Trench Wars by WantedHero | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

CHAPTER 2 - I'm a Little Tea Pot

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There’s nothing wrong in asking for help. I’m not saying that it’s always easy or comfortable to do so—just that there’s nothing wrong in asking.

 

 

It took a while to figure out a plan that would get Morty, three humans, a midget troll and a fellow gnome across town without being noticed. There was a standing law in Clockworks City against off-landers, which meant, should they be caught, unspeakable things could happen. Since the Gate Wars, when other races decided that technology should be for everyone and not just the gnomes, there was a sudden and violent invasion of their homeland. Rogue humans, kutollum and evolu had rushed the portal into Clockworks City, killing hundreds of innocents. Because of the sad event, it was forbidden for outsiders to set foot onto the island of Pävärios…and most especially within Clockworks itself. The Prime Gate used by the gnomes had been shut down and dismantled. No one could show up unannounced or uninvited.

So the gnomes thought, anyway.

Morty kept the group isolated within the main area of the warehouse, where he’d dismantled the government installed cameras. They wouldn’t be able to leave anyway—Chuck’s sheer height, or even Lili’s for that matter, would catch the immediate attention of normals. Deloris lived across town and down one floor. They had to come up with an alternative plan.

“I’m not gettin in there, I said,” complained Dax. He planted his feet firmly in place and growled at Morty, “Don’t make me hurt you.”

The gnome sighed, “I know you don’t want to be here either, Dax, I get that, but I don’t know what else to do. If you have another idea of how to get you where you want to go, I’m all ears.”

Chuck snorted, “Actually, Dax is…HAHAHA!”

Dax glared at him and the wizard fell silent.

Shifted uncomfortably, Dax stared untrustingly at the makeshift crate. Alhannah was already sitting inside, holding Lili’s hand. The human girl looked pale and nauseated.

“Look Dax, I used up every scrap of wood I have. I don’t have anything left and I can’t get more until there’s another delivery. That won’t be for at least two more weeks. You want to be stuck here that long?”

“Of course not, but…”

With a nudge, “Then get in. I’ll get you across town as fast as I can.”

Chuck climbed in first and adjusted his position so he could lie down. He folded his beard neatly on his belly. He patted the spot next to him. “Come on my boy, the coffin express awaits.”

Dax glared, “That’s not funny.”

“Sure it was.”

Alhannah frowned at the wizard as Lili started to hyperventilate.

“Oh, alright,” he corrected himself, “it wasn’t that funny.” He put his nose up against one of the open knot holes. “Lili dear, watch me. If you need some fresh air, there’s a hole near your left shoulder. That’s right. Just turn and breathe deep. That’s it. Perfect for tense moments…or when Dax farts in enclosed spaces.”

“Chuck!”

“Well don’t look at me. Wizards don’t fart.”

“Shut up Chuck!”

“I’m just saying…”

Dax grumbled a curse under his breath and stepped up onto the back bumper of the transport. Inch by inch he forced himself into the enclosed space. When he finally got settled in place, Morty shook his finger at the wizard. “I’m taking a lot of risk here, Morphiophelius…so it better...”

“Oh just stop already!” Chuck bellowed, “I promise, Morty Teedlebaum, that I will grant you one favor of your choice. Anything at all. So long as I can do it and you don’t ask me to kill anyone or violate the laws of nature, I’ll do it! Alright? You have my word. Satisfied?!”

Before anyone could change their minds, Morty hammered the crate shut. It took a few minutes to start the delivery cycle, but the old chopper finally coughed to life. It had been over a year since he’d tried starting the beast. It was his old modified Excelsior 22S, with the original pumps still intact and solid rubber tires. It wasn’t a proper delivery transport, but it would do the job of pulling the trailer. As is idled, shooting steam out the rear pipe, the gnome tinkerer put on his jacket and stared at the overall crafted disguise. It looked like a second rate pull n’ pack delivery service—spare parts for spare change.

