The Empty Bottle
“Five minutes, five minutes, what wanders there?
The grinning gamble, the foot of a hare
Oh chance is the key, not sagacity
The world is unfair, the world is unfair
Oh chance is the key, so let blinded be.
What happens, should happen, without a care
Wealth be the journey, the journey the fare
Oh chance is the key, for chance is plenty
In a world unfair, in a world unfair
Oh chance is the key that turns elsewhere.”
The guard ahead of the bars snarled, “Will you ever shut up?”
“You didn’t like it?”
“Maybe after the first time, sure. But upon your second, considerably drunken, iteration I lost interest. Especially since you forgot the half the words.”
Another guard spoke, “Don’t forget when he tried to sing.”
“Hours, don’t remind me.”
“Mate, that was my attempt at coaxing another drink.”
A long drawn out sigh rebounded the blackened cells. The guard faced the Professor with narrowed black eyes upon a porcelain face. Had he frowned any harder he would extended the crack near the bottom of his chin.
“Charles, we musn’t let him get to us.” Clamored the other guard. “Webly’s only just finished the interrogation.”
“No, Pratchet. I had enough. I say we gag him.”
“Then how would I drink?”
Charles’ shoulders shook and his hat wavered down. He spat out the words, “I am not answering that.”
The Professor fumbled back and slid against the wall. Had another even more staggeringly long hour pass he would have gone sober. He hicc’ed in dismay and threw an unhappy glance at his drained bottle. It did not seem right. He though back. Far back. Further back than he had ever before.
The old duck, Web-whats-it had asked him questions. Far too many for any sane man to ask. But, on the condition of a drink the Professor gladly answered, all except the one of course. He could never answer that question.
The drink was a Five Minute’s Fortune, one made famous along the first sea’s borders. The Professor frowned at it. Perhaps it was the Web-man’s attempt at a joke.
Either way, at the time it had captured his fancy. It was a dark brown concoction that appeared a rich amber in the cell light. The bottle was grooved, thin and tall, the marking had faded designs of chitik totems and words too fine to read.
And now it was empty.
That made him frown more than Webli-ly’s joke.
He flung himself to the bars, “I swear I didn’t drink a drop.”
“Shut up.” Bickered Charles.
The Professor sighed dramatically and tumbled back. He caught the glint of the locket on the ground and away from him. He sneered at it and crawled to it madly.
“You did this, you wicked piece of metal trash.” He accused the locket. “You drank my prize.”
“Alright I had enough.”
“I’ll say it this once and only once, you drunken buffoon. The bottle,” Said Charles pointing to the Five Minute’s fortune. “It’s still full.”
The Professor’s sight wandered to Pratchet as if to confirm.
The more sensible of the two guards nodded. Strangely, though, the bottle remained empty. He clawed back to it and attempted something he hadn’t before. He picked it up. He saw nothing, yet he heard the liquid swish, felt its telling weight.
The cap bounced off the floor.
He burped loudly, “Yup, still there.”
Charles tapped his foot, “Told you.”
The Professor raised the bottle till his bronze reflection distorted in the empty glass, “But why do I not see it.” He hummed to himself.
The locket glimmered in the corner of his eyes. He lowered the bottle.
An engine ticked in mechanical cacophony. The window rattled. The door had been open, waving slightly to the sway of the ship. Tig pressed his legs behind those of his chair and stared nervously at the bed ahead of him. He was not supposed to be there. There nor the ship.
For the second time in his life, Tiguak Trimbly found himself on a flying clockship. Yet this time it was the Navy’s. The sheets puffed up and down gently as its occupant breathed. The whites of it melded with the fresh bandages dressing Tig’s left arm. The other lay exposed owing to his grey, sleeveless shirt.
Tig shared a similar breath, “I know you’ve haven’t awakened in two days, and I know this is the third time now, but if you can hear me, know that I’m sorry… and that I’m grateful. If you hadn’t come when you did I would have been in Verace by now. My family would see me trapped there. Perhaps become one of them. It’s a long story.” He said making a smile none would see. “But I’m sure you’ll want answers when you stir.”
Some soldiers strolled by the open door. Tig flinched.
The chair slid, “Anyways, I better go before they find me.”
He stood and started away, the view of the bed shrank slightly as he did. Something clicked and extended. He peaked back and saw the girl still sleeping. A towel lay over her eyes and her black hair lay sprawled and messy upon the pillow.
Tig shook his head. His imagination had a habit of wandering lately. He had been making quiet company for two days now. The door swayed as he passed it. The Timebender rarely spoke except when giving instructions. The Professor had yet to leave interrogation and as for the other two… He steadied as the room directly next to the one he left faced him. It was their room. It was the place where Gemjo and Franco remained ever frozen.
