The Clockwork Sea

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The Lie of Franco Cantinio

Galvanized gulls screeched over the banks of Siblisey.

The skies cleared as the factories powered down for the night. More and more full turns took to the street as businesses emptied out. Yet those streets faded quickly behind them. Franco led the way. Lamps flickered and evening rays colored the limestone walls a turmeric orange.

“This way, friends,” directed Franco.

Tig noticed the path they were treading had been increasing in slope. Little bits of greenery peaked through the gaps in the cobblestone and houses seemed fewer and further between.

Tig rushed to Franco’s side, “Where are we headed, Franco?”

Franco gave him a half smile, “I’m glad you asked, Tij.”

“Tig.”

“Up ahead lies legendary ground.”

“Legendary?” quirked Tig. “What’s legendary about it?”

Franco patted himself on the chest, “The soon to be Captain Franco the Great was born there.”

“Up there? In the country of an already small island?” scoffed Gemjo. “Oh the Great Franco, captain of straws and empty pockets.”

Franco snorted in his throat, but quickly regained his composure, “I’ll be the captain of the strongest crew on the sea once I leave.”

Gemjo stretched and a smile crested her cheeks, “Meaning you never left the island?”

Franco frowned back at her, “I have left, actually. Once before.” He brushed his chiseled chin with a silver hand. Steam jetted out of the gaps between his fingers. “Though that is a tale for another time. As for now once we reach my home, good friends, please do mind the senile woman who lives with me. Hah, for the life of me she think she’s my mo-”

“Franky!”

Franco stopped short, his expression dropped.

The Professor stood beside Franco and took a swig. He breathed pleasantly after it, “That your mother, mate? I do savy her.”

Franco stomped in front of the Professor and puffed in his face, “No. Not you, you drunken, uh, friend. My mother is not to be ’savy’d.”

The Professor winked one goggled eye and in the distance, the woman swooned.

“NO. no no no no. You did not just do that.” Steamed Franco.

“Who?” teased Gemjo. “The drunk or your mother?”

“Franky,” cried her shrill voice, “Just who is that handsome turn?”

Franco flashed red as he spun to his mother, “MA!”

“WHAT?”

“DON’T SHOUT IN THE STREET.”

“WHAT?”

Franco slumped a hand against his face and breathed into it deeply, “Shall we go?”

The rest of the way was of little trouble. The main road trickled into a dusty trail, and that trail led into an offbeat path. A small creak rushed under that swath and branches loomed low forcing the Professor and Franco to momentarily brush them away.

Tig heard mechanical swallows sing in the trees. Steam crickets chirped in the bushes and wooden frogs let out vibrating ribbits. He glanced at Gemjo, almost expected a howl.

Franco’s mother was a short and round woman, a full turn whose body had completely shifted to wood. Curiously, her hair was of moss that formed a near bush. Her eyes were a glistening amber. She was a full turn without a hat. Strange. Tig thought he had saw it all.

The Professor crept up to her, much to the displeasure of Franco, “So, what’s a charming young woman such yourself doing in these parts?”

“Oh please, call me Maria.”

“It’s a travesty, truly,” the Professor swept up her hand and gave it a peck. “I may be a thief, but you’re robbing the world by staying here, sweetheart.”

Maria tossed his hand away and turned to Franco, amber eyes narrowing, “What does he mean by thief? No Francisco Santos Carlo el Cantinio of mine will live with thieves.”

“No, ma listen. This is man an idiot.”

“Not an idiot, mate. A professor. And I assure you Maria, the only thing this thief steals is the hearts of beautiful women.”

“Oh…” she said batting her eyes. “Franky, I’ll prepare oil stew for the gentleman and pasta for the children. Help me will you?”

Franco balled his fist at the Professor.

“Franky.”

“Yes ma.”

The two went ahead where the path ended. A small hamlet came to view. Here, where the mountain peaked roughly overhead, the houses were hovels instead. A thick layer of moss served as the rooves for those houses, grey stone acted as walls. Each house was more a stubby hill that had its high point at the entrance and tapered down. Uncut grass overwhelmed the dusty paths.

The Professor tipped his hat, “Are we supposed to crawl, mate? Doesn’t seem that spacious.”

Gemjo approached his side. With her tannish jaw clutched in her hands, she realised it before the others, “I see. Wait old drunk, and you will to.”

The drunk shrugged, “So long as I get a bottle, I’ll stuff whatever hole needs stuffing, mate.”

Gemjo made for the burrow, “You could have worded that better.”

Tig held off from following them. Something caught his eye. He wandered to the center of the hamlet where a brass clock statue half covered in moss awaited. At least half a dozen mossy hovels blurred in his sights. The clock formed the centerpiece. He ran his wooden hand along the inscribed numbers.

They were worn, faded, bits of the clock had been chipped away.

“Does it interest you, boy?”

