Winds gushed. The clock engine ticked.
An endless blue expanse stretched below. Its surface was topaz, clear as glass. A network of ocean life sprawled underneath. School of fish jetted while flocks of gulls made shadows over it. Then the view shifted. Bouts of white shimmered where the waves stirred restlessly.
Clouds passed the scene, whiter than the crashing waves, and four wrought iron bars focussed into view.
Tig clung to them. He had a smile on his face.
Yes, He was a slave. Yes, the prison stunk worse than the sloop and yes, he knew what future he had was bleak, yet even then, even as a bird with his wings clipped, Tiguak Trimbly could not help smiling.
They were flying. Actually flying! He willed the ship to duck back under the cloud. Wished there wasn’t a glass cover just outside the bars so he could smell it. He wanted the air to brush his still natural hairs, hear the waves crash again.
More clouds cluttered the view until it was white. The shadow of the galleon hovered above. Tig’s reflection on the dirty glass revealed his frown, and he fell away from it.
He saw Gemjo resting on the lone bed in the cell. She had been awake, her head postured upon her hands and elbows jutting out. He cuffed his wrists. True to his word, Mr. Lawfield undid their manacles and fed them well, at least for the one day they had been captured.
Tig cleared his throat, “Mind if I get the bed, Gemjo?”
“Yes, I do mind.”
“You had it for a day.”
“And I shall have it for another. Maybe another beyond that. I need to think.”
Tig’s frown deepened and he huddled in his usual corner away from the girl. He spotted a wet sock slumped in the corner neighbouring him. The cell was as spacious as any crewmate’s lodgings. Large enough to walk around in, but not so for more than five people. The room was completely enclosed save the window he just peaked out. A solid door covered their only escape. A small, circular window sat on the door revealing little of a lamp-lit hallway. Every so often, an escort would come to guide the two should they need to use a restroom.
The guides were always armed.
“If only I had a pistol.” Muttered Tig.
“On that we agree. Say we buy one once we escape?”
“Escape? You’ve already planned on that?”
Gemjo half shrugged, “While having my own bed is nice, I have my reservations when it comes to slavery.”
“Perhaps it’s not that bad.”
Gemjo’s head slid to face him, and she raised a brow.
“Hear me out.” Started Tig. “Yes we may lose our freedom, but it’ll come with a guarantee of safety.”
“Didn’t you say you had something to do?”
Tig hugged his legs tightly, his gaze wandered down. He saw his feet. One foot was booted, the other lacking, its boot left somewhere at the bottom of a deep primeval pit.
“Perhaps I won’t have to if I lacked the choice.” He suggested.
His foot shifted to the cold touch of the floor. He felt the ship hum underneath him. Moments of silence passed before he realised she was grinning at him.
“So you have to, but you don’t want to?”
Tig scrunched his nose, “Yes. A duty you might call it.”
She snapped back to the ceiling, yawned a little, “Then don’t. Go, become a slave and live a safe life. I’m sure the chains they’ll have you wear will keep your hands and neck very safe.”
“It’s not just about safety. It’s complicated.”
Gemjo made a line with her lips, “Oh sure. Complicated. Running must be quite the long and arduous process.”
“Says the seawolf with little purpose.”
“I do have a purpose. An easy life, I told you twice now haven’t I?”
“Then a slave--”
“Slaves don’t have it easy.”
Tig flinched. For the briefest of moments Gemjo had raised her voice. He thought she only got mad at those who threatened her life, but not this.
Her ears twitch and she turned over, scratching her side as she puffed at the wall.
“I’ll do it when we near the city.” She said, her voice bouncing off the walls, “I’ll ask for a trip to the restroom, turn into an orca and disable them as I had the gents.”
“And their guns?”
“If they don’t shoot me first, I’ll steal it from the one I disable. I’m going with or without you, Tig.”
Tig lowered his head further. He knew she would. He took off his goggles and held it low. Had he stayed he would be alone. It wouldn’t be the first time. He stared deep into the chocolate lenses that made wide ovals in the bronze frame.
His image distorted within it and he felt at his iron jaw with his free hand. The wooden fingers trailed up the metal and stopped upon two new features that hugged his face.
Thin iron lines stretched above and below both his eyes as if they were tattoos. His turn had progressed. He clutched the goggles. One day he would become a machine. One day he would become immortal.
All creatures turned at different rates. The quicker they matured, the quicker they turned. Yet it also varied within the same species.