There was hope that the girl who saved him heard what he said, but not those two. The Timebender’s terrible spell stopped most light, sound and outside entities from interacting with the two. They would be preserved perfectly until the spell wore off.
Tig’s hands balled, his iron lips curled and his half aluminum teeth grit. The Timebender had explained what the Gatekeeper brushed over.
Whenever time slowed, it would accelerate in kind. No exception.
A cane tapped behind him.
“Your master made a dangerous move freezing your friends.”
“Nister Tig.” Nodded the man. “The third law of Chronodynamics if I recall. The same law that turns bullets into artillery and water into steam. I could not imagine its effect on a living things, let alone half turns.”
“Well I don’t understand it. The Timebender said it reduces their lifespans. But we don’t have lifespans.”
Webly stumbled by, “Oh we do, Nister Tig, ‘Permanence lies, it is the illusion of death’.”
That gave Tig a start, “You worship the Eleventh?”
Webly had his hat tip back, “One needn’t worship to learn, Nister Tig. Or agree. The scriptures of the Eleventh proclaim that the time we have is fixed the moment we are born. That no matter how we die or where we end up, whether it be at the depths of the sea or the bowls of the scrapyard, our course is already set. I find comfort in that. If you have no control in how long you live then you do what you want to. What you think is right.”
Webly walked some steps ahead and paused, “If our lives are dictated by time, perhaps then they can be accelerated. I wish to think an entity greater than ourselves leads us out there, gives us meaning more than ourselves.”
“If not the Eleventh, then who? Who do you worship?”
Webly continued his stroll, his cane tapping with him as he spoke, “Enough idle chatter. You’ve been summoned by your master in his cabin.”
“Right.” Said Tig. “I’ll go, I’m curious is all.”
Webly was nearly by the corner leading out the hall so Tig thought it best to leave it at that. His two military grade boots, lent to him by the good sergeant, patted the metal pathing. The other end of the hall neared and Webly spoke up.
“The Second Hour.” Echoed the man’s voice.
Tig snapped back, “The God of Love?”
Webly was gone. Tig’s brows dropped. For some reason those he spoke to had a habit of not responding. Whether they were asleep, uninterested or spiritually ascended.
He continued on, his eyes lazy and his thoughts distracted. There was a hall up ahead. It had stairs in the middle of it that led up and down. On led to the cabins of guests, the other to the cells. It seemed an odd design and it had the unfortunate effect of making Tig think of the Professor more than he wanted to.
Even now as he stood steps before the two stairways, he could not help but curiously glance at the descending bit.
Hurried steps played stills towards him. He was pinned to the wall before he could turn. Silver hands held his own up. Goggles faced goggles.
“You’re awake.” He laughed anxiously.
“You saw, didn’t you?” she spat.
His eyes wandered to her white dress and he glanced away, “No, I swear I saw nothing.”
“Did you see them?”
“Yes them. Normally rounded, the place that holds another’s attention the most.”
Tig’s fleshy ears flashed red.
She continued, livid, “Buried deep, pointed. Don’t make me say it.”
“My eyes!” she breathed. “You saw them.”
“Eyes you say?”
His gaze flipped low and back again, “Y-you had a cloth over them. I only visited you three times to thank you, t-that’s all. I swear.”
She stared at him for the minutes before she let go and straightened her posture, “If it is then I apologise for my behaviour. It is not becoming of a soldier. Above all I’m glad that monster did not harm you.” She coughed with a nudge of her head tossed at his left. “Much.”
“Thanks to you.” Said Tig. “Had you not intervened when you did, I would have been damned.”
“So you were awake.”
She took a step back. The white gown she wore was only a shade lighter than her skin. Black, silky hair cascaded to her shoulders and bangs haphazardly covered the front of her goggle.
Her nose was pointed, her cheekbones high. She almost looked a noble of Verace had it not been for her goggles.
“Hence why I assumed the worse.” She conceded. “Again apologies for that. But you did mention one last bit.”
“Ah my family. It’s complicated.”
She scrunched her nose and pursed her lips, “You don’t happen to know a Wilma Marici do you?”
Had he been in cooler spirits he would have lied. But now he couldn’t. Now there was no escape. His back touched the wall. It was cold. But his sweat proved colder. She knew. She read the letter.
The girl’s lips parted as if she were to repeat the suspect question, but something made her turn. As did Tig.
It was a distant tone that got progressively louder and peaked when two soldiers burst out of the stairs leading down. Their fervent ‘AHH’s’ played one after the other until the girl stepped ahead of them.
The man shivered and halted in front of her. The other tried to run past but she quickly tripped him, resulting in a percussive pang.
“What happened, Charles?” she asked.
“My face.” He balled, continuously clawing at his porcelain cover. “It’s fallen off.”