What am I doing? If I get caught, my career…my life is over. The committee won’t just pull my funding, they’ll kick me out of the country and that’s if I’m lucky! The thought of exile sent a chill down his spine. What would it be like to live without access to technology? Without any of the conveniences of the life he’d always lived? He stared at the lopsided cart and poor construction of the oversized crate. This was a long shot at best—trying to smuggle its contents past the authorities. It would be so easy to simply drive through these doors and to the steps of a Centurion Citadel. I wouldn’t be arrested if I turned them in right now. But his stomach turned at the thought. He wasn’t a traitor and he knew it. Beside, Morty had just secured something he thought utterly impossible…a favor from Morphiophelius! The wizard never promised favors to his knowledge. Ever.

He must really be desperate…or at the end of his rope.

Putting on his helmet, he pulled the driving goggles into place.

Never liked the government anyway.

The whole of Clockworks City was a single structure. 1.5 billion gnomes (give or take fifty million or so) living under one roof. Constantly being built, remodeled, destroyed and recycled, Clockworks maintained three towers, rising out of the largest gnome-made lake and surrounded by dozens of docks. There was a tower for the government, one for the church and one for the general populace. Each tower rose hundreds of floors, reaching up into the sky…while the largest of the three also plunged down, deep into the planets crust.

All three towers were connected and functioned in near-perfect unison. Well, that’s what the leaders kept trying to convince the populace to believe, anyway—but no one really listened to the media anymore.

While the elitists lived in the sparkling political tower and the religious leaders along with their wealthiest supporters dwelt in the church tower, the bulk of the people lived in the first tower ever built. Commonly referred to as CT which meant Central Tower, the colossus structure housed over a billion of the gnome population, along with the largest industries. Mining and refineries, mechanics, ship building, tinkering, construction, storage, even city-wide food production and distribution were housed in the levels of CT. Meager apartments for the masses were wedged between the industries in which they labored.

The scent of grime and oil was thick in the air. Morty smiled and took a deep breath, inhaling the smoke, tasting the sweat and fumes of progress. He often forgot how good it felt to get out of the warehouse, until he actually did it. To lose himself in the crowds and blend in, until he was nothing more than a number in a sea of souls.

Red, blue and yellow directional lights whizzed by as he hit the accelerator and jumped into the highway-tube. He was immediately honked at and had to correct his trajectory to keep from crashing into a senior citizen bingo van.

“Sorry!” he yelled, overcorrecting. He turned on his blinker and quickly moved into the slow lane. Pay better attention, Morty!

Thousands of square miles of steel, grease and artificial lighting. That was the marvel that was Clockworks City—home and pride of every gnome. A city that was slowly dying, though few knew it. Not the public, anyway. The normals thought the closing of manufacturing districts and city-wide layoffs were because the factories were outdated, but it was a lie. There wasn’t enough fuel to keep them going. The extraction of resources had left the island of Pävärios dry. Every tinkerer in the city was now being employed to develop a new way to fuel the lusts and luxuries of the population. To maintain the standard of living Clockworks was used to.

Morty was lost in thought—wondering how best to claim his favor from Morphiophelius and nearly missed his exit. The huge yellow LOADER sigh flashed past him. Wha—? He hit the breaks and swerved sharply, jumping the exit railing and landing hard in the center of the offramp.

BEEEEEEEEEP! BEEEEEEEEEP!

“SORRY!” he yelled over his shoulder, struggling with the handlebars to gain control. The cycle jerked and shook, jarring him as it threatened to slide off the road. He caught sight of the crate, rocking in his rearview mirror…his hidden passengers trapped in the teetering container. OH! “Sorry!” he yelled again, “so sorry,” he fretted. The safety straps moaned their objection at having to work so hard. Morty gulped. Not going to get a thing if I kill them first! Sheesh. Woah, woah… WOAH!” he shrieked. Standing on the brake petal, the vehicle slid sideways down the ramp and finally shuttered to a stop just under the stop light.

