The Invited Journey
On the month of the First Hour the Professor received a letter that promised a journey to other end of the world. Really, it demanded a journey.
For the letter asked of him to visit his old companion, a veritable doctor others called mad. No luck on his part when he realised that same doctor lived on the furthest point of the world from where he was.
No. That was too far, too much to be asked for in a letter.
A bottle flew across an earthy hall and clanked against a wooden back frame. A man with copper plates for skin stood idly by where the bottle had landed. He had stayed impossibly quiet while his master, the ever drunken Professor, balled down the hall.
“I’m not going!” echoed the Professor. “Traveling that far to see my mad old friend is even madder than he.”
“Sir,” said the man nearest to the abused bottle. “You must go, it is your duty.”
“It is falsehood is what it is, mate.”
The attendant sighed, pressing his bushy brows and letting his dark blue coat sag. He had a blue hat that had a habit of tipping lower and lower as he continued the fruitless conversation, “As your attendant, it is in these matters that I insist you listen to me.”
“Why can’t you be useful in other matters?” clamored the Professor. “Fetch me the finest drink, or recommend to me an easier profession.”
Another bottle flung and the attendant deftly sidestepped it. “All due respect, sir, but your profession isn’t something you’ve picked. And now you’ve got a believer, why the letter--”
Glass dinged on the floor across the hall and rolled loudly. Lazy steps followed and the shadow of a long muzzle underneath a pointed hat painted the nearby ground. Fabric scrunched against leather as the Professor dawned his favorite coat.
“A believer?” said the still out of sight Professor. “Well I do like the sound of that.”
“And, if you help this one believer perhaps you’ll get more.”
“And more means more funding. I’m starting to see your point, Red.”
Soon the Professor came into view and the Attendant smiled, cocking his head, “I’m elated you wish to go, sir, but I must advise you hide your appearance.” With that he snapped his fingers and the shadow of the Professor quickly assumed that of a man.
That man had bronze skin, goggles for eyes and hair that spiked out and formed of coal.
“How do I look?” asked the now grinning Professor.
“Like any other full turn, sir.”
The Professor turned in a circle and let the ends of his navy blue coat swish the maple floorboards, “You’ve out done yourself, Red.”
“Drink,” he added abruptly.
“As this spell requires a fuel of some kind I thought it only fitting that it be the poison you ingest.”
“Mate, so you’re saying I need be drunk at all times?”
“Not drunk, just--”
“Brilliant!” he said producing a bottle from his coat. He wrung it open and tranced down the hall, taking a swig after a whirl and another at the door by the end of his brief travel. “And by what means am I travelling?”
“I’ve arranged a clockship, sir.”
“Better and better.” He pushed open the door and lights of blue and yellow gushed in. He admired the sights as Red trudged towards him.
They lived on small cottage that creaked above a bottomless cliff. A sky of swirling blues and yellows made the unnumbered clouds below golden, marvelous things. The mornings were always more yellow than blue. Nearby, he knew of a clockwork metropolis, loud and boisterous even as far up as they were by the cliff side.
That was his city, the Longhand of Five. His home, his place, and now he’d be leaving it.
He skipped carelessly down the long winding ebony steps as black willows and golden cherry blossoms coveted his sides.
Mechanical finches played their birds songs, clicking, whirling and fading to the cacophony of the nearby town. It smelled of rain and smog as black steps turned to cobblestone roads. A row of wrought iron houses with smoking factories in the background stretched a minute’s path, maybe two, into a small clock ship dock where ships that flew on timelines rested with their crews.
“Which one’s mine?” asked the Professor with a scan of the protruding masts.
Red pointed to the smallest among them, “Remember, sir, we need funding.”
“A momentary sacrifice. But didn’t the Third--”
“Right, didn’t that Fourth chap give us a loan last winter?”
“You spent it on drink, sir.”
“Don’t remember that.”
Red frowned, “the receipts do.”
They continued down the familiar streets, through scores of mechanized men and women dressed in swathes of buttoned silks and cottons. Red led him to the smallest ship on the harbor and stopped there.
It was a steam sloop, low and cluttered with countless sails. While it was the smallest in the harbour, it was still a sizable ship, one capable of faring a world long journey.
“No luggage, no money, though I don’t think you’d need it,” said Red.
“So long as I have a bottle.”
“Yes yes, so long as you have liquor you’d travel to the ends of the world.”
“Good thing I have liquor, eh?” the Professor stopped short before taking his inevitable swig, “Say, Red. Suppose I were to meet this letter writer, yeah? What would I… well what should I say to her?”
“What else?” said Red. “Believe in me.”
The Professor smiled to that. Those were the words he said to Red countless years ago. He rolled his head to the sloop tethered to the docks. A plank connected the two and he noted a dozen full turned dock workers tirelessly tapping the vessel, and getting it ready to sail.
“Excellent suggestion mate. I think… I think I’ll do that,” he said whilst crossing the plank. He raised his bottle at the last step, took a drink and peaked back at the man. “Off I go, eh?”
Red nodded, “Off you go.”
He lost his sloop on the third day out.
It had been a month since then. The stores of drinks Red had supplied him with had inexplicably, unexplainably vanished and so, ever the good traveller, the Professor went about seeking more of the stuff.
And find it he did, most often where others did not want him to. He drank and traveled and drank some more, forgetting much of anything save those he met. He crossed oceans, deserts, seen whales in the sky and despots on their seats. And now, alone on a dingy, he approached a city where rivers flowed and lights twinkled in the night.
He sniffed liquor in the air and longed for it. He saw a ship on the harbor and realised his escape. But there was more there in the city that he had not known at the time. Another departure, another’s journey.
He remembered Red’s words as he spied at the city through the distort of an empty bottle.
“Believe in me, huh?” he asked no one but gulls. “You ask a lot of me, Red.”