeply.
“These aren’t difference engines, Nic. They are calculating explosive velocity not polynomials.” He started rifling through the other papers on the desk, shuffling through the piles. “Why, my dear, was Warrick building a bomb?”
Just then an alarm sounded through the building. Dan and Nic looked at each other.
“The Brain” they both said together and bolted from the office to the exhibition hall. They soon ran into the curatorial assistants coming from the hall. The expression on their faces confirmed Daniel and Nic’s fear. Babbage’s Brain was gone and they knew exactly who must have it.
“Shut down the exhibition for today,” Nic ordered. She sent the assistants scurrying to keep everything quiet and to get the museum running normally. There would be fall out but she couldn’t deal with it today. They needed to find Warrick. They needed to get him help before…she didn’t know what was going to happen but she knew it wouldn’t be good.
“Daniel,” Nic started, “there’s something going on here. Something strange. I know Warrick has always been eccentric but it is like he’s been possessed lately. I don’t think…”
“You don’t think this is his fault?” Daniel finished. “Well. To be honest, I don’t think it is either.”
Nic looked at him strangely, “what on earth could you be talking about?” she asked incredulously.
“Look,” Daniel began, “I know this sounds very strange. But one evening, after you had left the museum, I was walking through the Hunterian. I came across this old woman who was starting at Babbage’s brain. She was transfixed and so I asked her why she was so interested.” Daniel shook his head and laughed, “she asked me how I could keep him locked up like that. How anyone could stand the screaming, the anger and the rage.”
“The screaming? From a 250 year old brain?”
“I know! I thought she was crazy. She warned me that bad things would happen if he ever got out.” She then went on to examine the other objects, shooting me dirty looks now and again.” He shrugged, “you get all kinds in there, you remember what it was like.”
“Yeah,” Nic agreed. “But what does it mean, do you think…do you think he’s been possessed by a dead mathematician’s brain?”
“Did Warrick ever take an interest in making explosives before? Or have an obsession this deep? Or run off with exhibition pieces?”
“Now, we don’t know if he’s even done it. The piece if very valuable, it could have been anyone!” Nic responded. But even to her own ears, she didn’t sound convinced of that explanation.
“We need to get that brain back, we need to get it apart. We need to stop it before it is too late.” Daniel said firmly. He looked at Nic for confirmation.
“This is something beyond my expertise, Daniel. Brains? Bombs? What are we going to do?”
“We can start with the source, where does Warrick live?” Daniel demanded, donning his hat.
“Promise me Daniel, that he’ll be okay. Promise me we’ll get the old Warrick back.” Nic implored.
“That, my dear Nicole,” Daniel said gravely “is something that I cannot do. What is more important is that we figure out what he or Babbage was going to do with these difference engines. Warrick may have just wrought London’s doom with his charming smile.”
“An undead mathematician and difference engines of doom. Why wasn’t that on the job description?” Muttered Nic. She shook her head, she’d do it, even for the chance of getting her former boss back. No one deserved this, especially not Warrick. “Come on,” she motioned to Daniel to follow, “I’ll drive.”
Part 4: London’s Burning
Warrick screamed. The light filtering in through the window of his workshop was painful and the slightest noise echoed loudly in his ears. He felt himself surfacing once again, briefly freed from the power that Babbage’s brain held over him. His entire body ached and his head felt like it was going to break into pieces. Warrick looked at his hands, covered in scratches, dirt and his own blood. He felt wretched, like he had not slept or eaten in days; he shuddered at the thought that maybe he had not.
He felt the smoky tendrils of Babbage’s control sweeping over him and he wondered how long he’d have before being taken over once more. He looked over his workshop, usually quite neat and precise, now complete chaos. There were schematics in his own hand but he swallowed hard when he recalled what they were for. Warrick waited to have his will subjugated again but he soon realised the tendrils were retreating for good. Not even the tenuous links were left, he felt completely free. He started to weep and fell to his knees. Whatever had happened to him was finally over.
Then he heard the voice.
