Sometimes it’s wise to hide and wait out the approaching storm. Think of it as a strategic retreat…with a dash of camouflage training thrown in.
BAM! BAM! BAM!
With a final slam against the door, all four tumbled out into the hallway. Coats and sweaters flipped over them, while boxes, shoes, books and a few miscellaneous knick-knacks broke their fall.
“Would it hurt you to organize this place?” Deloris snapped.
“I warned you it was a mess!” Chuck retorted, “If you haven’t noticed, young lady, I have been busy trying to save the world…”
“By leaving Wendell, Dax and Alhannah behind?” Lili was the first to stand, hiking her dress up to her knees so she could move more freely. Looking around the warehouse hallways, she froze. “How did we get back here?”
Morty grunted and got to his feet clumsily, then held out a helping hand to Deloris. “We’re…back at the warehouse!”
The wizard struggled to get his beard, which had come undone from the Kutollum-manly-braid, out from under his feet so he could stand up. “Of course we are,” he snapped, yanking the last of his facial hair free and popping up straight. He looked around, studying the walls. Nodding in satisfaction, “That’s….right. We are at the warehouse.” He let out a silent sigh of relief.
“How did you do that?” Deloris squeaked, plunging her head back into the closet. She tapped the back wall with her knuckles. “It’s gone! The walls solid again…but,” she turned and gave a pleading look at Chuck, “there was a long tunnel there just a moment ago.”
Snapping his fingers, the dragon staff jumped past Deloris and into Chucks open hand. He walked briskly towards Morty’s laboratory. “Moving on.” Waving his hand, “We’re following, following. That’s right. One, two, quickly now.”
Morty shot past the wizard, “Were do you think you’re going?”
There was no time for arguments. Chuck gracefully spun around the firm-footed gnome and kept walking, flinging the door wide open.Without pausing, he walked past the PROMIS machine and into the side room where the secondary device was being constructed. It was a smaller room and one without windows, which was good. Perfect in fact. The whole device wasn’t constructed yet—and the walls were lined with the extra parts Morty had gathered over the years. Everything he needed to make a perfect replica of his original invention.
“Do you have everything you need in here?”
Morty walked in after Chuck, “Need for what?”
“To complete this thinga-mah-jigger.”
The wizard shook his head, “I don’t need your promise, Mort—I just want to know if you have everything you need build this thing, in this room?”
“Well, no—all my tools are in the other…”
“Show me,” Chuck cut him off. He snapped at Lili, “Help us. You too Deloris, dear.”
One by one, they worked together, moving carts and crates and benches with sockets and wrenches, welding torches and spools of electrical cable.
“No, no,” the wizard complained, “this isn’t right. It needs to look like you’re right in the middle of completing it.”
“That’s exactly what I am doing,” Morty hissed back, irritated. The room was a complete mess now and each box or tool tampered with the mental notes the tinkerer was holding carefully in his mind. The next bolt, the next wire to…
“Mess it all up, Morty. Look like you’re about to finish, but don’t leave anything to chance so that it CAN be finished. Understand?”
The tinkerer’s shoulder’s slumped, “I do not understand, Chuck! Not at all. The more we move things around, the longer it will take for me to put it all back together!”
Dumping a can of oil all over the floor next to the PROMIS, Chuck grinned. “Perfect! Now quickly…that’s it, FASTER.”
Watching Deloris and Lili stacking and tossing items haphazardly into the secondary room, the tinkerer finally skidded to a halt and planted his feet squarely in the path. “STOP!”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, boy,” Chuck barked, “Get out of the way…we don’t have time!”
Huffing, Morty placed his hands outward and gripped the door frame, “Time for what, Morphiophelius? You’re not making any sense!”
BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!
Chuck shot the tinkerer a grave look and wiggled a wrinkly finger towards the front of the warehouse, “Your company, Mortimur Thaddeus Teedlebaum. The government—here to take your invention from you.”
The wizard snorted, “What did you expect? You can’t be a rebel, outlander sympathizer, harbor criminals and keep national secrets from the government without having consequences!” Scratching his forehead, he said thoughtfully, “Come to think of it—if I were in government, I’d arrest you too. You’re not exactly what I’d call an exemplarily citizen, you know.”
