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She sighed. "It doesn't allow us to stop it, Timothy. I've tried several things by now." Tim knew there was something very wrong with Catherine if she spoke to him using his full name. He looked back at the little machine laying on the table in front of her. It didn't look like much, it wasn't much more than 2 legs with a torso made of gears that kept spinning. It didn't even have arms.

"But... Cat, how could it prevent us from deactivating it? You said it was dangerous, but how could something like that be dangerous? The worst he might do is ki-" Catherine interrupted him: "Shut the hell up Timothy!" Tim had never heard her like this. As a matter of fact, this was the first time he heard her raise her voice in the 7 years he had known her now. She had turned around, facing away from the little automaton and towards him. Timothy was shocked. She was crying. In all those 7 years she barely showed any emotions. The most he ever got out of her was a small smirk back when... This was important.

He walked closer to Cat, but the way she looked at him made it clear that he shouldn't get closer. "Cat, I just want to-" Again, she interrupted him. "I don't care Timothy. Go away, you're only making things worse than they already are." She paused for a moment, looking back at the little mechanical wonder on her table, then wiped the tears from her eyes and looked back at Tim. "Could you just go now? Please?" She was still crying a bit, but underneath it, she actually smiled now. Tim couldn't refuse her. It was the first time she had ever laughed. He simply nodded and turned away, to the door. Right before he exited, he faced her again. "Cat, take care, will you?" She nodded, and he closed the door behind him. Little did he know he'd never see her alive again.

"Catherine J. Preston, calm down for a minute." She kept saying this to herself. She had never been so distressed in her entire life, and with a bit of bad luck, it wouldn't last much longer. She just had to find a way to stop the little robot from fulfilling it's purpose. Which was easier said than done, or she wouldn't have acted the way she just did. She looked back at the robot, noticing it's gears were moving faster than before. "Oh no... It's already moved to the next phase..."

Time was running out. She didn't know how many more phases there were, but it'd probably go fast now, seeing how it took 4 years from it to go into it's second phase, and then only a few weeks before it went into the next one, and then only 4 days for the one it just left. She was sure it was some kind of bomb. She had studied it enough over the last years to know that with the correct methods, the body could take out the entire city. Normal automatons were never made to kill. Only once did fools make an army of automatons, only to discover that they refused to fight. Even those without a mind of their own simply stopped working. This little guy on her table only started working faster and faster...

She took out her polydriver and tried many ways to stop or slow down it's functions, but whenever she got close, that strange feeling came over her again and stopped her. She had felt it before of course, with all kinds of automatons. It was the job of any good andro-mechanic to be able to do that. It was the heart of the machines, but never before did it feel so... So angry. Even if she tried to smash it or throw it to the ground, it was there again, stopping her in her tracks somehow.

Eventually, Catherine was able to block a tiny gear which didn't seem to be connected to any other gear, but was one of the fastest to spin despite of it. She was unaware that she had just saved the life of over a billion people, but condemned herself to die. The moment she blocked the gear, the others went into a frenzy and were suddenly thrown off the device after a few seconds. Catherine could now see the core of the creature, which had been blocked from view up until now. It fell out, away from the dangerous explosives it had been connected to. Without the connection, the explosives were nothing more than a bit of gel-like playdough. The way the core had rolled made a timer visible, and Catherine was just able to see the last second pass before it exploded.

The next day, an explosion of an old building in the eastern quadrant got a small part of one of the last pages in the Megatropolis Times, with a single, 18 year old victim. Only Timothy R.L. Lester had the slightest idea what she had achieved that night. Not much more than the slightest though.--El Nazgir sigEl_Nazgir 18:10, December 12, 2009 (UTC)


It had started as a something to laugh at, but wait until I tell you. It was, looking back on it, no less than the most barbaric incident in world history, but I did not realize this until much later.

What I refer to, the publication of the book Malleus Maleficarum, occurred in 1487 and was authored by Heinrich Kramer, an overzealous Inquisitor of the Catholic Church. No one outside of The Holy Roman Empire had ever heard of him. Those living in the Empire thought him a joke.

"I know of Kramer," wrote Paula when I sent her a copy of the book, "and he seemed like a fool. He tried to start prosecuting witches in Tyrol only three years ago. Fortunately the local bishop disapproved and he was banned from the county entirely. I doubt anyone here in Germany will take him seriously given what he has done there."

A few months later proved Paula gravely mistaken. Germany had not only taken Kramer seriously, but it had become the center of witch trials in all of Europe. Together with France they executed 6000 people in five years, some no older than five. Paula, an old Trier in Germany, did not want me to think her frightened of the trials, but I knew she was.

"Jacob has left us," she wrote, referring to her husband, "He disappeared one morning before sunrise and no one in our village has seen a sign of him since. Maria fears he might have been taken away in the night by the witch hunters who now prowl our streets. It is lonely without him here in the cottage. I do hope you would come and visit us again, as we have few friends at the present time. Most of Trier has turned against the healers."

I sent her five pounds, the remains of the payment I received to deliver the late Earl of Richmond's child, and attached a note that read: "Come to England with Maria and Katarina. It is improper for a woman to work when she has male friends that can help her. I hope to see you soon."

She replied on the back: "I cannot leave. Maria still hopes Jacob will come back some night no matter what I tell her. I cannot blame her, of course, for he is her father. But if Jacob was not taken away, he has probably left the village or perhaps Germany itself, if he has any intelligence. Thank you for the portion you have given us, money is getting increasingly harder to come by here."

