Matte Kudasaiearliest post first | most recent post first
"Arrrrrgh! If it isn't my good friend @Billy Sabab!" crackled over the radio.
Bruno's big biomethane Bertha-class blimp had been burning a bit dirty since we spotted it on the horizon. We approached each other over a wide open valley at the foot of the mountains. Bruno chugged along atop a warm puff of smog. We drifted in the breezes. We're electric.
Bruno's Bertha was banded black and white, like a wasp, who was also a convict, who was also a pirate.
The Bertha's communication array even jutted out like a stinger.
"Permission to come aboard and speak, man to man," crackled Bruno.
"Why exactly are you in the brig, sir?"
"I told you they don't call it a brig, because it's not a ship. They just call it a holding cell."
I'd been given one call, so I used the white courtesy phone and asked them to page Shipman Eva.
"Yes, I've sent Ensign Marvelous already. You say they're releasing you, but only to one of your crew?"
Ensign Marvelous? Like this wasn't embarrassing enough already.
"It's... a long story. They thought I was drunk, but I was just, you know..."
"Being clumsy, sir?"
I really needed to come clean about the glasses with Shipman Eva, but now wasn't the time. And apparently they hadn't been leading me to @Rose Nomenclature me at all, with their little pulsing purple arrow. They were setting me up, as a distraction for the security team, in their ridiculous bowlers. After stumbling into a waiter's cart and getting tangled in the table cloth, they rolled me up and sat on me till more bowlered jerks arrived, and after a few surreptitious kicks and knees they unveiled me. Everybody seemed real disappointed.
"Just one big misunderstanding. But can you ready the ship for launch? I think I've had enough of a stopover."
Since I heard Grimaldi was such a swanky place, I figured I the gnarly brass glasses were the perfect fit for my revolutionary-pirate/kings-of-the-wild-frontier-style dress uniform. Tight jacket and bandoliers.
Plus, I'd used the glasses to track @Rose Nomenclature before. I just scan the crowd, turn the little knobs... so many people here in the grand lobby, and beyond that the cavernous gaming halls and ball rooms. Wall to wall packed with people and palms and wait staff. I fiddle with the little levers and buttons, spinning dials...
ZZZZzzzzzck! "Oh thank heavens, finally, THERE you are!" said a tinny voice in my ear. "I've been trying to contact you for days!"
It was the bookseller. Speaking through the glasses.
"Uh, hi, uh... I guess I forgot this is an open channel..." I said, which was true. "Really though, I'm super busy right now, late for a lunch date, can I call you back?"
"No, no, no, you're doing great. Quite the hound! Way to stay on mission."
"And... beep beep beep THERE see it? The little pulsing purple arrow? That's her. Follow it now. You can't let her get away!"
Let her get away? Well, of course not, but, I mean... Oh jeeze. I guess I never told the bookseller I switched sides.
But these glasses are real handy.
"If we can just find where she parked," I said, holding my chin in a way I think makes me look thoughtful.
Shipman Eva looked at me across the observation deck. I'll bet the wind in my hair also made me look great.
"Really," she said. "Sir?"
I guess she really wasn't looking AT me exactly. Looking more at the expanse of airships below me. Almost as far as the eye could see, ship after ship moored on the floating masts of Grimaldi.
"Well, who knew it would be such a popular place? All I wanted was a sandwich and maybe stretch my legs a little."
"It's Grimaldi, the most popular gambling city there is! Don't you even read magazines?"
"And you're sure we can't just radio her?"
"We're lucky she took our call about the stopover. And you'll remember she was quite clear she wouldn't answer if we tried again."
I tried holding my chin again. This time between my thumb and forefinger.
"Well, don't forget to bring the ticket! Maybe we can get it validated."
"Where?" I asked.
"Speak into the microphone, chief," said Shipman Eva.
"Oh right, ahem." CRRRRK "@Rose Nomenclature, can you repeat your destination? Over."
The Egregore had shot off like a rocket, and I didn't have any better ideas on what to do but follow her.
"Over Les Diablerets. And beyond Schokoladenland."
"Whoa whoa whoa. What, we're going to need phrasebooks now? Language lessons?"
Then, finally, "Try to keep up if you want to stay alive. And stay off the radio. OVER."
Shipman Eva looks at me.
"Try to keep up," I say. "Ha!"
Shipman Eva keeps looking at me.
"Yes, yes, ok. Wherever she goes. Keep her in view. Not too close, like we're following her. But just..."
"Fly casual, sir?"
"Yes! That's it. Casual!"
"The Piercing of the Spires?"
@Rose Nomenclature looked at me incredulously.
"It's a perfectly reputable place, Lots of rare and unique items end---"
"It's an accelerated pocket dimension. Inhabited by... time vampires! How much did you give up?"