“I’m just saying…”
The gnome curled his hands into fists and growled between clenched teeth, “Doesn’t matter—they have to have a warrant to come in here. I’ll get a lawyer.”
It was a stupid statement and Morty knew it the moment Chuck rolled his eyes. “You know they won’t have a warrant and they won’t care about your rights.”
BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!
Gripping his shoulders firmly, Deloris flipped Morty around, her voice dripping in fear. “We have to hide! NOW!”
Grabbing both gnomes by the collars, Chuck shoved them quickly into the secondary room. “That’s what this room’s for,” he muttered, “now get in!” He started to push the door shut, but Morty resisted him. The big bulbous nose poked out the crack.
“But there’s no way out of here! They’ll come in and find us and haul us off and…”
Opening the door, the wizard looked at the tinkerer soberly with unblinking eyes. “No,” he said softly, “they won’t. I promise. Just keep silent, no matter what you hear and everything will be just fine, alright?”
Morty nodded, “Alright.”
Closing the door, Chuck waved his hand over metal and it faded. Within seconds, nothing remained but a brick wall.
“How do you know they won’t be found?” Lili asked, running behind the wizard as he sprinted down the hallway.
“I don’t,” he huffed, “but at least now he’ll stay quiet.”
The front door to the warehouse crashed to the floor, just as Chuck and Lili slipped into the library. Placing a hand on the door, Chuck whispered, “Silmä inakmään.” The door vanished.
Heavy footfall flooded the hallway, sounding like a stampede.
Lili backed away from the door slowly, holding her breath. Tying the bottom of her dress in a knot, she looked around her for a weapon…settling for the fire poker.
The wizard leaned against the wall, ear pressed to the surface.
Centurions grunted and barked out orders to one another, checking each room down the hall. “CLEAR!” they would shout aloud, until, after several minuets, the warehouse fell silent.
Chuck looked back at Lili and pointed to a milk glass perched on an empty plate of cookies. Placing it gently against the surface, he set his ear to the glass.
“…wouldn’t know, sir.”
“Alright. Nothing we can do about that now. They probably got word we were on our way and avoided coming back.”
“Is the machine…”
“Yes, sir. We’ll have to disassemble it.”
“Get the engineers in here. Box it up.”
“And the rest? There are notes and…”
“Take it all. Every bolt, screw and scrap of paper.”
The wizards head rested against the cold surface of the wall. Of course they would take it all. Morty was too trusting and gullible to think that the government would link him to Wendell, or to hold him responsible for any perceived threat to the gnome population. He was a tinkerer after all. A genius who just wanted to be left alone to create and improve the society around him.
His mind raced over hundreds of variables as his body lost sense of the now. It was the talent Morphiophelius had always possessed. The talent that was also a curse. Seeing the possibilities that others dared not consider.
A soft hand touched the wizards shoulder and he abruptly spun around.
Lili slapped a hand over the old man’s mouth, muffling his cry. “Shhh,” she whispered. She had already changed back into her fur vest and trousers. “They’re still out there.”
Now he could hear them. The banging, the laughing…shattering glass and smashing of who-knows-what. Chuck nodded and Lili released her hand.
“You didn’t move for the longest time,” she continued, “They’re tearing things apart. They stumbled with something heavy, dragging it down the hallway.”
Chuck nodded, “They’re taking Morty’s work.”
She looked overly concerned. Not that Lili cared for the Black Magic of technology, but she had grown fond of both Morty and Deloris. The loss to any friend was a loss to her as well. “There’s nothing we can do?”
“Not unless we want to be caught.” He shook the haze from his mind, blinking repeatedly to focus on the now once more. When he looked up, his eyes were clear, his expression calm. “This is not going well, Liliolevanumua,” he said with a slight tremor in his voice, “and I am not certain how to fix it.” Walking briskly across the room, he guided her further from the wall and sat her down in a chair near the fireplace. “I’ll need your help, child.”
She frowned and said nothing.
“I know you’re upset with me,” he started, “dragging you along on this adventure. But you started something you cannot yet fathom.” He fought to stay in the moment, the essence of times variables pulling at him. Blinking again, he suddenly grabbed her hand and held it firm, “But I want you to know that I didn’t do this to punish you. I did it to protect you.”
Lili didn’t pull away. “Protect me? From what?”
