The world toppled. The engines powered down and the thunder of waves became apparent. Tig moaned. The ground lay before him and his rump had reared up.
“This is why I said to wait before descending.” Her voice followed her gate. It grew louder with each footfall. “Our forty minutes of flight have ended.”
He dared not look back at her, fearing her gaze, “Pardon my rush, but I absolutely had to see him.”
Her descent paused, “Why?”
A bottle clattered. Bronze shimmered behind iron bars, “Tig? Oi Tig is that you?”
Tiguak Trimbly formed a twitching smile. He whirled to the girl now glaring at him and tensed.
“Tig?” he laughed. “Who’s that? My name’s ,uh, I-ron…Baaa-rrr. Euron Bear. Yes that.”
“Enough flippant fibs, mate. Get me out of here.”
The girl stormed down, “I knew it!” she clamoured. “You two know each other. That must mean…”
The Professor’s bronze head stuck out between the bars. His white goggles squinted and directed themselves upon the sickly pale girl, “Remy, is that you?”
The blood that heated her face quickly flushed out. She drew close to the bars, “Did you tell him?”
“If you mean good sergeant Webits, I told that duck all he needed knowing and trust me… hic… that was a lot. But in no shape or delectably drinkable form did I, the Professor, reveal your connection to myself.”
“Which… is?” pressed Tig nervously.
“None of your concern.” Snapped Remy.
“Yes mam!” Said Tig with a salute. He fixed his posture a moment later, unsure as to why he would salute. Remy’s cold glance centered in his view. That’s right. She would have murdered him otherwise.
The murderess spoke, her words were daggers at his throat, “Which on occasion, I must ask how you know him?”
Tig crossed his arms. He felt remarkably brave that day. It was just a faint bout of courage, but he clutched to it as tightly as the Professor did his drink. He did so for two reasons. One to positively paint himself in defiance, and two, to mask his hands that shook uncontrollably, “N-not speaking.”
“I wasn’t asking you.”
The Professor jabbed his own chest and blushed a little when Remy replied with a curt nod, “I’m touched, truly. Given me an awful itch behind my back where I just can’t reach. Tell ya what, I’ll answer any of your questions should you get me some liquor, savy?”
Remy’s lip twitched and her eyes ticked down to the bottle, “Or, I could take away your current drink.”
The Professor fell back, coddling his drink like a child, “M-M-Monster! T-Tig, get her away from me this instant. Hours this one’s gone mad.”
“No she’ll kill me—I-I mean yes mam!”
“Tig?” questioned Remy aloud. “As in Tiguak Trimbly?”
Tig stammered back.
“Brother of Venezio Trimbly?”
“The runaway child, about my age, who we were tasked with capturing? Last I read, Tiguak Trimbly was attempting to murder his family.”
The Professor made his way back to the bars, “I… hic… didn’t catch any of that, but I assume we’ve passed the theft of my beverage, yea?”
“Adoptive family.” Answered Tig. There was no escaping it now. The moment Vene drew blood from a Viceroy, the chase of the navy would be inevitable. “And to kill them was the plan originally, but now, I don’t think I would.”
“Not that you could. That night is still blurry but I remember seeing you sprawled and defeated.”
His voice became meek, “He wouldn’t kill me.”
“You said the same last night and I’m still not convinced.”
“Oi Remy,” interjected the Professor, “you get those eyes fixed yet?”
She turned, “Y-y-you quiet about my eyes. You are the one to help me.”
“And I am, mate, promise. Hence why I’m going to the mad tinker right now. Well that and another reason.”
She pulled him to the bars by his collar, “Why should I believe you? You’re in prison, incarcerated under the authority of General Tat and for the theft of a trade caravel.”
“Free me then.”
She forfeited her grip. Her eyes wandered down, “I can’t.”
Tig made to the other end of the bars closest to the stairs. Another prison sat across the room but empty. He considered his options. Perhaps the bars would keep him safe from her. He was not strong, but he was fast. It would take seconds at most. His escape seemed assured. He nodded briskly as he thought that.
He had a question long burning on his mind, “What is wrong with your eyes? Are you blind in one of them? Or do you have only one?”
Remy sighed, “It’s complicated.”
“Complicated…” Tig’s gaze fell as he considered the word. He wondered just how Gemjo would have reacted if she knew the truth of it. Would she have hated him as all other northerners did? He smiled. No, she would’ve fallen asleep.
That smile faded as quickly as it came.
“Professor listen, Gemjo and Franco… they’re,” his head dipped low, “Not well. I figured you’d want to know.” He turned to Remy. “Hence why I needed to see him.”
“Poisoned and frozen is that it, mate?”
“How did you know?”
“Wobly told me. Terrible thing, but nothing much we can do. Their best course is our current course and praying to their Hours.”
“As if that would help.” Scoffed Remy.
“It does, mate. Hours always come through for their believers. Especially the ones with little followers.”
Remy pulled away from the bars, “I have a duty. Besides I’ll make sure to have you in my sights the moment they release you.”
He finished a swig, “If they release me.”
“As for you.” She started, eyes on Tig. “You’ll come with us to Verace. I’ll arrange for your protection under Webly.”
“Yes ma—” he shook his head. “I won’t go.”
“This is for your own safety, citizen.”
“Tig. My name’s Tig and so long as I stay there I won’t get anything done. They’ll find me, they always do and they’ll make me into one of them: A murderer.” His right hand tightened and he slammed his still bandaged shoulder and winced to the burning pain. “I’ll become a doctor using whatever time I scavenge from being away from them.”
“Do you mean to oppose us, citi—Tig?”
“No! no. I mean, yes… Not now at least. So please don’t kill me?”
