Steambike Chapter 1

This is the first chapter of Steambike, and is part of a steampunk trilogy about a young man dealing with the legacy of his inventor/pioneer father. Excuse the editting, it did not copy well.

 “There’s something about the feeling of grease on your fingers, it just makes the world slip away.”- Arthur Walters, 1917.

Cain didn’t hate his father, he just didn’t care for his axioms. Still, that thought was one of the few things his father left behind that he cherished; that, and the snow globe that had fascinated him since he was a child.

Cain Walters was on his back, underneath a broken-down steam car. It was held two feet from the ground, hoisted up by dozens of chains suspended on a pulley, which in turn hung from the roof of his workshop. Cain’s dirty blonde hair was slicked over his face, not from sweat that beaded on his forehead, but from the small, steady stream of humid air leaking out of the reservoir on the bottom of the car. His white button up shirt, stained a rainbow of colors from countless spills, leaks, squirts and puddles, clung tightly to his chest, and the sleeves itched where they were rolled up together, giving Cain the illusion of better mobility.

He swiped at the condensation that dripped from his brow with his idle left forearm, then placed the hand back to steady the pipe he was tightening with the wrench in his right hand.

“Foul it, Mrs. Haggiss,” he muttered, more to the stubborn bolt than to himself, or any certain absent minded house-wife. “How many times must I advise you, not to drive on unfinished roads.” he cursed. A sudden burst of steam caused him to move his head to the right to avoid it, and he re-directed his anger to himself for forgetting to vent the build-chamber. He reached over with his left arm, blindly grasping for a pan, not willing to move his eyes from the hole where first the steam, and then water, began slipping out of the car. His hand, with grease caked under his fingernails and dirt hugging his palms, found a pan, and he slid it to over to rest under the spot of the leaking fluids. He had long gotten used to the scraping sound of a metal pan on rough concrete, the shrill screech falling on deaf ears. Cain hesitated then, stopping himself from mindlessly wiping his hands on either his black vest or midnight blue tie, both of which hung loosely and unfastened.

The mechanic, among other things, used his feet to push himself along the undercarriage. Cain’s loafers, shinning black when he purchased them, had since turned an almost grey color. His khaki slacks tugged as they caught the hundreds of jagged edges along the rough concrete floor, but his belt, with his shirt stuffed loosely into it, held them in place. The microscopic mountain range underneath Cain was in-turn stained with years worth of unidentifiable stains, but he hardly noticed as he yet again ruined an article of clothing. Finally, after some slight effort, Cain eventually emerged from the shadows of the car.

Dusting himself, Cain paused when he heard a slight rustling past the steam car. He froze, trying to pinpoint the origin and nature of the sound. The car should be vented now, he thought. So, would that be-?

A small clinking sound echoed through the shop from Cain’s right, behind a cabinet filled with parts. Cain smiled, and as nonchalantly as possible, turned and made his way to a shelf, tossing his wrench to the tabletop.

Cain whistled softly as he reached out, lightly grabbing a small jar from a shelf that hung at head level. The jar was filled to the brim with sun dried cherries and walnuts, and the sweet aroma drifted to him as he opened the container. Cain picked the top most treat with his right hand after wiping his fingers along his pants, and held it behind his back as he turned. A small raccoon stood across from him on the workbench not six feet away. Its curious, masked expression shifted to an eager one as it sniffed violently upward at Cain.

“Good boy, Leland,” Cain congratulated, then he put his other hand behind his back to join his right. “Now, pick a hand.”

Leland sniffed for a moment, seemingly lost in thought. Cain wondered just how much went on behind the tiny black eyes. After that moment had passed, Leland made a clawing gesture with his left paw, indicating that the cherry was indeed in Cain’s right hand.

“Lucky guess.” Cain smiled, and tossed the cherry to Leland. In seconds, the raccoon had devoured the treat. Cain smiled as he watched Leland, and in almost an after thought, he plucked a walnut from the jar, then replaced it back onto the shelf. “Okay,” said Cain, “ solve that formula,” he said, pointing to the large chalk board past Leland.

Leland followed Cain’s pointing fingers, but didn’t seem to follow the question. Complex algebraic formulas were slightly beyond the small raccoon, Cain reasoned. Leland turned back towards Cain, lifting his paws and grasping in an almost infantile pleading motion.

“Uh-huh. Didn’t think so.” Cain said, though he still tossed the nut to Leland. After all, Cain had no real notion that his pet raccoon would be capable of solving a formula that had eluded him for two solid weeks. Cain sighed as he took a stool next to Leland and sat, ignoring the raccoon as his eyes focused on the chalk board. Though his attention was entirely focused on the chalk board, he still reached out and scratched Leland behind his ears. If he found the sensation pleasurable, Leland didn’t show it, as the small animal was himself focused on the dilemma of breaking open the nut.

Problems have solutions, thought Cain.

“Cain!” hollered a booming voice from just out side the shop’s ever-open doors. “Cain! You gonna come out or do I have to drag you from that damn board?” asked the same voice. It was the only voice Cain had ever heard that was simultaneously demanding, friendly and mocking.

He sighed. Cain expected this particular visitor, as he always did, but he had hoped to have both the steam car and the equation issue settled before they arrived.

“Come on in Garret, I’m almost ready.” