“For God’s sake Mosley!”
Jock Pendleton from Pendleton and Mosley ripped his spectacles from the bridge of his nose and mopped at his brow in frustration. Little Tim Mosley Junior stood before him with two halves of the whole apparatus resting in his open palms, his face a study of blank confusion.
“If yer name wasn’t on the door, Son, I’d have given yer the boot long ago!”
Tim’s munchkin face screwed up in dismay. His father had been a refugee from Oz in the early days of the Witch’s reign, and munchkin offspring stayed true to their bloodline, no matter how diluted it became.
“I didn’t mean to!”
“And that there is the problem. You never mean to. Yet every time, every… single… bloody time, you manage to mess it up!”
“I was just…”
“You was just doin’ perzactly what I specifically told you not to.”
Tim’s eyes welled. It was a thing of beauty when a munchkin’s eyes welled. The moisture glistened like crystal drops, hovering just on the edge of his lashes, collecting rainbows and wavering with tremulous hesitation on the verge of spilling.
Jock was having none of it.
Munchkin tears were as bad as dragon tears. Full of remorse yet never learning from their mistakes, the same offense committed again and again, until one was heartily sick of the sight of them.
“No use turning those tears on for me, Son, I’m perfectly immuned to them by now.” Jock slammed his eye-glasses back onto the bridge of his nose and held his hand out for the apparatus, both halves of it. Tim gingerly placed the delicate pieces into Jock’s hand, pressing his lips together in a vain attempt to force the tears back.
Heedless of his wishes, they broke free from his lashes and spilled down his cheek. “I’m sorry, Jock. I won’t touch it again, I promise.”
Jock sighed. “Now, don’t you be promising something you can’t deliver. Everyone knows a munchkin in a laboratory is a mistake.” He waddled back to the bench and placed the apparatus on the wooden surface, carefully inspecting the two halves with a critical eye. “Now, what am I going to do?” He fumbled about on his bench for the correct tool, while holding the apparatus steady.
“I could…” Tim began, but Jock stopped him with a glare.
“You. There. Sit. Stay. Touch nothing!” Tim trudged dejectedly to the corner where a small wooden chair rested, its surface smooth and shining, well polished by the seat of his pants.
“Right, let’s see what can be fixed…” Jock bent his head over the workbench, adjusting the mechanism on his eye-glasses to increase the magnification.
The daylight dwindled into evening shadows. Tim sat as still as he could on the wooden chair, his britches further polishing it with each barely contained fidget and wiggle.
“Where is the light?” Jock grumbled from the worktable, his nose pressed deeply into the apparatus as he attempted to realign the mechanisms inside.
Tim, freed from the constraints of sitting still, bounded into action. With youthful energy and zeal, he flitted about with flint and lantern, lighting each lamp in the laboratory. Cautiously, he set the last lamp carefully on the workbench, ensuring that he placed it a suitable distance from Jock’s elbow, and angled in just the right way, so as to shine its light upon his work.
Jock barely grunted an acknowledgment as the light fell on the mechanics, glinting off cogs and wheels, springs and coils. With his probe in one hand and long-necked pliers in the other, he was totally transfixed by his work. His wrinkled brow was furrowed with lines of concentration, and he tutted and hummed to himself as he worked.
Tim shifted his weight from foot to foot, barely even able to see over the table, but he devoured each movement with wide-eyed fascination. Each gentle twist and tweak made by the master was one twist closer to seeing the apparatus restored. And it was such an apparatus. Tim had no idea what it did, or why it existed, only that it moved with meticulous precision, each gear and lever fitting into the next like magic. It was that movement that had caught his eye, ignited his fascination and tempted him beyond his capacity for self control. Mind you, even for a Munchkin, his capacity for self control was notoriously limited.
From behind the curtain in the corner of the room, a snuffling sound broke the silence. Tim jumped. His focus had been so intent upon the workbench and the intricacies of the master craftsman at work on the apparatus that he’d forgotten about their other big discovery. A giant.