“You’ve made terrible mistake, Trimbly.”
His back touched the wall, and he felt her glare dig deep into his skin, “Actually,” He managed, “I don’t think I have.”
Her brows twitched and upper lip curled, “Leave.”
Tig pointed at the Professor, “But I—“
“Leave.” She reiterated.
He heard the hollow thumps as soldiers neared. It was no option.
Tig had his shoulders slumped as he passed the two descending guards. He noted that one of them had realised his face had never vanished. Strange that. The full turn balled for a good minute claiming his face had crumbled off despite remaining in plain sight.
That illusion was vanquished upon Remy’s quick instructions to breathe deeply and properly feel what he thought was no longer there. Even then, the man had been drained by it.
Tig finished the steps and started the next. Clearly, it was one of the Professor’s strange powers, just as he had done to Marici the night Tig had met him. It made him wonder about the drunk in question. Just who was the Professor? Why did the Gatekeeper know of him? Why did Remy?
He knocked on the door first to his left after the stairs. Steps and mechanism worked on the other side. Who did he escape with that night of the festival? Perhaps it was a question that lacked an answer. Or perhaps he already knew.
The door creaked open, and the dim light of the lantern seeped by.
“Webly said you called for me.”
The Timebender gestured inside, “I did. We shall begin your training.”
“Really?” chirped the boy. His eyes followed the Timebender as the man made about his small medical chamber and sifted through drawers and tables. Flasks toasted, papers ruffled.
Tig rocked on his heels and continued as the man searched frivolously, “Well then where to begin? I’ll need to learn how to nullify poisons, oh, and dispel hysteria should I come across Hiretio. Perhaps some easy tips for acupuncture?”
Tig held out his wooden fingers, “Anything I can learn, really, and quickly as I don’t have much time.”
A heavy book slammed on his outstretched hands. Then another and another. And, at last, a painfully heavy fourth.
“What…” he groaned. “What are these?”
“Basics of chemicals, anatomy, botany and The Observations of Mechanization Vol. 1. Read all of these.”
“Make notes. You will be tested.”
He swallowed hard, he could barely see his master over the stack, “How long do I have exactly?”
The top of the Timebender’s head fell to the side, “Depends on how quick you wish to learn.”
“Is there any shortcuts? A manual to apply medicine perhaps?”
The man made to the shelves, picked another book and sifted through it, “Manuals may contain errors, as a doctor-in-training it is your duty to understand why the manuals write it so, to do that you must master the basics.”
“All the basics?” he whimpered.
His head tilted back to Tig, “That is only the beginning. I will provide you with practical training as well. That is, once you friend awake you shall attend to them with me, under my direct tutelage.”
“About that.” Said Tig, struggling to hold the books. “Should the Navy request my return to Verace for any means, would you interfere?”
The Timebender shut his book softly, “So long as you wish to pursue this path and adhere to my teaching methods I will stop any from preventing it.”
Another book joined the nearly toppling pile, “Basics of Biology, a Study on Pre-Mechanized Life.”
Tiguak took steps to balance himself, “Isn’t that well, useless?”
“By that logic, so are doctors.”
He conceited to that point with a nudge of his chin.
The Timebender began pacing back and forth, his bony arms held behind his back, “The use of a thing differs from the need of it, a-ppren-tice. All life starts fleshy, and so is susceptible to natural harm, take your friends for example. One must also consider the future o the profession. While the things that kill us need be instant after we turn, it carries with it the assumption that mechanization will last forever.”
Tig leaned against the door, and peaked passed the tower of books, “Won’t it?”
The mandibles angled, “Nothing lasts forever, young one.”
He assumed that comment was a jab at his balance. Or perhaps a prediction. As Tig struggled down the hall, he readied himself for the descent. One step after the other he braved the minute but imposing drops. All ten of them. He took a breath at the bottom.
“Safe.” He breathed with a turn. The top of the book tower seemed to wobble more and more. Carefully, as he waded forwards, his mind wandered elsewhere. Images of Gemjo convulsing on the iron floor almost tripped him. It struck him more than his memories of the village.
“I will not lose you to.” He muttered, braving step after step. If he was to read it had to be in the presence of them. It was only fitting consider how little he could do for them now. A door slammed. Tig started. He thought the last, considerably flatter stretch would be easy. His grip fumbled.
He was wrong.
A series of hollowed thuds played out before him, and sourly, he scrambled to bring them together. While the first four were relatively close, The Observations of Mechanization Vol. 1 had traveled well across the hallway, stopping short by a half open door.
As Tig made to the book and crouched to pick it up, he realised that was the door that had been slammed. In fact whoever threw it shut had done so with such vigor that it had bounced back half-way.
Tig glanced away from it, “None of my business.” he said to himself. He took a step, the books trembled. His eyes snapped to the room next to the open one. That was his destination.
He shuffled awkwardly to the half open room, “That would mean…”
He heard the weeping first. He thought it impossible until he saw her himself. The girl with skin as pale as a smoke and a temper as hot as fire was… sobbing. He dared look closer, the books threatening to fall at any moment.
She was on the floor, her back against the opposite side of the bed facing the far wall. She sat in such a way no one entering would be noticed, nor would they notice her.
Tig saw her goggles sprawled on the bed.
“I’m two different people.” She confessed with a sniff. “And no one knows.”
Tig stepped back and turned. His back brushed the wall. That was not Remy, at least not the Remy that threatened him, overpowered him, and would most assuredly do horrible things to him in his sleep. No. That was the Remy he saw the night when Venezio attacked.
His voice box powered on. He whispered in a bout of static and buzz. It was barely audibly, even to himself, “Then we are the same.”