The light turned green, and Morty—heart pounding in his throat—eased the vehicle forward, across the intersection to take his place behind a grocer truck. Made it, he gulped. Stay calm. Look natural. The line was short and the vehicles small, so there was no fear of having to wait for another lift. It was a good sign. He tapped the gas gauge. Enough fuel to get to Deloris, so long as they don’t have to wait long in line.

Delivery transports filled with coal and oil were exiting an oversized maintenance elevator, while Centurions checked current documents. His hands started patting pockets to locate his papers. He panicked. Come on, blast you—where did you go!? This was the hard part. He had to keep his cool, but he always got flustered when dealing with government authorities. Tax us when we buy, tax us when we sell, Morty huffed silently as he pulled the card from his inner vest pocket. Tax us on our homes, our food, our clothes, tax our savings and then tax the very licenses you require for us to deliver our goods using the roads we built and paid for! It had been four months since he’d had to use his card—and with the last two setbacks on the PROMIS, he wasn’t positive his sponsors had maintained his license. Not a huge deal in most instances…but standard procedure with outdated delivery papers was to confiscate the vehicle and goods until the license was updated. Please be in order, pleeeeease be in order.

Morty shook the doubt from his head. Of course they maintained my license. He gulped, I hope.

A uniformed gnome strode up alongside Morty’s vehicle. The black leather suit, gloves and mirrored visor gave every officer complete anonymity. It made them rude, ruthless and belligerent. He held out his hand as a digitized speaker altered the Centurions voice. “License and destination.”

Morty smiled through clenched teeth, “Yes sir. Right here.” He handed over the blue card, “Parts delivery to floor 113.”

With a quick swipe through the reader, the barcode of his tinkerer license was analyzed. The tablet in the Centurion’s hand flashed, beeped and he walked to the next person in line, ignoring Morty altogether.

“Thank you, and you have a nice day too,” he whispered sarcastically.

Within minutes the loader was empty. Those waiting in line were directed into stalls—slots with wheel clamps to hold the vehicles in place as the platform moved. Maneuvering the cycle and crate into the loader was easy enough, fitting nice and snug between the oil and garbage trucks.

Hopping off the cycle, Morty quickly scooted around back, before the operator started their descent. He rapped lightly on the wood, “Everyone ok?”

Whimpering escaped between the slats of wood.

“We’re, uh…fine…,” hacked the wizard, who didn’t sound all that convincing. “I think our young friend, however, is seriously considering sharing her lunch with us after those abrupt lane changes.”

“So sorry, I just…” Morty sighed.

“If you don’t take it easy Mort,” growled Dax, “I’m gonna pop you in the mouth before I port away! Take it easy!”

Morty nodded, embarrassed, “Got it.”

“Hey you!” shouted the operator, a pudgy little man in greasy overalls and a beard that laid across his belly. He pulled heavy working gloves over his fat fingers before grabbing the control levers, “Get back to your vehicle, unless you want to take the chance o’being paste.” He pointed overhead, to a worn sign hanging across the control booth which said: BE CAREFUL—THIS MACHINE HAS NO BRAIN, USE YOUR OWN.

Morty waved and gave the man a weak grin as he climbed back onto his cycle. No matter where he went, people always seemed to shout at him. Friends, family, ex-wives. Good grief, he choked, nearly forgetting the worst part of this entire escapade, what am I supposed to tell Deloris?!

With a loud screech, the brakes released their hold and the massive loading platform started its careful descent into the dark shaft below. The metal floor groaned in annoyance as it swayed under the weight.

Morty let his head fall against the handlebars, his helmet making a loud pock sound. Ohhhh, this is not good. She doesn’t want to see me any more than I want to see her. For two years he had avoided his ex-wife. Two years of peaceful existence and now I’m supposed to show up, out of nowhere, and ask for a favor? Shadows danced across the vehicles as floor after floor rose above them. What am I supposed to say? She’ll likely slap me across the face just for saying hello! Ohhhh, this is not good!