“You have done well Warrick, this pleases me.” It was a harsh, unhuman mechanical voice, electronic, not the English accent that had been controlling his mind for so long. It was coming from the direction of two glowing points in the darkness.
“Oh god, what I have I done?” Warrick whispered.
The glowing points, the eyes Warrick thought – they were eyes, stepped forward revealing a mechanical man, with Babbage’s brain clearly visible through perspex glass.
“You have freed me, Warrick. Freed me from that terrible glass prison that had held me for so long. From all those people, who have gawked at me for over two centuries. Laughed and pointed. How I longed to be released from my prison. Either into death or,” there was a short burst of noise which Warrick could only interpret as laughter, “into this new life.” Babbage examined itself, looking at its mechanical arms and legs through its sensors for eyes.
“Yes, you have done very well indeed.”
Daniel and Nic pulled up into the drive of Warrick’s expansive house in West London. It was still early in the morning so it wasn’t a surprise that the house looked quiet.
“Do you think he’s home?” Daniel asked, peering through the windscreen at the quiet manor house.
“Come on, I know where he keeps the spare key,” Nic said, getting out of the car. They made their way into the house but upon inspection it looked almost abandoned. There was no sign of the collection manager.
“I don’t understand it,” said Nic shaking her head “where could he be?” They had circled through the entire house and met up with each other in the kitchen. “We should check out in the garden, just to be sure we haven’t missed anything. Daniel nodded in agreement but they had only a momentary glance through the windows to the outside before an explosion rocked the house. Glass from the windows shattered and Nic and Daniel took cover behind the counter.
“What the hell was that?!” Daniel managed to yell between coughs from the smoke and debris. They tentatively poked their heads above the counter to see what caused the explosion but only caught glints of light from inside the smoke. By the time it had cleared they could only see the side of the workshop ripped apart and a bloodied Warrick lying face down in the grass.
“Nic!” Daniel yelled as she took off towards her injured boss, “don’t be so foolish, you don’t know if it’s safe!”
“Warrick?” Nic called as she approached the prone figure, “sir?” She knelt down to check if he was alive. There was blood and dirt everywhere. She gently turned him over to assess the damage. He looked so tired and frail, so broken but he was still breathing. Daniel soon appeared at her side with clean cloths and water.
“He’s breathing, but look at him, what happened?” Nic looked around at what was left of the workshop. There were more drawings like the one’s she saw in Warrick’s office floating around or pinned to the walls. There were bits of metal everywhere but no sign of Babbage’s brain, not that there would be after an explosion. She felt relieved that it wasn’t there, that her boss had nothing to do with its disappearance.
“Nic! He’s coming around!” He had made Warrick more comfortable and he was beginning to open his eyes. “I’ll go call an ambulance.”
“Warrick, its me, Nic, Nic Leakey,” she said as he opened his eyes, blinking at the light.
“What…” he tried to sit up but winced in pain and started coughing.
“Sir, you need to rest, there has been some sort of accident,” Nic tried to keep him still until the ambulance arrived but he became very agitated.
“It’s not an accident, Nic,” he looked up at her with tears in his eyes, “it is all my fault. I’ve doomed us all.”
“Nic!” Daniel yelled, “we have to go, there is something happening. The phone just went dead and the power has gone out!” He was carrying some make-shift bandages and a jacket for Warrick.
“It has already started, oh Nic, can you ever forgive me? Will anyone be able to forgive me?” He sank bank to the ground and closed his eyes. Tears etched clean paths through the soot and dirt.
“Warrick,” Daniel said seriously, “you need to think clearly, you need to tell us what is going on.”
Warrick lay still for awhile, tears silently streaming down his cheeks. Off in the distance they could start to hear echoes of what sounded like more explosions.
“Warrick,” Nic placed her hand on his shoulder. He jumped slightly and winced again at unknown injuries. “Whatever it is we need to know what is going on.”