"Well, see we had these old haunted pinball machines in trade, and--"
"Of your TIME. How much TIME did you give up?"
".... about a month? Objective time. I was only gone for a few--"
"At least you weren't dumb enough to make your whole crew go along."
I didn't tell her how my relationship with the crew wasn't like that. It didn't seem like a time to argue.
"And the bookseller? He was just some rando too?"
"Well, I spent a lot of time choosing a bookseller, but no, I'd never met him before. And he was a good find. He's the one who supplied the glasses."
"Yes, he didn't even charge me."
Ooooops. I guess I should have realized that was a red flag myself. @Rose Nomenclature went to town on me on that, made me tell her about the second pair of glasses, and the job the bookseller gave me, and Le Bullfrog, and the Fossilized Fish Skeleton and the King of the Fishmen, I even told her about the little barnacle encrusted box, something only Shipman Eva knew about besides me. I guess it just felt like time to come clean.
"And what's inside this little barnacle encrusted box?" she asked.
That's something not even Shipman Eva knew.
I got the box out of my pocket, and used both hands to open its tiny top. Then I picked up what was inside between my finger and thumb and held it up.
"It's a token. From the game arcade that used to be at the Top of the Verts."
"Captain! Climb aboard!"
It's Shipman Eva, shouting from the ship. She's just tossed a rope ladder down for Engineer Tom and I to climb up. The rest of crowd at the Bar at the Top of the Verts is still scrambling for cover, heading for the exits or hiding under their tables. The only ones not running and hiding are the clockwork waiters. They're coming nearer.
I make Tom go first. Because I'm that kind of captain.
"It's gone you know!" It's that whirry chimey clockwork voice again. The waiter with the nasty razor nails marches over the broken class. "You'll never find it. The token is of no use to you!"
Instinctively my had goes for the little barnacle encrusted box in my breast pocket. It's still there.
I hook my arm around the rope ladder and let Shipman Eva haul me aboard, while Matte Kudasai backs out of the atrium, creating a second shower of glass.
"A little barnacle encrusted box? I... I don't know what you're talking about."
Darn! Hesitated too long.
"I think you know exactly what I'm talking about."
These clockwork types had a special ring to their voices. If you knew what to look for.
I could feel the little barnacle encrusted box in my breast pocket. Shaking it with my heartbeat.
"Oh! THAT little barnacle encrusted box. I left that on the ship, yup. Too valuable not to keep safe."
The waiter pointed a finger at me and an extensor shot out of it, fingertip at the end, and tap tap tapped the little barnacle encrusted box in my pocket.
"And what about this?"
"Oh, uh OW! That's my nipple. I have one seriously messed up nipple. It grows these gnarled bones out see, and--"
"Enough!" the waiter yelled in his chimey voice. "We have what we need." And the rest of his fingertips sprang out, but with whirling razors instead of fingertips, and he drew back...
And there was a tremendous crash as the glass atrium ceiling fell all around us, and the nose of the Matte Kudasai poked through.
"And... may I offer you a drink?"
The clockwork waiter is a lot more civil now that the elevator ride is over. Tom and I tried to overtake it in the lift, while its head was spinning with the red light and the ticking. It was horrible. And uncalled for. And ineffectual, as it batted us against the walls of the tiny elevator and kept us pinned down for the duration of the ride.
And it was a long ride, let me tell you. Because now we're sitting in the Bar at the Top of the Verts. As it's known.
"Yes, uh... two beers," I say.
There's no sitting at the edge here for Tom to throw his peanut shells. No complimentary peanuts at all. It's a classy joint, since no one I know has ever been admitted to the Bar at the Top of the Verts before. And they don't let you get too close to the edge here. And the sky is verging on deep purple and there are almost stars, even though the sun is in the sky. You can see the curve of the whole planet from up here.
"And here you are. Two beers," says a new waiter. But now that I'm on the lookout I can see it's another of those clockwork waiters. "And you have something for me, I believe?" the new clockwork waiter asks.
"Um, uh... yes.... my debit card, perhaps?"
"No," answers the clockwork waiter. "A little barnacle encrusted box will do."
I followed Engineer Tom, who was apparently following the waiter.
"Oh, uh, excuse me. Er, 'Excusez-MOI!!!'"
The patrons give me such funny looks. But I practiced the pronunciation just like from the record!
Tom cuts a path through the room and down a service corridor. I can see the waiter entering a small broom closet ahead of us.
"Into the broom closet!" I call, tumbling over Tom through the threshold.
"Captain! I can't assure this is safe,"
"Hey, we got it on a NOTE. I do this stuff all the time."
Suddenly, the door slams shut, the lights in the closet turn red, the room shudders, and I can feel the whole thing is going up.
"Going up!" says the waiter.
I look up, and see the waiter's head is rotating, spinning slowly around on his neck. And emitting a ticking sound.