Over and over he played out possible scenarios in his mind. How to stand, how to smile—no, no smiling…that would make her suspicious. He banged his head against the handlebars again. It all sounded stupid to him. Too forced, too rehearsed, too…Morty. His breathing quickened and his hand went to his chest, squeezing his vest. Sucking in air, “Stay calm, Mortimur,” he groaned. Taking a deep breath and counting to ten, “She only acts like a witch. She can’t hex you, no matter how long she stares.” But it was useless. The woman made him more nervous then a tax audit.

For more than twenty years, Deloris had dominated his world. Her every word, every motion, exerted influence over the tinkerer. For the duration of their marriage they had argued, fought and created brilliant projects together…and yet he’d never recovered from the deepest wound of all.

He loved her. Utterly and completely.

Even though she had left him, he loved her still—and the thought of being forced to see her was the…, he sighed. It was why he’d said yes to Chuck. Admit it, stupid, he smiled, you just want an excuse to see her.

A speaker crackled and popped, followed by a loud, “Floor 113. For those traveling south, I am required by law to announce that reconstruction is underway along route 223, tube C. Recalculate your delivery times as you will be forced to use route 231, tube B to the loop-way. Route 227 and 228 from the loop-way have been sequestered and reallotted by the Traffic Committee. These tubes will bring you back to your original position and allow you to exit into the industrial district. This detour is in effect until the Labor Committee fulfills its contractual agreements and completes the reconstruction of route 223, tube C, or until the Traffic Committee no longer thinks it’s funny. It sucks, we know, but that’s politics. Thank you for riding with Big Brother Loaders…when we go down the shoot, we promise to take everyone with us.” The speaker popped and crackled once more and with a jolt, the platform swayed to a stop. The pudgy operator climbed down out of the control booth and opened the gate.

Waiting for the larger vehicles to exit, Morty re-secured the straps across the crate. He could see both Dax and Chuck, shifting in place. Lili’s soft whimpering made him feel bad. Poor thing—not used to the fantastical sights of our fair city, he frowned. No, wait a minute, he realized, I wasn’t the one who brought the child. He hopped up onto the cycle and kick-started the engine to life. This isn’t your fault, Morty. Black smoke shot out the pipes as he revved the engine. Every time I get into trouble, it’s because those two show…up…

And then he had it.

He knew exactly how he was going to start a conversation with his ex-wife.

 

****

 

The second part of the ride was far less jarring. Traffic thinned out the further into the city they drove. Larger vehicles were too big for the narrow walk-ways and side streets, which was exactly what the delivery cycle was for. But the people thinned out too—the deeper in you ventured. At first the streets were thick with normals, walking to work, taking their breaks in coffee houses, shopping, or interviewing for that choice opportunity before their current boss found out. Business signs blazed with neon colors and recorded pitches blared through mounted speakers from shops too poor to pay live sales reps. Morty navigated the cycle down the walkways and the restaurants and boutiques became less common as repair shops appeared. These gave way to distribution centers—created to house the goods of the city and farming them out through local delivery channels. Beyond that, the slums.

It was in the midst of these deserted buildings that Morty finally stopped. Right under a flickering sign that said, After Hour Electronics. Except the “H” had burned out completely, which changed the sign to, After our Electronics.

Morty grinned. She still hadn’t changed the dead bulb.

He looked around him several times. Not a soul. Just rolling bits of paper and garbage running free along the ground. Strangely enough, it looked just like his own home…and for a moment, he wondered what that said about him and Deloris.

“Are we there yet?” grumbled Dax.

“SHHHH!” Morty leaned in close to one of the cracks, “This place is watched. Keep quiet, or I’ll walk away and leave you to your own fate.” The crate went silent.