“My dear Nic,” he opened his eyes and looked up at the sky, “you were always there. I never deserved such devotion.” He sighed deeply. “I always heard the voice but I thought it was my own. Some strange compulsion, but no, it was always his, pushing for the idea to bring the two halves of his brain together. Once the two hemispheres were even in the same there was nothing I could do, he took over. It was like watching myself from behind a sheet of ice. Distorted, cold, distant. So I did what he commanded. I created his new body so he could have wreak his vengeance upon all of us for keeping him caged for so long. I built everything and now the difference engines of doom will rain destruction upon all of London. I have wrought the ruin of the world, oh my dear Nic.” He coughed sharply from the effort and cried out in pain once more.
“What are we going to do?” Daniel whispered. They heard screams in the distance and more explosions. Boom. BOOM.
“Bugger all this.” Nic said standing up and dusting some of the debris off her clothes, “we are going to find that maniacal, undead mathematician and shove one of his difference engines up his mechanical arse.”
Daniel grinned, “and how exactly are we going to accomplish that?”
“You always have to start with the difficult questions, don’t you?” Nicole replied with a smirk. She was tired, worried and freaked out but something needed to be done. But first they needed to take care of her boss.
“Let’s get Warrick somewhere safe, I think he’s the only person who can really help us now.” Daniel nodded; Warrick looked frightened but did not protest as the gently guided him to the car. All he could hear was the explosions and all he wanted to do was run.
“Right then,” Nicole said, shifting the car into gear.
“Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war?” suggested Daniel.
“London calling to the zombie’s of death,” replied Nicole, “we’ve got a score to settle.”
Part 5: Shuffle, shuffle
“Thank heavens for the Cold War,” Daniel announced when they had safely arrived in darkened bunker, hidden beneath the streets of London.
They had investigated the extent of Warrick’s injuries to assess their need to get him more serious medical attention. Apart from scrapes, some gashes and bruising, he seemed to have withstood the explosion of his workshop fairly intact. While all his injuries seemed superficial, it was his mind they were worried about. He was extremely fragile and jumped at every noise. They were going to need him to focus on the memories of the ordeal. He was the only key they had in order to defeat the mechanical undead monstrosity that was Charles Babbage.
They had heard sirens wailing as they drove towards centre of London. Driving towards the London skyline, they already had seen plumes of smoke on the horizon. The city was in trouble and time wasn’t on their side.
“I have a feeling we haven’t seen the worst of it, he’s just toying with us.” Daniel said, thinking out loud. “Warrick had mentioned about his rants about being trapped and laughed at. I think Babbage wants to make the city suffer.”
“You’re right,” Warrick said weakly. He was staring wide awake at the ceiling, pale and fragile, but for a moment completely lucid.
“What is he going to do, Warrick?” Nic asked as they both approached the poor collections manager.
“He hates us,” Warrick began, “I could always feel that when I was under his control. He was so very angry about being trapped. He wants to trap as many of us that he can and turn us into…” he shuddered and gulped loudly, “automatons. Zombies. Robots. Things like him, to march forth and conquer first London, then all of humanity. That is what those initial explosions are; they released a concentrated burst of nanobots that will take over any human in the near vicinity. They will take hold of their nervous system and turn them into mindless drones. Zombies. He’s going to use them to destroy the city…the world.”
Daniel and Nic swore in unison.
“We’re in danger here,” Warrick said, seeming to hear something frightening, “the first explosions they are on the underground. That is where the people are trapped, where the nanorobots won’t be dispersed by the air. After the initial burst, the infection will be passed by contact.” He looked in the direction of the tube tunnels. “The zombies will come from underground.”
Nic and Warrick could hear them now, a loud shuffling and clunking was coming through the walls. They were cut off from the main tube tunnel but found a window to peak through. There they were, shuffling masses of commuters, eyes glazed, searching for something in the darkness to devour. Mindless. The infected. Zombies.
“Warrick,” Nic rushed back to her boss, “what is he going to do afterwards? You said this was only the beginning.”
“Boom. BOOM!” Warrick giggled. He was out of it again, feverish and shivering.
“Warrick, please. Sir?” she pleaded, “we can’t do this without you. We need your help.” She held his face in her hands and searched his eyes for the remnants of the man she once knew. He stared at her for awhile, tensed and afraid.