Some people turned faster than others.
He glanced up at Gemjo. She seemed to be at the same stage as he, while Franco, clearly older, was far behind.
One would think progressing to immortality faster was a sign of fortune. He gripped the goggle tight. It could be no further from the truth.
Perhaps a proverb, there was a saying among those who worshipped the Eleventh Hour, the Hour of death.
He mouthed the words he could not quite forget.
“Permanence lies after the eleventh hour,
Where clocks turn and tick early and end just as quick,
Permanence lies, it is the illusion of death
Of metal and wood, of bearings and gears, of mind,
Permanence lies within the hour to come last.”
His head fell low. The sight of grime encrusted metal boarding came to view. His grey foot blotted it more. Those who turned quickly died quickly. There was no proof behind the claim, only worried whispers and baseless superstition. But the kind of whispers Tig could not but help thinking true. Tig felt at the iron fresh on his face. He wondered how long he had. He considered whether what he had to do was worth doing. His eyes trailed back to Gemjo, always Gemjo. He wondered if she was right.
Her ears twitched. A bump echoed from the other side of the wall, and a muffled, hoarse voice joined it.
“You want to escape!?”
Tig scoffed at the now standing Gemjo, “Did you just ‘Eep’?”
Her eyes spat like spark flies and she corrected her posture. “No,” she said coolly.
“She certainly did,” echoed the voice on the other side.
“Look. Sea wolves do not ‘eep’.”
“As they do not howl.” Said a grinning Tig.
One of her steely brows twitched, “Alright.” She said with spin to the wall. “Who are you?”
“Not important. Get me out, and I’ll consider it a life debt.”
“We can’t even see you.” Argued Gemjo.
“Neither can I.” countered the voice.
Tig shrugged, “He has a point.”
Gemjo shook her head, already tiring, “Look, my plan isn’t even guaranteed to work, nor can we trust you.”
“Better than my plan.” It said.
“Pretend to sleep and jump them.”
“That is a terrible plan.” Sighed Gemjo.
“Precisely why I need you.” A footstep clanked and the voice got louder. “I understand your hesitance, Niss, but you will not regret freeing me. I know people in high places.”
Gemjo puffed, “Strange that you’re a slave then.”
“Well yes, yes it is, and I don’t blame you for questioning me, but right now I can’t dally in a cell. I heard you two talking about purposes and, well, I have one to.”
Tig stood up. “What is it then?” he asked the disembodied voice.
There was a triumphant chuckle, most likely a smirk, “I plan to marry the Empress.”
Tig nodded at Gemjo, “Right, we’re leaving him.”
“Wait!” it clamoured. “I promise riches, feasts, women—or or men! Anything you want should you ever travel to the South Seas.”
“Then who are you?” repeated Gemjo.
The voice quieted, “I can’t say. Believe me, it’s more for your safety than mine. But I’m no fraud like the man who got you on this ship. I pay back my debts.”
Tig stumbled at the mention of Franco, “He’s not a fraud.” He mumbled.
Gemjo let out a long drawn out breath, “He betrayed us, Tig.”
“Not still, we’re here because of him.”
“What of the Professor? He’s caused us nothing but trouble, but we still kept him around.”
Gemjo was shaking her head, “Not sure if you remember, chitik, but that was the same Professor I tried to abandon. Twice.”
“Surely you’ve changed your mind.”
“What? In one day? Yes he saved your life, but not mine. There’s nothing that man can do to redeem himself. Nothing…” Her voice trailed. Her eyes flicked to the door window.
The figure swaying in the halls was unmistakable.
They ran to the small window and smudged their faces against it. They cried out after him as best they could. The glass did well to muffle their words, but not enough. His blue hat turned and he staggered a step as his eyes madly squinted and opened.
A bottle swished in his hand and he hicc’ed.
“Wo! Mates, what… why do you look so,” His upper lip tightened, “tiny?”
Tig pressed Gemjo away and asked, “How did you escape?”
“Funny story that. Door was open. My captors seemed happy to leave me in the dark. A form of slave breaking. Apparently they never check on full turns, so I may just hide.” He took a step forwards and wavered back. “Do you two need some help?”
Gemjo pushed Tig away as the full turn asked that. Tig fell with a thud and his eyes lifted to Gemjo and stayed there. She was smiling with her head tilted down. He knew that look.
“Yes,” hummed the seawolf, “but not yet.”