Tepic was travelling the trams, as he’d been doing for over a week now. They were a good system to stay out of sight, if you were small and unnoticeable, always on the move, with a clear view of the surroundings. He had been dossing down in whichever urchin hidy-hole he had been nearest when he was tired, letting that be the factor to decide just where he would be, but even so, it was getting wearing. He was on the Port Tram, the longest of the lines, just approaching the Portside Station and heading towards Clockhaven, head dropping slightly as he half dozed.
He came awake as the tram pulled to a stop and a gentleman got on. The boy took him in at a glance – same height and weight as the Man in Blue, but definitely not him. Then, from the other end of the tram, another man stepped up onto the plate, a huge chap, blocking out the light, it was one of the bombers! Tepic jumped to his feet and tried to pass the gentleman, who stood and blocked his way, in desperation, he tried a direct appeal.
“Mr.! That bloke’s after……errrrrrr……..uh oh….” his speech petered out as he caught a whiff of a slightly off odor, heavily masked by vinegar, but there was no mistaking it.
“yer the clockwork, ain’t yer…..”
“Oh yes. I am the man who blew up your facility.” the man spoke calmly, then as the lad jumped onto the bench seat and tried to open a window he continued “Don’t bother trying to escape, I’d rather you came willingly.”
The boy turned to him in amazement, his escape attempt temporarily forgotten, and asked “Why should i?”
“It will save me the trouble.” The man said with an intentional pause.
“Of killing your friends.” The man concluded, his tone chilling in it’s invariance.
“What?!!” shouted Tepic, stunned by the man’s callousness.
“You heard me.” The man replied. “As you can see, I can be anyone, anything I wish. I can change my eyes, my hair, my smell, my skin, even my height by about a foot..”
“cept by bein anyone, yer can’t really be you……” the urchin interjected, trying to disconcert this very strange man, who continued as if nothing had been said “ I could eliminate anyone you care about, and they’d never see it coming. Why do you think my men obey me?”
Tepic turned to the big man, still blocking the other exit and asked “you ain’t clockwork is yer, mate?”, fingering the small knife in his pocket – a quick cut between the legs would move the largest foe, giving room to dart free while they panicked and checked themselves…
“No.” was the reply, but before he could make his move, the Man No Longer in Blue expanded on why they obeyed “They know I can eliminate their families, Isn’t that right, Theodore?”
The big man gave a grimace and hung his head as if in shame, holding out his arms to keep the way blocked.
“oh……….. sorry bout that Mr Theodore……”, the boy released his grip on the knife, letting it drop back into his pocket – it was one thing to fight past, risking his own life, but to risk the lives of the unknown family was a pill he was not about to swallow. He dropped back to sit on the bench, no point wasting energy fighting against the odds, and anyhow…
“yer bloke here still looks the same, he’ll get spotted soon enough…..” he said, hoping he was right, and the hue and cry would soon be called.
The man was dismissive, obviously confident of his own abilities, saying “I don’t always bring them.”
“you ain’t never lived on the streets, have yer Mr?” Tepic asked, trying to draw out the conversation and improve his chances of escape or rescue.
“Long ago…” came the rumbling answer, not from the gent, but from the big man – there was a glimmer of a connection there, something the lad squirreled away for the future.
“an yer metal mate here? don’t reckon so…..”
“As it is Tepic I was an entrepreneur at your age,” the metal man replied, with an almost wistful tone, the most emotion the boy had seen him show, “I was capturing dogs and cats off the street and selling them to a Mr. Thomas Edison.”
“spikin pigeons fer rich men ter play with an blackmailin em later, i reckon, that’s yer style….”
The man continued, “Eddison had a tendency to kill them, that’s where I found my own taste for it.”
“so now yer got me, what yer gonna do with me? same as them poor dogs?”
“Johnson wants to speak to you personally.” this was said in the same, level tone as all the man’s utterances, but Tepic saw this was not the course favoured by him.
“the Bossman, eh? well, reckon i want’s a few words with him too….” he said as calmly as possible, showing fear to this mechanical monstrosity was the last thing he wanted, but there was an edge of uncertainty as he continued “errrrr……. what word does yer Boss want?”
“I believe he wishes to explain his situation. Nothing more.”
“so not somthing like “die you meddlesome brat”?”