“The difference engines are the key, each has a code and a time for detonation. When all of London’s people are subverted, the city will be destroyed, razed to the ground as a lesson to humanity. Then he will move on. He can build them himself now with the body and hands I gave him. We are doomed.” He slumped down again, and Nic laid his head back down on the makeshift pillow.
“It looks like we have more than one problem now Nic. Still feeling optimistic?” Daniel said, watching the zombies shuffle pass.
“I’ve got an idea,” Nic said and motioned Daniel away from Warrick. “I have a feeling that Babbage is going to make a stand at the places that he hates most. But also the only places that are still familiar to him.”
“Not the…” Daniel’s eyes went wide with horror, “not my collection!”
“Or the Science Museum,” whispered Nic, “I also think that he wants to make sure that those two places, of all the places in London, are completely destroyed so he’ll have one of the difference engines there.”
“No. You can’t be serious. How can you possibly be part of the Museum’s Association and even think of such a thing!”
“Daniel, this is humanity at stake!” Nic whispered angrily. “We need Warrick to reprogram the difference engine to calculate down more quickly than Babbage wants. It’ll take out the museum, but hopefully also Babbage.”
“And my collection! My job!” He retorted stubbornly.
“Well, you can always hope its mine?” She offered hopefully.
“Fine. That’s where we’ll go first, it’s easier to get to, unseen anyway,” he looked uncomfortably out the small window, “through the tunnels.”
“Yeah,” Nic grimaced, “they can get us there unseen but I imagine its going to be full. It’s a Saturday!” Daniel turned a little green and turned to look at the quietly resting Warrick. “I didn’t say this was going to be easy.”
“Somehow, when you are involved Miss Leakey, it never is” Daniel smiled faintly, “so how are we going to do this?”
“Have you ever driven one of these things before?!” Nic yelled over the sound of the engine.
“Nope! But how hard can it be?” Daniel grinned maniacally. They had managed to find an abandoned lorry, with the keys still in the ignition. After several attempts to get it started, the engine roared into life, attracting some of the emerged underground zombies. “Off we go then!” Daniel shifted into first and the lorry belched its way forward. Nicole grimaced; she heard clunking noises from the wheel wells as they took out their first zombies.
“There’s going to be more of that, you know,” Daniel sad as she sunk heavily into the front seat.
“I know, I know,” Nic’s knuckles were white, gripping the cricket bat they had found in an abandoned sports store. “They were people once, you know.”
“We can’t think like that anymore, Nic,” Daniel said as he ran over two more zombies. They saw a crowd of them a little further ahead. “It’s going to be us or them.”
By the time they got close enough to West Kensington station, the lorry was covered in the blood and gore of many a defeated zombie. Nic’s cricket bat had already been put into action, fending off zombies that clung to the side doors when they had to drive through crowds.
“There’s a lot of them milling around the entrances,” Nic whispered.
“Maybe that means there are less in the tunnels?” Daniel replied. They shut off the lorry to avoid attracting any attention and loaded up with the weapons they found at the sports store. Nic had a crossbow and quiver strapped to her back and the cricket at hand, while Daniel had a hockey stick and an axe. “How are we going to move with Warrick?” Daniel asked. Thus far they had avoided the fact that they would have to be carrying the incapacitated collections manager back to the museum. They opened the door to the tiny living compartment in the lorry to see a wide awake Warrick, tightening his bandages.
“He’s here,” he said, looking up. His eyes were bright, and Nic smiled to see that they were full of the determination and fire that she was used to, not the haunted looks she had seen far too much of. He’d gathered some of the other miscellaneous equipment beside him.
“Sir!” Nic grinned and wrapped him up in a giant hug.
“Nice to see you are back to your old self again, Warrick,” Daniel nodded.
“It’s good to be back,” he said letting go of Nic’s embrace. He smiled, his face still pale but the fever had passed. He stood up in the back of the cab. “Now, I’ve got an idea to bring down that bastard for good.” He opened the door and jumped out. “Follow me. There isn’t much time.”