At first glance the building didn’t look like much. In fact, it looked identical to the others surrounding it—broken down and abandoned. But Morty knew better. Some of these buildings were connected at the basement level. Deloris’s father had purchased them over the years, expanding his personal warehouse until he had passed away. Shandy Hinder was a brilliant man and had become quite wealthy under the guise of poverty. Deloris was more like her father than she would admit. She refused to abandon the family business and had moved in when they’d separated.

Morty stepped up to the delivery door—two heavy plated slats of steel, and pressed the buzzer. The tinkerer swayed on his feet, from heel to toes over and over again, followed up by a light bounce of impatience. He pressed the buzzer again.

A small window, not much bigger than the gnomes head, slid open to the side of the button. A dirty-white globe with a retina camera at its center, popped out upon a long metal stalk.

“Password,” it demanded.

Morty leapt back with an “EEP!” and a pitiful defensive swipe with his hand.

Two metal sleeves, which looked a lot like eyelids, blinked, then it repeated, “Password.”

He leaned in nervously, “Deloris, I know you can see me. Please let me in. I need to talk with you.”

The eye lunged out at Morty, stopping only centimeters from his nose. “PASSWORD.”

“I don’t have time for this, Deloris. I have a special delivery for you,” he sighed, “please just open the door?”

The eyeball blinked, then tilted to one side, as if pondering the tinkerers situation. “No password, no entrance.”

Looking over his shoulder, Morty glowered at the crate. You SO owe me for this, Chuck! And with that, he turned, placing one hand on his hip and the other up into the air. Letting his fingers and palm hang loosely from the wrist, he began to sing.

“I’m a little tea pot, short and…” he started with a grumble.

The eye blinked again, “…with FEELING!”

Morty snarled, baring all his teeth. With awkward movement, he danced around the eyeball, “STOUT—here is my handle, here is my SPOUT. When I get all steamed up, hear me SHOUT…tip me over and pour me OUT!”

“HAHAHAHAHA!” crackled the voice over the speaker.

Morty wiped the sweat from his brow, “Alright, you’ve had your fun at my expense, now let me in.”

“BEEEEEEEEEP!” argued the eyeball, “CLICK. CLICK. BEEEEEEEEEEP! Security malfunction…please re-enter password.”

Before it could retract into its cubby, the tinkerer screamed and attacked. Grabbing the neck of the device with both hands, he bellowed, “I’ll give you a malfunction!” Throwing his body weight forward, he slammed the camera onto the ground, thrusting it against the surface over and over again. Metal folded back, plastic cracked and glass shattered. In moments, the delicate lens of the camera hung loosely from the small wires of its circuitry. Morty laughed triumphantly, almost psychotically. The machine tried to resist the onslaught, tugging and pulling backwards to retreat towards its hole, but the gnome was too heavy, too strong.

The voice was faint, but finally sighed with irritation, “Entrance granted.”

Several clicks later, the large service doors unlocked and slid open. Morty dashed to his cycle, revved it up and squealed into the warehouse before anyone could change their mind.

“What the blazes do you think you’re doing?” yelled a female gnome, appearing from a side door. She was only slightly shorter than Morty, plump around the middle with salt and pepper curly hair, pulled back into a tight bun. Her open toed sandals flapped across the cement floor as she strode towards the tinkerer.

“Hello Deloris,” smiled Morty.

“…and what in the hell of Unrest are you doing here?” she snapped, ignoring his expression. “I thought we had an agreement? We were not to cross one another’s path unless it was absolutely necessary?”

“Ah. Well then, I’d say that I’m adhering to our agreement.” The grin remained on his face.

“What could be so important that you’d have to show up here?” She leaned to one side, looking over his shoulder, “and what’s with the crate?”

“Deloris, why did you leave me?”

His question stopped her short. She adjusted the small bifocals on the wide bridge of her nose. “What?”

“Why did you divorce me?”

She scoffed and pushed past him, making her way to the crate. “Have you been drinking the degreaser again?”