It had landed in the small courtyard behind their shop this morning with an earthshaking thud and a smoking crackle of energy that scorched all the cobblestone pavement black. Miraculously, although it was covered in a fine layer of soot, the giant appeared unharmed. It swayed alarmingly on its two tree trunk legs, then collapsed in a crumpled heap. Tim had witnessed the entire spectacle as he was returning from the outhouse on the other side of the courtyard. He had run into the laboratory, screaming and babbling incoherent sentences, and forcefully dragged Jock outside.
Jock was pragmatic. He studied the prone form, its enormous limbs akimbo, and declared they had better drag it inside the laboratory for further study and to prevent mass hysteria when the rest of the village awoke.
So, with much effort (and a pinch of the very expensive and powerful levitation powder that Jock had constructed for the prince and his men) they heaved and huffed and manhandled the giant into the laboratory, where it lay the length of the entire rear wall, head against one side, feet touching the other. Jock had the foresight to enclose this space with a hastily erected curtain made from a bedsheet thrown over a rope that he nailed to each wall. No need to frighten any visitors today with the unexpected and unexplainable presence of an enormous giant in their midst.
The giant didn’t stir at all, and Tim continued to take fascinated peeks behind the curtain to study the creature with morbid curiosity. It was on one of these furtive, self appointed missions that he noticed the apparatus. It had been loosely clasped about the giant’s wrist, and it took very little of his munchkin skill to liberate the item. The whirling cogs and gears produced a soft, mesmerising ticking that enchanted him. His little fingers probed and poked and prodded in an attempt to understand the purpose of the apparatus. A munchkin’s sense of curiosity is a bottomless well, never ending, never satisfied, and potentially dangerous.
“Here, leave that be! Ya don’t know what yer messin’ with!” Jock had growled furiously as he swiped the apparatus from the munchkin’s hand and placed it high above the workstation, well out of temptation’s reach.
But the faint ticking could still be heard, each tick a question. What am I? Why am I? How do I? Tim couldn’t leave it alone and without conscious thought, plan or consideration, he scampered up a stool when Jock had left to use the outhouse and the apparatus was once again in his hands. His nimble, yet clumsy hands. That was how Jock had found him when he returned, the apparatus in two parts and a guilty, contrite expression on his little munchkin face.
After being motionless all day, the giant groaned and sat up, pulling the hastily erected curtain down in a tangle of fabric, long limbs thrashing alarmingly. Tim and Jock scampered out of harm’s way, eyes fixed upon the raging creature. It occurred to Tim that bringing the giant indoors may have been a mistake. It was very large and appeared as if it could destroy the laboratory and all the delicate implements with one mistimed sweep of its arm. When it sat up, it stilled, the stillness almost as terrifying as the previous moments of uncontrolled pandemonium. Seated, the giant’s eyes were on a level with Tim’s own and the two stared in horrified fascination at each other for long, still moments, each barely breathing or blinking.
Jock, braver than he appeared, stepped between the giant and the munchkin, drawing both of their attention to him.
“Good evening, giant. We do not mean to harm you,” Jock began, his hands outstretched in a calming manner. “You mysteriously appeared here, and we was wondering what you want?”
The giant spoke, a rumble of sound that had no intelligible meaning. Even Tim couldn’t understand. The ability to converse with all creatures and convey their wishes and desires to Jock, the inventor, was an invaluable munchkin skill, that offset the damages caused by his curiosity and clumsiness. Jock turned to him for the translation. It was the reason his name was on the door, after all, but this time his second sense for strange languages didn’t help.
The giant rumbled again, a louder rumble with a upwards inflection. A question? A plea? Tim wasn’t sure, and it was unusual for him to feel so at a loss.
“I don’t know what you’re saying, giant,” he cried, panic making his usual treble voice an even higher squeak of sound.
Rumble, rumble… the giant waved its arms about alarmingly, and both Jock and Tim ducked beneath the flailing limbs. The distress was written loud on the giant’s face and it finally buried its head in its hands, as if the weight of its thoughts and emotions was just too heavy. It took several long slow breaths, muttering up under its breath some kind of incantation. The repeated sounds convinced Tim that the creature was casting a spell, so he braced himself for some kind of calamitous catastrophe.