Part 6: Showdown at the Science Museum
“Watch out! Behind you!” Daniel yelled out to Nic as they ran the gauntlet between West Kensington station and the Science Museum.
“Right!” Nic swung around and let loose a crossbow bolt into the forehead of a shuffling zombie coming up quick. KA-THUNK. It looked stunned for a moment and then collapsed, reanimated no more.
He took out another nanobot infected commuter before it could reach Daniel.
“Thanks Warrick,” Daniel puffed, running out of breath. “Come on, I think we can dodge most of the rest. We need to get into the museum.” There were many zombies still behind them but they didn’t have time to dispatch them all. They had heard over a zombie police officer’s radio that the army was beginning to sweep the city. Parliament had declared martial law; everyone had been encouraged to stay indoors to try and defend themselves as best they could. Anyone left on the streets were assumed to be the shuffling hoards and were targeted for elimination.
They found their exit and looked out onto the street, there were still quite a few zombies out on the pavement but no military presence as of yet.
“Okay, we need to get to the staff entrance, quickly now,” Warrick whispered and took lead, followed by Nic and Daniel. They moved quick and quiet and only had to dispatch a few more zombies before reaching their door. Once inside, it seemed almost deserted but they could hear noises coming from inside the museum and so remained deathly quiet until they caught their breath.
“Right,” Warrick said, “I don’t know if he’ll detect all of us, I think he has some control of these zombies and so his telepathic control will be diverted.”
“But he’ll know something is wrong the minute we start killing his guard zombies,” Nic whispered.
“I know. This is why I will distract him, while you go through the back way to the exhibition. While his body is metal, his brain is still visible and relatively unprotected by the Perspex glass. It’s Babbage’s only vulnerability. I’ll distract him so you guys can slip in unnoticed. You’ll only have a few shots with your crossbow before he’ll be able to overpower us, so make them count, Nic.”
“Sir, I…” Nic protested, “we can’t let you do this.”
“Yes we can, Nic,” Daniel put his hand on her shoulder, “it’s the only way. Out of all the people in London, Babbage might expect Warrick to return. Either out of some deluded sense of service or revenge. He won’t be expecting us. We have to, it is our only chance.”
“Sir! You can’t, we just got you back,” Nic pleaded. “There must be another way!”
“Promise me, that’ll no matter what happens, no matter what that undead monster says or does, that you will fire that crossbow.”
“Sir..” Nic started, wanting to plead with her boss that the plan was foolish. But she saw that fierce determination and stubbornness in his eyes. There was no way out of this. She sighed deeply, “I won’t let you down.” He smiled and looked at her and at Daniel with pride.
“Bloody foolish man!” She muttered, checking the sights on her crossbow.
“I still don’t understand how you are so good with that thing,” Daniel grinned.
“There are some things a woman does talk about in polite company,” she replied in as posh a voice as she could manage.
“I never knew that turn of phrase would have included proficiency in projectile weapons.”
Nic released the trigger to check the firing mechanism. “A girl’s got to have her hobbies,” she replied. She relocked the trigger and put in a bolt. Hefting her cricket bat she nodded towards the museum floor. “Come on Daniel, we’ve got an appointment with an undead mathematician.”
Warrick made no attempt to conceal his presence. He tried to take the path of least resistance and took quite a few of Babbage’s foot soldiers out before he could feel the mathematician reaching out to him.
“Oh Warrick,” he could feel the laughter in his mind once again, “I didn’t think you’d survive that explosion. You’re a source of surprise even now.”
He kept his mind full of anger and wrath towards the undead mathematician, in order not to betray his companions.
“You bastard,” he yelled “you used me. You used all the scientific knowledge that you once worked toward for such a base and undignified purpose as revenge.” Warrick’s plan was to make Babbage angry and therefore distracted; he needed to give Nic and Daniel the best possible odds for success. There would be no second chances. “You don’t deserve any of this.”
“I SUFFERED!!” Daniel was assaulted with the force of those words in his mind and staggered into one of the displays. The zombies also seemed dazed as well, with the force of anger and hurt rolling over them.