“If that was the case I’d wring your neck now and save myself the trouble. The question is, do you really have a choice?”
Tepic gulped a little and his hand raised to his throat, “errrrrrrr…….. recon maybe not…..”
During the conversation, the tram had reached the Clockhaven terminus and was retracing it’s route. As they reached the Portside stop, the clockwork man indicated it was time to descend. He stepped off the tram, Tepic behind, and the large man following, a massive hand resting on the boy’s shoulder to prevent him making a dash for it. There was no one near at this time in the morning, and they walked down to the wooden docks where a small boat was waiting.
As they prepared to step onto the boat, the mechanical man stopped and looked down at the boy before speaking.
“Oh, and we’ll be emptying your pockets before boarding… Wouldn’t want you to pick the heroes out of their cages” he said, holding out a hand.
“eh?” the lad exclaimed, before sighing, realising he had little choice, “yer gonna kep me stuff safe fer me ain’t yer?”
“Oh yes.” the man said, the oily sound of a con man tinging his voice, “Safe and sound.”
“an if it ain’t nuffin ter worry bout, i can have it back?”
The man smiled as he replied “Oh yes, you can.”
The amount of things produced from pockets, pouches and slung from cords around his neck were astounding, producing a considerable pile on the dockside. It included several makeshift weapons, objects of interest to a small boy, a couple of fresh voles, dice, a pencil and notebook, as well as all the trappings an urchin living on the streets would need to survive. When he had finished neatly stacking his possessions, he asked if he could take the voles, which was granted, but when he asked for the dice, pencil and notebook, the man seemed to get irritated.
“You don’t need the dice.”
“The flask?” Tepic asked, already wanting a swig.
“We can provide you with water.” He started to make his way back and then he bent down and put all of Tepic’s possessions right on the dock!
“Bloomin heck, yer leave em there they’ll be nicked before we gerts back!”
“I’m sure your friends will return them in time.” The metal man said, and then turned to Tepic thoughtfully. “Especially if we were to leave a calling card. How about some of your fur? Or your hat?”
Tepic Harlequin stepped back, bumping into Theodore, “Now yer play nice, yer Boss wants ter chat, right?” He didn’t want to lose either of the things that the man had suggested so he said nonplussed, “Recon me stuff’ll be fine just there….”
“He does wish to chat. However, I operate under a different set of rules. One, it was easier to get you to cooperate by revealing some of the truths about myself. But these things?” The metal man bent down and picked up the notebook, and then intentionally threw Tepic’s daily recorded dice rolls into the water below!
“Bastard!” Tepic cried as he saw the notebook sink. “Mr Tenk’ll be after yer now!”
“I didn’t need to have told you the truth about your possessions ever being returned to you.” The man replied as he boarded the ship and removed the gangplank. “From the start I’ve been manipulating you quite well.”
“Ha, but yer were lookin fer me fer a long time, led yer a dance I did!” Tepic countered jubilantly, but if the man took offense the fox couldn’t tell. They were already putting out to sea and leaving the docks behind. He turned to look at them past the large man and then back. “So ain’t a good idea ter swim fer it then, is it?”
“Only if you want me to hunt down the others.”
“An yer not gonna do that anyhows?”
“No.” He replied, “We want the urchins free.”
Tepic felt confused. “Errrr…..we is free……” Suddenly he recalled what the rabbit clockwork had said, “Errrr……. free from WHAT?”
“We are getting exactly what we want from the urchins. And all you are doing is being yourselves.” The man replied almost victoriously. “Let that gall you.”
Tepic paused for a moment and then asked, “ummm……. what do gall mean?”
The small boat drew up beside a large submarine, judging from the conning tower, which was all that was visible. Instead of disembarking, the whole boat slipped into a dock inside, the huge metal doors slowly closed and the water drained, dropping the boat into a cradle. Tepic was too enthralled to think of anything else, but when the boat was secure, and the metal man lead them onto the gangplanking, he asked again out of curiosity.
“what do gall mean?”
The man didn’t answer as they gestured to Theodore to head below, “Get him locked up. And check him for anything he didn’t give us. I’ll be going over it again myself, after I have a word with the captain.”
“Watch it with the paws, yer lunkhead!”
And with that, Tepic was taken into the depths of the submarine…..
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