Now the wizards stare focused upon her. Steel blue eyes that held her utmost attention and caused her to sit up rigidly in her seat. “From your father. I know you’re on the run, child.” He slowly released his grip on her hand, “And I know why.”
For several moments Lili was unable to even blink. Her deep brown eyes watered and the wizard fell out of focus. She blinked, clenching her lids tight. It wasn’t a conversation she wanted to have. Not with anyone.
“If you help me, I will help you escape.”
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “Why?” Sniffing, she opened her eyes to find a kind, sympathetic face beaming back at her. “Why would you help me, who brought this world that much closer to destruction?”
Chuck started to laugh, but slapped a hand over his own mouth. He glanced over at where the scraping sounds of something huge being dragged across the floor vibrated through the wall. “Pshaw! Don’t flatter yourself, child. You don’t have that much influence on the world. Not yet, anyway. No…you’re simply a stuck up, pompous, selfish girl who tried to steal something that didn’t belong to her. Frankly, you ought to be bent over and given a good smack with a wooden spoon.”
Lili mouth dropped open. She sat still as stone, eyes fixed on the wizard who continued to ramble on, just above a whisper.
“That’s the problem with teenagers these days—no respect for their elders! Oh, I don’t blame them. Well,…not completely, anyway. They can’t do much more than what they were taught to do, now can they? ‘Course not, so what does that leave us? PARENTS. Now THERE’S the real problem! Never met parents that didn’t want the best for their kids. Not one. But they don’t always have the skill set to raise a decent child. Too busy pursuing things instead of what matters—like building generations of decent people!” He looked at her and threw his arms into the air, “What could be more important than that?!”
“Nothing, I tell you! Not a blasted thing. But do parents listen? No, they do not. Instead, they run about like the spoiled brats they dropkicked into this world, thinking the little tikes will do as they say and not as they DO.” He took a deep breath and sighed, “Isn’t that the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard? Of course children are going to learn by the example set for them.” Leaning over, he took Lili’s hands into his and smiled again. “But you, little girl, didn’t get what you ought to have gotten,…did you?”
Lili’s shoulders hunched forward, her head drooping.
“I remember your mother,” he said softly, “and that’s how I recognized you.” Lifting her chin, “You look just like her.”
Under the falling curls, a semblance of a smile peeked out.
“That’s why…if you’ll aid me now, I’ll help you run.”
Her eyes and head snapped upward. “You’ll…”
“Provide you with the means to start your own life, far from your father. I have friends in many lands, all willing to adopt an intelligent young lady like yourself—provided you behave and don’t ruin my spotless reputation.” He mirrored her grin, “And if you desire to stay with us, well, I won’t object to that either.”
She didn’t know what to say. As miserable as Clockworks City had been for her, the trip was suddenly worth it. Her prayers and hopes had been answered. She would never have to go home again.
Chuck sat up straight and held out his hand, “Do we have a bargain?”
Lili went to grab the wizards hand, but he pulled his back at the last moment.
“You must give me your word, Liliolevanumua, that you will help me. Specifically to help me get the elf back, so we can leave this island.” His brows curled forward, his expression suddenly looking so stern, she almost reeled back. “And it will not be easy. I’m offering you a life…for a life.”
She hesitated then. Her stomach churned and she stared between the wizards expression and the hand that slowly lowered back into place. Freedom. That’s what this was. Freedom to choose a life for herself and not one that a father was picking for her. That was a good thing. It was a wonderful thing. Something so important to her, that she’d given up her own land and people to run, throwing her life to the wind just for a chance to find peace and break free of expectations placed upon her at birth. But what would this task require? What did the wizard have in mind? That was the real question on Lili’s mind, and it only had one possible answer.
It didn’t matter.
She placed her hand in his and gripped it firmly. “We have a bargain.”
The wizard chuckled and patted the back of her hand tenderly.
“You really did know my mother?” she asked soberly.
He nodded, “A greater woman was never born.” Reaching out, Chuck tapped Lili’s nose with a rounded knuckle, like you would a tiny child. “And a noble example for any young woman to emulate.”
It was then that she smiled. Truly smiled, for the first time since their arrival.
Unfortunately, the smile didn’t last long.
Chuck looked around the room, wrinkling his nose and lifting it into the air. He sniffed aloud and immediately coughed.
“Is it just me, or do you smell smoke?”