Meanwhile, witch hunting was spreading all over Europe. Malleus Maleficarum declared the Church made witch hunting legal, and professional witch hunters sprung up everywhere, hoping to make money as the capture of a witch merited high reward. Witch hunters in Switzerland discovered a cult of some fifty moon-worshipping women. All but two were sentenced to a death by a wicked device called a garrote, an iron band clamped around the neck and tightened with cords, and their bodies were burnt. The two women who were not strangled and burned were strapped to the oars of a ship for three years.

Witch hunts had invaded England, the one I had thought safe from the "witch fever", as I called it. Lawyers prosecuting witch cases would consult the advice of a professional "pricker", who would look for the Devil's Mark on the woman and stick pins into her. The mark was supposed to be invulnerable to harm, so when the women stopped screaming, he declared he found had the mark. I did not have to be a doctor to say that the woman stopped screaming due to exhaustion after sixty pins were driven into her skin, as would anyone. To my astonisment, men everywhere were making hundreds of pounds being prickers. One named Kincaid moved next to my rooms in Watling Street. I felt like moving.

As for Germany, things were getting worse.

"A woman, Frau Schoellkopf, requested my services a week ago," Paula wrote. "She had severe stomach cramps. I gave her some peppermint tea and told her to drink it to settle her stomach. Two days later she was vomiting and suffered from headaches. Frau Schoellkopf blamed me; she thought I had replaced the tea with potion, or poisoned it. As anyone could have told her, the roasted lamb she served at Sunday supper spoiled, and she came down with food poisoning. However, Frau Shoellkopf is convinced that I made her ill. She is sending the witch hunters after me, and they heckle Maria and Katarina. Do not worry, disputes like these do not normally last long."

I told her again to come to England, but she refused, as she wanted to settle her dispute with the Schoellkopf woman, who she believed would see the irrationality of her own actions. I knew Paula well enough to know she would try her utmost on matters like this, but I felt she was fighting a losing battle.

One night three months after Paula's last letter, Alexander Clement, one of the men I lived with, told me he had received a letter for me from someone he worked with.

"But you dig graves," was all I could say. Alexander raised an eyebrow at this unintentional slight of his profession.

"I don't know; I didn't send it," replied he somewhat coolly, tossing the letter on the table. He picked up a wine bottle from the small light table beside my chair and began drinking directly from it. "It has your name on it."

The name printed on it was Doctor Thomas Strongwater, of Watling Street in London. "Yes," I said, studying it carefully, "but I don't recognize the handwriting."

Alexander shrugged again as if it were none of his concern and continued drinking.

I sat down on a chair beside Alexander and opened the letter. I knew the name of the village it came from: Pfalzel, a town close to where Paula lived in Trier.

"Arzt Strongwater," the letter began, "I am sending this letter through Alexander Clement, whom I know still lives with you, from what Paula has told me and Maria. My cousin, Johanna Kohler, is married to a man who has a nephew in England that works with your friend, Herr Clement. His name is Hoel Knapp."

"Do you know a Hoel Knapp?" I asked Alexander.

He gave a formless grunt that could have meant anything; he was still drinking. I continued reading:

"I have taken the precaution because I fear of being targeted by the witch hunters. Paula offended a respectable matron, Frau Sophia Schoellkopf, over a remedy she prescribed for her. Frau Schoellkopf declared Paula to be a witch, and the hunters took her into custody. I doubt even they were sure whether Paula was guilty or not, but swallowed their doubts once they received the twenty-five kruezer for catching a witch.

"Maria and I cannot go back to the cottage for anything as it was looted and burnt after Paula was arrested. We have left Treves, for it is common there to begin accusing the family or friends of witches, but hunters always watch. We are residing in Pfalzel near my cousin Frau Kohler, but we do not ask for money or a place to stay in order to not incriminate her as an accomplice of witch craft. I bear as well as any man, but Maria is only a girl of thirteen, and getting very ill. Please send us twenty gulden for the year or we have no hope of surviving the winter.

"Artz Strongwater, do not come to Trier and try to help Paula. Katarina and I have heard from the men in the taverns at Pfalzel that she is alive, and her trial is due to start in a fortnight's time. Do not come anywhere near Treves or you risk your reputation with Herr Thomas Howard. The English lords are never pleased when their servants leave them on matters that do not pertain to themselves, even if only for a short while."

"In Trier there are only two women that have not been accused of sorcery. Even Sophia Schoellkopf was arrested for casting curses on a young man. I assume Treves has some three hundred women living in it, only about thirty will not be burned, spared mainly because their families have enough money to pay off the magistrates. It is a corrupt system, but there is hardly anything that these men would not do for money

"I hope Herr Howard is treating you well. Please send us the money soon,

Katarina Heiler."

Alexander whistled under his breath. "And you wondered why we did not move there." He chugged down the remains of the bottle.

I set the letter down on the table and sighed. "She should have come to England when I told her to."

"You won't go to Germany and try to help her, then?"

"No," I said without hesitating, "I do not think it would be any use."

He looked relieved. "Sir Howard would not be pleased if you left."

"No, he would not."

"And he pays very well, does he not?" he pressed me.

"I suppose so," I replied indifferently.

That night after Alexander had gone up to bed, I gathered up all the money I possessed and crept out of our rooms. The journey from London to Brussels would take five days, and from Brussels to Trier perhaps another seven, depending on the weather. I did not bother to write a note to Alexander because I knew he would not understand. Even though he knew Paula as long as I did, he did not care about her; the only thing that mattered to him was that I left Sir Howard's service and gave up a worthy salary. I could not exactly blame him, because money was always his major concern. Graves diggers do not make much money. Doctors do.

I could only hope that it was enough to bribe Paula's interrogators.

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