The Drunk the Fool and the Layabout
It was a stupid stupid choice. Any moment now they would catch him. Marici and Wilma would be trailing behind them on the fastest ship those two could muster and if not them, perhaps the marine time police. Perhaps even the navy.
Yet, despite all of that, Tiguak Trimbly could hardly peel his eyes from the rising sun. This was it, his grand escape. His… duty. His hands quivered at the railing. The dissipating embers of a letter spell rushed by him. At the very least Wilma would know.
“Hours,” cursed the stranger. “Am I?” he sniffed. “Sober? Gah!”
Tig spied at him. His features were fully defined in the morning light. He was a full turn. Wedges of coal spiked out of the underside of his head as if it were hair. His skin was of bronze, rusted where he would have had light stubble. He had a long pointed nose and even longer face. His eyes were black rimmed white goggles long embedded into his countenance.
“You said you were a professor. What of?”
The man had already popped a bottle and finished a swig, “Oh you know, of this, that, and sometimes,” he shrugged, “Even that.”
“You’re not very specific,” laughed the boy. “What do you mean by the ends of this world?”
“The end, mate. Over there. Squint really hard at the horizon and you might even spot it.”
The man sniffed and swaggered to the prow, “Careful what you say around a professor of magics. You might even sound dumb saying it. I mean over there at the very end. Just so happens it’s where I’m to meet a friend, a man by the name of a mad tinker-what’s-it.”
Tig blinked. “Mad Tinker? You don’t mean… no that can’t be.”
The Professor rose a finger as if to explain himself but before he could the sound of wood rattling came from the lower deck. Tig rushed to the railing to see what while the professor casually strolled, taking a long swig as he did.
Tig took off his goggles and squinted as hard as the professor instructed him to. The barrel moved. Tig started. Barrels didn’t move. He stormed down the stairs.
“Oi mate, be careful now, you might trip.”
Tig leapt at the last step. The barrel sat ahead of him. It was accompanied by two other smaller equally brass rung companions, yet only this one moved. Tig reached for it and paused.
The barrel rattled once again. Then thuds echoed behind him and he caught the Professor sprawled on the floor, rump presented to the heavens.
He stood up dizzily and produced an easy smile, “I, um, meant to do that.”
There was a scrape, a creak and a pop.
Tig gasped as he saw it, “The barrel lid.”
Now both the wayward travelers were locked upon it intently.
Bright, golden eyes were the first they saw.
Those eyes vanished a moment later. Silence.
Tig swallowed, “Hello?”
“I was never here,” spoke the barrel.
Tig frowned. There was several issues to that statement, the least of which concerned how the Professor approached the wooden container. Tig’s expression shifted. For a moment he had hope. He was certain that in all the Professor’s fully turned years of experience he knew just how to approach a stowaway. At least more than himself.
“Barrel,” started the man, prodding about the barrel. “Do you have any liquor in you?”
Tig shook his head. Hopeless.
“What he means to say,” interjected Tig. “Is that we’ve captured this ship.”
“Obviously,” mumbled the barrel. “You’re not the crew.”
Tig beamed, “Hah, so you are here!”
Golden eyes popped out of the barrel, “That was my attempt at a joke. Barrels don’t talk.”
“Do barrels carry liquor?”
Barrel eyes swished to the man, “Your companion is a drunk and you,” the eyes said swapping to the boy and narrowing, “are an idiot.”
The lid closed.
Tig pointed at himself, “I’ve just been insulted by a barrel.”
“No,” corrected the Professor. “You’ve been insulted by the girl in the barrel.”
The barrel popped open and the girl in question showed her face. She stared at him. She seemed curious by Tig’s appearance as he was hers.
Her face was entirely fleshy and tan save for her brows, which had become a dreary steel. Her hair, grey as well, was a mess of equally shaded steel that stemmed from her forehead, curved around her ears and stopped short of her neck. Tig focussed on her ears more than anything else. It was almost as if she had four of them, two on either side in the shape of half a butterfly, furry and pointed. One ear angled up while the other bent down.
“You’re a sea wolf.” said Tig.
“And you’re a chitik. We’re both northerners.”
“You both know each other? Wonderful. Now the liquor.”
The girl frowned and vanished into the barrel. Tig stepped forwards.
“Stay back,” warned her muffled voice. “I have a gun.”
