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Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual
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Enlarge: The long quest of Osgood Finnegan nears its end

The Clockwork Book was arranging the three pairs of cables that ran back to its Language Acquisition Engine. It untangled them, then straightened and rearranged them; it moved them three inches to the left and considered them; it moved them an inch to the right and coiled them again. Tallie had never seen the Book spend so much time moving its parts in such an unproductive way. Now it was straightening the cables again, in a different order. If she listened very closely, which was her habit, Tallie could almost hear a melody in the soft murmur of the Book's gearworks. If she sort of squinted her ears it sounded like the Book was humming to itself.

Right on schedule the Orb came rolling down the tunnel. Tallie scooped it up and brought it inside: she flipped the door's sign to read "Engaged" and let it swing closed behind her.

"Here it is," she said, which was completely unnecessary. She carried the Orb in its cradle to the Book and set it down by the Chemical Communication Analyzer.

"Yes," said the Book. "Here it is."

They looked down at the Orb. It was glassy and iridescent. It looked more fragile than Tallie had expected, like a light bulb twice the size of her head. She almost thought she could see into it, but she couldn't, really: not quite. Tallie snicked open the padded cradle and lifted the Orb out of its frame.

"The sensors, first," advised the Boo

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