He glanced at where the voice came.

It was a skinny full turn made entirely of dark iron that stood with immaculate posture. A white wizard hat adorned his skeletal head, while his chest bare. His wide eyes, short mantle and puffy pants were all white. When he talked his lower jaw split in two. He had mandibles.

“You wish to harness the clock, boy?” the man walked up to the clock, his head twitching as if gears controlled it. “Ah, you are from the northern tribe. You deal with spirits, it would come naturally to you.”

“What would?” he asked instinctively.

The dark iron man seemed to smile, his blaringly white eyes glimmered. “Why, Time itself,” hushed the man.

“Tig? Tig!”

Tig blinked and saw Franco gesturing at him, “Come, friend, get some supper.”

Tig nodded and paced, every so often peaking at the strange dark iron man. He nearly tripped as he came across the stairs.

“Watch yourself.” Warned Franco.

Several steps extended in front of him, steep steps. He looked to the once stubby opening of the burrow and found it extraordinarily tall. Winds shrieked through the chamber. The further he went down the more he saw to his side.

Monoliths of bare chested mechanized men in the likeness of Franco stood there. One on either side.

“My Great grand dad, Franci, and my Great great great grand uncle Fron. The two greatest of the Cantinio family.”

“And down there?” asked Tig eyeing the massive chamber ahead.

“My family home. See what I told you? Legendary.”

Tig passed the entry way and found a large chamber below. It stretched as long as a galleon, maybe two. A series of hanging chandeliers lit the cavern in austere light. A polished oak table, nearly as long as the hall, had plates set at the far end. A velvet drape covered the center of it, leaving near edges still a sandy brown.

Gemjo noticed him first. She had been leaning by the wall, “You were up there for a while.”

Tig blinked, “I was?”

Gemjo motioned her head at the far counter.

“Long enough for the Professor’s new love interest to cook supper,” said Gemjo with a nudge at the far end.

Tig felt at his head. “It seemed no more than a few minutes,” he guessed.

“Try an hour.”

“An hour?!” he coughed.

Gemjo puffed as if amused by that answer. She got to her feet and made down the hall. Her swishing tail almost made him dizzy.

“Right,” he said to himself. “ Can’t touch that.”

He eyed the polished grey stone columns around him as he followed her. Banners hung from the very top and nearly grazed the bottom. Each was of a different kingly state within the twelve seas, all members of the Empire. Tig frowned at them. That was as far as his knowledge of the banners extended.

He paused on one banner, his steps slowed. It was blue with a twelve toothed gear centering it.

“Ah, you’ve an interest in the Cantinio family business?”

“Business?”

“Yes, Cantinio men and women from across generations have served as great leaders and military commanders for several organizations. That,” he said gesturing at the one banner with the gear on it, “Was what my late grandfather served.”

“But I don’t understand. Didn’t you want to topple the navy?”

“It’s long a story,” waved Franco. “I’ll have many more to share at sea.”

They were close enough now that the Professor had heard. He had been sitting on the opposite side of the table with Maria besides him and Gemjo besides her. He popped a bottle.

“Lest you forget, mate. We’ve got no boat,” reminded the drunk.

You got no boat,” hummed Franco. “But I do.”

“Franky, you’re heading to sea?”

“Yes Ma.”

Maria Cantinio cuffed her hand and leaned to the Professor who had been seated next to her, “Happened when he was young, you see. Terrible accident, ever since he’s been afraid of the-- ”

“MA.”

“What? They’re your friends they should know.”

“Should know what?” asked Gemjo. “Never mind, I don’t care.” Gemjo licked her lips and glanced hesitantly at the fork and knife left out for her.

“Perhaps a story for the sea?” mused Tig.

Franco snapped his fingers, “Exactly!”

Tig took his seat. A fragrant and steaming dish of pasta was plated in front of him. He sniffed it eagerly. Oregano and thyme. Franco seated beside him. The Professor, who sat across from Tig, had taken to sipping the oil stew. Tig spotted Gemjo using her bare hands to claw at the pasta.

The Professor finished his sip and spoke with a smack of his lips, “Tell us why you want to end our prestigious navy, mate?”

“You’re still on about that Franky?” asked his mother.

Franco scratched his head, “I may be, yes.”

Maria turned to Professor, “Same story as the one I was about to tell you.”

“Ma.”

“Oh shoosh, at least let them know this before they go.”

Franco puffed, “Fine.”

Maria shuffled her seat ever closer to the Professor, “Ten years ago, when Franky was just a boy, not much younger than this one here,” she said nudging her head at Tig. “Franky decided to set sail. Now the sea is dangerous and all the other Cantinios had already set about on their respective adventures. You could imagine my fear when I learned my poor darling boy went off by himself.”

The Professor smiled at Franco, “Dreadful.”

“Oh, it almost broke my heart. Why he almost drowned.”