Tig pressed his brows, “Why would I believe you have a gun?”
“Why would you believe I haven’t?”
“You’re my age, you couldn’t afford one. Nor would any would anyone sell you one.”
The Professor wiped his mouth, “He has a point, mate.”
The lid opened, “Plan two,” declared barrel girl. This time she stood so much as to reveal her steel turned mechanical arms, bare passed her shoulders. They looked as if several silvers tubes had been tied together by brass rings. Something clacked as she lifted her right arm. She had a small square shaped device held between her thumb and her finger. It clicked and buzzed.
Barrel girl cleared her throat, “Ah. Aaaaah. Testing. Ok. I, Gemjo of the Yuka clan hereby declare my capture at the hand of the nefarious… your names?” she asked Tig, holding the device close to the boy.
She turned to the Professor. The man pointed at Tig, “His but better.”
Tig shook his head, “What are you doing?”
She clicked the device off, “Recording. My proof you might say. I am no longer implicated for when you get captured.”
“That’s your plan?” scoffed Tig. “Wait till we get captured?”
Gemjo shrugged, “Better than fighting an uphill battle.”
“Say mate, savy you tell us why you were here to begin with? And presumably without liquor?”
Gemjo’s eyes wandered, “I may have been hired to watch the ship. Call for help if anything happened.”
The Professor snickered as he made away, “I’m glad you were.”
“I miscalculated,” said Gemjo. “Never expected thieves.”
“I’m no thief!” clamored Tig. “I’m an explorer.”
“This your boat?”
“Thief,” the lid shut.
Tig frowned emphatically. He had little time to waste on barrels. Well little more than he already he had. As he turned, he saw the Professor at the foot of stairs and staring down his bottle.
The morning light grazed the outline of the top deck and Tig remembered.
“The horizon,” he started. “You said you meant to meet the Mad Tinker. Do you mean that Mad Tinker?”
He heard the barrel lid slide open behind him. The professor lowered his bottle.
“Could be, mate,” mused the Professor. “Though to say he’s the same mad tinker as that mad tinker would imply your mad tinker is the same as mine.”
“You’re drunk. Already.” sighed Tig.
“No. you’re drunk... hic!” The professor took a few steps and collapsed on the deck.
“Professor?” Tig said as he paced to the man. His steps slowed and his brows dropped.
The professor had been coddling his bottle in his arms. His eyes were shut and the only conversation he offered happened in snores.
“You realise how far that is, chitik?”
Tig rolled his eyes at the girl, “I’m honestly not sure how much I believe him.”
“So you followed him without knowing him?”
The red in his face drowned. He clutched his temple with his wooden fingers.
“When you say it like that, it almost sounds absurd.”
Barrel girl tugged her ears, “Well, it’s easy enough to turn back now. Save us both the trouble.”
“Aren’t I implicated?”
“You aren’t very convincing.”
“That, fellow northerner, would take effort,” she said as she ventured back in her barrel.
With the barrel girl gone, Tig stared at the now snoring man. He found himself tracing the lanky features of the so called Professor. He wore a dirty soldier’s jacket, dark blue and gilded in a mucky silver. Heady leathers hugged his body underneath.
“What if he isn’t lying?” suggested Tig after some time.
Her was voice was muffled, “Still keeps the fact that the Tinker is a long ways away. The longer you travel the more likely you are to be caught and the more difficult it be for me to return.”
“You want to? Return that is?”
Gemjo popped out, “All I want is an easy life, though that isn’t an easy wish.”
“Well I want to go far,” snapped Tig, eyeing the Barrel girl. She seemed unimpressed, yawning even. He lowered his head. “I have something to do.”
“Then do it Tiguak Trimbly.”
“Call me Tig, and I will,” he raised his head and dared into the horizon. “Whether the Professor tells the truth or not.”
Tig blinked. The Professor was speaking in his sleep.
“Mad Tinker… Stop mechanization.”
“Mechanization,” hushed Tig as he rose a finger. “By the Hours he did mean that Mad Tinker!”
“That sounds incredibly long and awfully taxing. When abouts is the next stop?”
Tig’s excitement seemed to evaporate as she said that. He didn’t know. His throat clicked. His risen finger wilted.
He took a gander, “Um, tomorrow?”
Barrel girl formed a line with her mouth, “You don’t have a navigator, do you?”