“NO!” he retorted, offended. “Well, yes,…but that’s not the point. Why are you avoiding the question? It should be a simple answer, Deloris. After 20 years of marriage, I come home completely humiliated and discouraged from the annual tinkerers convention and all I find is a note. Not an explanation, not a letter, not even criticism…just a note.” He had to pause for a moment to gather his thoughts. He bit his lip to keep his emotions hidden, “All it said was, I’m done.”

She didn’t even look back at him. “Well there you have it.”

“I don’t have anything, Deloris. Not my home, not my reputation, not my family. My whole world fell apart…and it occurred to me less than an hour ago, that I never asked why. Not once. You’ve already divorced me. You didn’t ask for anything in the settlement. You just—walked away. Why?”

“I don’t want to talk about this, Morty.”

“You owe me this one answer,” he said firmly.

Deloris spun around and marched towards him, but he held firm. “I…owe you? I don’t owe you anything!”

“Did I support you?” he asked quietly.

She hesitated. “Yes.”

“Did I every neglect you?” he asked, “Ever.”

Her head dropped forward, “No.”

“Did you ever feel unloved or unappreciated?” he pleaded.

Hardly above a whisper, “Never.”

He lifted Deloris’s chin up with a finger, “Then why, my love, did you leave me?”

She searched his face and the softness in her eyes turned sour. “Because you were a liar, Motimur.” He lowered his hand and her head fell forward. She folder her arms across her chest, shoulders hunching as if a forgotten weight had suddenly been placed upon her. “Because every time we discovered something new, something fantastic and amazing that would not only help our race, but put our own names in the archives of the great tinkerers of history, it fell apart.”

Morty smiled again, but Deloris didn’t look up.

“Not that those moments were actually important. It was the justification afterwards. You always made insane excuses.” She looked up at him and attempted a smile, “You are one of the most brilliant gnomes I have ever known.”

“And I have a cute nose,” he added.

She chuckled softly to herself, shaking her head, “and though you lack humility, I saw greatness in you. A potential I…can’t even explain.” Now she noticed the fixed smile Morty was brandishing. The grin was so wide, her soft expression changed to one of suspicion. Instinctively, she looked down at her blouse for stains and then ran a hand over her mouth. “What? Do I have food on my face? What are you staring at—and why are you grinning like that?!”

Morty reached out and tried to take her hand, but she pulled away. It did not affect the smile on his face. “When things went bad at those key moments, you always ask me to share what really happened. What did I say to you?”

Deloris sighed and rolled her eyes.

“Humor me, Deloris, what did I say? Can you specifically remember what I told you?”

“Of course I remember,” she shook her head, “it was always the same excuse. You blamed your mistakes and your incompetence on some make-believe wizard and a troll!” Her nostrils flared and lips quivered as if repeating the words left a bad taste in her mouth. “You aren’t a child Morty…and it’s high time you to got rid of your make believe friends! So I left. Is that what you want to hear? What you want me to say out loud?” She slapped the side of the crate, “STOP BLAMING PEOPLE THAT DON’T EXIST!” Her eyes burned with indignation, “I just couldn’t take it anymore and I didn’t WANT to take it anymore. I was tired of the lies and I was tired of the excuses.” The wrinkles around her eyes softened once more and she stepped closer, grabbing Morty’s shoulders, “all I ever wanted was for you to tell me the truth. Don’t you see that? I can handle the ups and downs, the challenges of life—but not lies! I left because you couldn’t give me the truth.”

Morty’s grin grew wider. He walked around her casually, to the back of the crate. “Then today, my dear, is your lucky day. I have a special present for you.” Sliding the pry bar out from under one of the secured straps, he found a corner nail in the crate.

“What is it?”she asked.

“Crow.”

With a single pop of the crowbar, the back wall of the container fell away, revealing its cargo.

Dax grinned awkwardly and waved. “Hey.”

Deloris was already unconscious before she hit the floor.

Chuck frowned at the tinkerer, then pulled up the sleeve of his robe to pinch himself. “See, I knew I was real.”

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