“I didn’t almost drown. I just got tired,” corrected Franco.

“Everyone knows you’re terrible swimmer, Franky.”

“A terrible swimmer? On an island?” muffled Gemjo with pasta in her mouth.

Maria continued before Franco could defend himself, “There was storm the same night. The little sailboat he took had taken too much water. He was too far at sea to ask for help, so eventually he was knocked overboard. The waves, terrible then, separated him for his boat, and little Franky was left alone at night and in the middle of the sea,” Maria paused. “Is she… is she sleeping?”

Gemjo’s snores echoed throughout the massive chamber. Her tail flicked back and forth as she slept and Tig could not help but wonder if she had been experiencing a pleasant dream.

“Not your story, love,” waved the Professor. “She does that often, terrible affliction. Would you continue?”

“Yes, yes. Now this is the strange part you see--”

“Not strange it happened,” insisted Franco.

Maria leveled her amber eyes on her son, “Let’s ask them, Franky.” She turned to the Professor and spied at Tig. “A man eventually saved little Franky but with flying clock ship. No one saw him, nor did he introduce himself. We found Franky wandering the streets of Siblisey come morn. Do you know who he said saved him when I asked my poor, shivering boy?”

“Humor us, love.”

Maria wiggled her head and smiled a bit, “The Sixth hour.”

Tig nearly choked on his pasta. Gemjo snorted awake.

“Mate. Mate. You telling me you met a god?”

“Honest,” clamoured Franco. “It could not have been anyone else.”

The Professor did not seem convinced, “Twelve gods, twelve Hours and you met one?”

Franco leaned in on the table, “It had to be him. He was the legendary sailor and it was on his month, the Sixth. Do you know what they say was the doom of the Sixth Hour? His lack of a navigator. Exactly what you lot are lacking now. I suggest you all get some rest to get back on that quest.”

Gemjo stared at him. Her head bobbed upon her crossed steel arms as she spoke, “Are you trying to change the subject?”

“Not trying, already changed. Sleep. Captain’s orders.”

Gemjo shrugged, “Can’t argue with orders,” she trailed as she promptly collapsed on the table.

“Little Franky’s been devout since,” said his mother.

Tig had to ask, “So how does that relate to toppling the Navy?”

“I’m not sure,” said Maria. “Just wanted tell a story.”

“I know.” All those awake turned to the Professor. “I am a Professor after all, mate. I know things and occasional I get paid to know. The Sixth Hour is the God of Anarchy, the patron of all half turns. The one rebellious twat among the twelve. The others are alright. Well except twelve. Nobody likes twelve, the pretentious bastard.”

“You just called a god a bastard,” noted Franco.

The Professor finished a sip from his bottle, “I did. Not like they can hear us, mate. So how bout we gossip, eh? The Sixth Hour you saw must have told you to end the navy, is that it?”

“Yes, how did you know?”

“Not a very good reason then, is it? Suppose it was the god of anarchy that told you to topple the world’s largest organised military. Well, it’s in his nature. It be the same as a teacher telling you to learn or mother insisting you love.”

“I have… other reasons,” said Franco.

Maria reached for her son as he said that. Her wooden brows furrowed, and her mouth turned to a frown. Whatever his reasons were, just their mention had rippled the waters of long un-touched troubles. Tig could tell that by the way Franco seemed momentarily defeated, by how his mother sought to comfort him. And even then Tig felt the need to glance away as she comforted her boy. All at once he felt greedy, selfish, wanting. There were many thing Franco Cantinio had that Tiguak Trimbly did not.

“Let’s hope those reason do you betta than some religious backstory,” said the Professor, ending his words with a swish of a bottle. “As this drink will do me.”

He flipped the bottles’ base to the ceiling and took a long draw of it. He parted the liquor from his lips, swayed a little, and fell face first into the oily soup. His hat rolled off and Maria gagged the moment she the contents of it.

“Is that… oh by the Hours, FRANKY!”

Tig was the only one among them that found proper bedding that night. Franky had been too busy rinsing the Professor’s hat on his mother’s behest.

Maria led Tig down the long hallways that stretched to the left side of the chamber upon entry. They passed several rooms before they approached the guest rooms.

Perhaps it was the only room in the Cantinio family hovel that was of regular proportions. It had a ceiling he could touch, walls he could walk to in seconds and a fireplace should he get cold. Luckily, a bed had already been laid out with a wool covers to warm him.

“Now remember dearie, if you need anything feel free to ask. You half turns need all the rest you can get to grow up strong.”

“Thank you Mrs. Cantinio.” Bowed Tig.

The door creaked shut and Tig stumbled to the bed with his eyes scanning the low rise ceiling. He smiled as he thought of Franco and Maria, of gods and of gossip. He reached for the ceiling and stared at the dim blue glow of his hand.