He ran straight into the Great Minds exhibit and saw Babbage sitting there, surrounded by other minds in jars. His head ached as it cracked into the wall as well. Yet he still found the strength to stand up. No longer a man of science but a freak of it.
“Goodbye Warrick Hammersmith, I thank you for your contribution to science and damn you for your attempt to hinder it’s progress.” He stood up again and grasped Warrick by his shirt.
“Hey!” Nic called from the balcony behind Babbage. “Big, shiny and stupid!”
“WHAT IS THIS!?” The surprise and hurt was a wave slamming into everything in the area. Zombies fell over and Daniel had to catch Nic before she fell over. Babbage turned to face the new threat, dropping Warrick to the floor heavily.
“This, you bastard,” Nic said taking careful aim, “is a perfect application of projectile geometry and mathematics.” She depressed the trigger and watched as the bolt followed a perfect trajectory straight through the Perspex surrounding Babbage’s brain.
For a few moments, the towering hulk of metal stood upright before pitching forward and crashing to the floor. The lights in the eyes went out and the fluid surrounded Babbage’s brain leaked out onto the floor.
“Nice shot, Leakey,” Daniel whispered, not daring to quite move yet. Nic was shaking and could only nod.
“Nic,” Warrick whispered weakly, “you have shut down the difference engines!” He gasped for air and coughed again. “Hurry, Nic, there isn’t much time.
“We’ll be right down!” Daniel yelled, and shook Nic out of her reverie. The zombies in the area seemed to have been taken out by Babbage’s last outburst and were not moving. Nic, once down the stairs, ran over to Warrick.
“Oh sir,” she whispered, shocked at the broken form of her boss. His breath rattled and he was barely moving.
Once the sequence had been entered, the thrum coming from the bomb disappeared and the museum was deathly quiet. “That will stop the sequential explosions,” Warrick gasped, “though they’ll still have to be disarmed in the same way.” In the distance they could hear the approach of military vehicles and gunshots.
“Ah, that would be the cavalry,” Daniel announced. He pulled the walkie talkie they had taken from the undead police officer to try and contract someone so they wouldn’t be shot on sight.
“Sir,” Nic tired to make Warrick comfortable, “you’ll be okay, won’t you?”
It was over.
It was the grand reopening of the Science Museum. Nic was rushing around, busy with last minute preparations and placating donors and important guests. It had taken a few months to clean the city of the infected Londoners and to restore order. It had all gone so fast for Nic; between dealing with Warrick’s estate, getting the museum back in shape and attending special committee’s in parliament, the months had felt like days.
“Come on Leakey!” Daniel called from the stage. As the newly minted Collections Manager at the Science Museum, he was about to give his first official speech.
The lights dimmed and she found her place at the front of the room.
They had tried to put it behind them as best they could, acknowledging the fact that Evil Undead Babbage and his Differences engines of Doom would always be a part of them.
“Now! Daniel announced at the end of the speech, ”I would like to invite Ms. Leakey up to help cut the ribbon!” Nic smiled and rose from her seat. There were whispers and camera flashes. They had become heroes in their own right and were well recognized in London society. Nic and Daniel walked across the platform towards the entrance of the museum. Daniel handed her a gold pair of scissors.
“The Science Museum is open to the public!”
“Glad you could make it Warrick,” Nic whispered when the applause had died down. “I didn’t think you’d be back from America so soon.” The cane was no longer for affectation, the last legacy of facing up to his monstrous creation. A dignified and still frail Warrick Hammersmith shook Daniel’s hand and gave Nic a warm embrace.
“Ah Miss Leakey, you know I’d never miss this.” Warrick smiled and surveyed the museum. “Wounds have been mended, scars carefully hidden but we, my dear Nic, are here to remember the things that most will want to forget.”
“Well, tonight we are here to drink, actually,” Daniel passed them each a glass of champagne as the crowds began to disperse through the museum.
“To friends!” Toasted Daniel.
“To the future,” replied Warrick.
Nic grinned, mischievous as ever, “to science and projectile weapons!”