The Clockwork Sea

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The Song of Gunfire

Lines of smoke streaked in foggy lamp light.

Remy hid behind a wall. At least five full turns ran across, all armed with dark red muskets. Remy slid back. Red rots. She was right.

A brass hand waved ahead of her and three Sevens members ran out. Remy made to follow them, but the same brass hand held her back by the shoulder.

“Not you.” Said Webly.

“I can fight.”

“You’re still a half turn. You get shot, you bleed.”

“They need me.”

Webly pulled her back until he was directly in front of her. His white, marble eyes seem to fixate on her goggles. The brim of his wizard hat shaded his face.

He took a breath, “They don’t need you. The innocent people in the line of fire do. If something happens here, the fight will surely engulf all the surrounding streets. Go, warn them first.”

“But--”

“Now you wish to speak? Go soldier, you have an order. I’ll send more when I can.”

Remy nodded hesitantly, reaching only slightly as the Sergeant ventured to the corner.

He took a step and waited, “This isn’t about protecting you, Niss Ricci, if that is you concern, consider this to be what a soldier does best.” He peaked out the corner, confirmed what he saw with a nod. “For both of us.”

He was gone then. The distant pops of gunfire followed and she tightened the grip on her pistol. She breathed hard. She had a mission.

The area a street away had already been emptied, no doubt spurred on by the shots. As she got further down where the distant reports muted, she decided to tuck her weapon in her blue robes. It was quiet there, not a soul around.

She took off her goggles and sighed as she did. She frowned deeply.

“For the both of us.” She repeated mockingly. “By the Hours it’s for the both of us!”

Her voice echoed and she jumped to the sound of it. When she was doubly sure the streets were empty, she continued.

Most of the houses here of the gentry of the Hungering City. Stained willow planks covered the front while gardens of assorted mushroom grew in wooden boxes. Each house was the size of half a Veracian estate, yet for a city nestled in the bowls of a whale, even that was an accomplishment. She remembered her own home. The painted white walls, the open garden and blossoming vines, it had all been quite nostalgic to her, well at least what she saw from the windows.

A dusty reflection balanced as she glossed over the balconies. No refugees there either. The emptiness was comforting. Soothing. There was trouble to be had with others around.

People whispered and snickered, always sure to glance in a direction that may have resulted in her own. People schemed. And of course they talked. She touched the metal rings below her eyes and winced when she heard the fixtures there twist and extend.

What would the other ladies-to-be say when they learned of her distortion? What would become of her standing? The same Remy who always read mechanical manuals, the same Remy who was too afraid to play with other children, now with eyes that would have scared any of them away? Horrible. Unthinkable. She snapped her goggles on. The eyes were one of the few parts of the body that could not be replaced. It remained her eternal misfortune.

Until she met Webly, the army had been her one escape, nothing more. Now it had a meaning however slight.

She heard the steady buzz of a working market when the last of the estates passed her.

A pair of steel gates formed like harps and lay open against high black walls. Scattered pieces of laundry led to and a little ways from it.

She crouched and picked one such undergarment, found it overly frilly. No doubt the nobles had scrambled when the firefight began. Her head flicked up. Why then did porters bellow on the other side?

The answer came in the form of a busy street some seconds away from the open gates. It was crowded, packed until some glass fitted shops were nearly blocked by the masses of people. It made her shudder just looking at it. She calmed herself with a breath as always and concentrated.

Perhaps some saw the nobles run by, but in the press of countless writhing bodies even the flight of the rich could have been swiftly forgotten.

Hats, tall and short, bustled about in every color. She tensed. Even red. A single red hat waved by the center of the street. Not many wore red hats, but the murderer, Venezio Trimbly, did. The red hat was the sign of a killer, worse it was a challenge.

Those wore those hats did not care who saw them. Most left them alone out of fear. Remy withdrew her pistol. She wouldn’t. She would catch him. She would bring glory to the Sevens. She cocked her pistol. She would…

Webly’s marble eyes flashed in her head. She had a mission. A duty. Her other hand swept over the first. She took a breath and pointed the barrel in the air.

The shot that could have pierced the heart of a murderer cut through the voices of hundreds instead. The crowds silenced. Then panic. Hats hustled away. Babes cried and full turns screeched.

She saw some blue coats wading her way and decided to meet them.

“Cadet Remy Le Ricci of the Sevens, Sirs.” She saluted them.

It was a pudgy man accompanied by one that was practically a stick, both of unremarkable height.

The stick spoke first, “You’ve come from the fight by the consulate? How it goes it?”

“Bad.” She reported. “The Sevens just engaged. It could have reached here at any moment.”

“Hence why you fired the shot.” Grumbled the larger man. “Good thinking, Cadet. We’ll handle the stragglers.” He turned to his skinnier companion who had been nervously glancing past Remy. “What is it Mott?”

Mott, the skinnier man shook his head, “If what she says is true then I fear for the safety of a man I spotted by the west harbor.”

“Is he the only one?” asked Remy.

“Yes from what I saw.” Said Mott.

Remy peered down the western side. A line of lamps dotted the street. It seemed empty for the most part. Perfect.

“I’ll warn him.” She volunteered

As she ran down the metal road, ramshackle houses formed on either side of her.

They seemed embedded into the black walls gating the estates as if those worn places had been there long before. She skipped an open patch in the road. The metal plates had been curled out and she could hear water echoing from below. Further down, more patches dotted the road and haphazard planks covered them loosely.

One in every two lamps had long faded out. It stunk of rotted batteries and half turned rats. A gull screeched and she knew she was near. The last of the crumbling wood buildings stood beside her. Ahead lay the western harbor.

There was a small dip before the harbor where drooping stone walls led into waterlogged scaffolding and piers. Here, where at least five major docks proliferated out, not a single ship moored within.

That made the lone man who stood before them all too apparent. Mott had told the truth.

She approached him, and he saw her before she finished the distance. He had white eyes upon skin of coal, a white hat, mantle and pants.

His mandibles parted, “Gree-tings.”

Remy saluted, “Cadet Remy Le Ricci.”

The man bowed his head and fixed back on the surrounding waters. The patchwork walls of the whale made the background.

She made her words bullets, quick and impactful, “Sir, it is dangerous here. I must ask you to evacuate.”

“I am waiting.”

“I’ll direct them away. Soon as they land. Your safety comes first.”

The mandibles angled up and his head clicked as he cocked it, “Your eyes are covered, you remind me of the boy.”

“What boy?”

“Trimbly.”

“Venezio Trimbly? You know him?” she reached for her pistol and paused. “Why do you mention my eyes?”

“Mechanization.” He started with a pace. “It is both cruel and merciful. A gift and a lie. There are those who relish in it and those who suffer. Which are you?”

“The latter,” She said touching the rims of her goggles. “I chose the wrong Hour to worship and I suffered for it. But this is not the time for idle chat. You need to leave. Now. Even if you know Trimbly.”

The man shifted his head abruptly. He seemed startled by his own movement. “They will arrive at the north harbor.”

“North? How do you know?”

“Direction changed. Whale turned.” His head remained northerly while his body clicked to meet it. He glanced at her quickly before he left. “The Trimbly I speak of is not your Trimbly.”

“Another? What does that mean?”

“Who will you fight, I wonder?”

The stranger left after that, vanishing quickly into the fog.

Remy Le Ricci stood still. Her hands were a quick drift to her goggles. She lowered those gloved units without touching the black rimmed specs. The red hat had been walking north last time she saw him and if the stranger was to be believed so to would the other Trimbly. She clicked her pistol.

“Neither.” She hushed. “A soldier protects.”

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