Nothing happened. Quite anti-climatic, really.
The giant peered through its fingers in cautious glances, as if it too expected something to have happened. For the space of seven breaths, no one in the room dared to move. They barely breathed. The only sound was the soft, barely perceptible tick of the newly repaired apparatus laying on the workbench.
Suddenly, the giant grasped its forearm, eyes wide with horrified panic, searching for the item missing from its wrist.
Tim interpreted that sound, and the urgency with which it was enunciated, as ‘Where is my apparatus?’ or even, ‘Who the devil has stolen my apparatus?’ or perhaps, ‘Oh god where is it?’ He exploded into action, reacting before Jock could stop him, and swept the apparatus from the workbench to offer it to the giant, hoping to appease it. The giant reached out one hand and took the apparatus with careful fingers. The look on its face spoke of despair as it examined the damage and the unfinished repair.
It looked up hopefully at Tim, then at Jock. When they shook their heads in mute incomprehension, the giant mimed poking the apparatus with tools. Tim understood this to be a request for the appropriate tools for repair, and he bounced back to the table. The giant stood slowly, careful not to hit its head on the ceiling and with bowed back made its way to the table to study the tools.
“Now just you wait here a minute…” Jock grumbled as the giant pawed through the implements on the table. “Them’s expensive delicate tools and I don’t appreciate you just rummaging through them like as they were spoons in a drawer.”
As expected, the giant ignored him as it picked up the probe and pliers. In the huge hand, the tools looked like toys, but the giant wielded them with dexterity and precision. Tim was entranced by the delicate motions and he clambered up a stool to watch as the giant worked.
“Tim, get down from there before you break something!” Jock growled, but for the first time in his life, Tim ignored him. The giant was fascinating, its movements precise and controlled as it manipulated the apparatus and its moving parts with confident ease and skill.
The giant paused and looked at Tim, who stared back blankly. He still couldn’t understand a single word, but from the tone, the giant was requesting he do something. Carefully, the giant took Tim’s hand and guided it into position to hold one of the tools while he manipulated the other. With a final deft twist and click, the mechanism locked into place and the giant smiled.
Perhaps that was an expression of praise, or maybe gratitude, Tim wasn’t sure, but he liked the sound of it. As it spoke, the giant clapped the apparatus about his wrist and twisted the dials and manipulated all the interesting mechanics with swift, sure movements.
“Thank you for letting me help,” Tim said as he reached out his hand to clasp the giant’s arm with a friendly, grateful clasp.
In a flash of ash and dust, the giant vanished as suddenly as it had arrived.
Amid an earthshaking cacophony of sound, Brenton emerged into the lab with a shudder and his head spun alarmingly. He knew he was about to pass out once again and groped unsteadily for help. It was forthcoming and urgent hands pressed an oxygen mask to his face. He breathed deeply as his legs gave way beneath him. More hands guided him down to sit with his head between his knees until the world stopped spinning. He could hear the urgency in their voices, but with the ringing in his ears, he was unable to make out words.
“Brent…Brent… you ok?” Finally the words coalesced into some kind of sense in his brain and he shook off the concerned hands.
“I’m fine, a bit lightheaded, but fine.” He opened his eyes, relieved to see the interior of the laboratory, its sterile stainless steel surfaces, with orderly storage for equipment, familiar and comforting.
“It seems as if your mission was successful. You brought back a souvenir.” James, a fellow scientist and good friend, spoke in a tone that was not necessarily approving.
Brenton frowned in confusion. He’d not brought anything with him. He knew the rules, looking only: leave nothing, take nothing. Until they had more data, the balance must remain neutral. He turned to see what had caused James’s disapproval. There, pale and limp, was the little creature who had helped him repair the convergence capacitor. The little elf-like creature must have hung on to him as he activated the jump link. Shit.
“Yeah, the mission was successful. You can tell Elon Musk that inter-dimensional travel is possible.”
Brenton studied the little creature, its pointed ears and fancy, bright clothing, and wondered just what kind of can of worms he and his colleagues had opened.