That hand curled into a fist. His voice became quiet and hoarse, “So that’s what a mother’s like.”

They gathered by the docks come morn. Maria hugged her boy for a long time. When they parted the embrace, Franco had a bag of pungent goods in his arms.

“For the trip,” she explained. “It’s cheese, won’t spoil easily.”

“Thank you, Ma.”

“Now you come back, you hear me. I don’t want any letters. I want my son.”

“I know ma.”

She smiled at him, making her wooden cheeks impossibly round, “The family home will be awfully lonely by myself. With you gone, that’s it. Just me. Hah! Maybe I’ll redecorate.”

Franco dropped the cheese and grabbed her by the shoulders, “They’ll return Ma. I’ll find them, all of them and tell them just how much you miss them. I bet even that old Fron will agree.”

“Fron,” she puffed, flicking her eyes to the sky then back at Franco. “Haven’t seen him since I was a girl.”

“And I never,” said the man.

“Well tell him little Maria’s not so little anymore, understand?”

“I will, Ma.”

“Oh and your hair,” she said touching the cone. “It’s atrocious. Do cut it will you?”

“MaaaaAaaa.”

“Ok. Ok. You’re a man now. I get it. Go if you must, but come back.”

Franco held her for a little while longer. In that moment between mother and son, the two shared an identical smile complete with dimples that spoke to their blood. While the gull song picked up and heady sailors grumbled curses to the morning wind, he held her. It was their final goodbye. The one said without words.

Until Franco let go.

He picked up the cheese and nodded at her as he made to the others.

The turning mechanism clicked several times before the lift finally snapped into place. A box of bolted wooden frames awaited them. One after the other the four of them entered the lift. Franco was the last to do so. He clutched his cheese tightly.

The machine clicked and Franco sniffed.

Just before the sight of his face vanished below the waterfall he bellowed so all could hear, “LOVE YA MA!”

Several descenders turned to their group and some even snickered. Tig could tell Franco did not care. The man who would topple the navy had the biggest smile on his face. It was the smile of an honest man, the kind that never lied to himself.

Streaks of sun intruded their box. The Professor and Gemjo were already sightseeing, their countenances drenched in the light. Tig shuffled to face it, but before he did he noticed how Franco stood perfectly still with his eyes glued to the waterfall. He was shivering. It seemed a strange habit of his, especially considering how he acted the day prior by the cliff. But Tig decided to leave the man alone. With a shrug, he turned.

The view from the descent was magnificent. A crystalline ocean expanded in front of them. Ships were transformed into dots by the grandeur of it and the rising sun became an egg yolk wobbling in the distance.

When the lift completed its descent, the four of them tapped the wooden docks and eventually came across what Franco had touted.

“Behold, Friends. Our ship!”

Tig frowned, Gemjo chortled and the Professor blurted what they had all been thinking, “It’s tiny mate.”

“It’s a sloop. A steam sloop.” Franco ran from the end of the boat to the prow and back. It took him two seconds.

It had a single mast and three sails. One sail at the back and two angled at the front. The half deck that sported the back was almost entirely consumed by the jet black steam engine.

“Gree-tings, do you have room for a fifth?”

Tig nearly leapt back.

It was the old man from the hamlet. His brimming white eyes were off putting at best.

Franco stepped in front of him, “You’re that old full turn who arrived last week. Listen, our course is a perilous one. The city we seek lies within the belly of titanic whale.”

Tig poked his head between them, “I’m sorry what?”

Franco shook him away, “The Navigator lives there. What I mean is that you may very well die if you go with us, old man. I mean the S-s—“ He gulped with a quick to the water and back, “s-sea, ahem, is dangerous. We can’t protect you.”

The old creature smiled, angling his mandibles about, “I can protect myself. If you take me with you, I shall pay kindly.”

“We do need money for a ship,” suggested Gemjo.

The Professor gulped a drink on the sloop, “I like money. Money buys liquor and liquor well that’s happiness. I say we take him, mate.”

The strange man cocked his head in slow rigid bursts.

“Fine,” said Franco after some deliberation. “Don’t blame me if you die, old man.”

As Franco left, Tig remained face to face with the stranger. The old man pointed to somewhere above and to the side. Tig followed that extended digit and saw a mechanical bird. Only it was completely still.

The man brushed passed him yet Tig kept staring at the mechanized canary. Its wings were spread. It had been in midflight, yet now it was if it had been frozen.

He remembered the incident at The Captain’s Wife. He glanced down. No circles.

He turned to the old man and found him sitting peacefully on the ship’s edge.

“Come on Tij, we mustn’t dally.”

Tig shook his head, “Tig.” He corrected Franco as he ran to the ship. The boarding plank retracted, the engine buzzed to life and past the plume of steam, in the corner of his eyes, he caught the same canary zipping through the air at extraordinary speed.

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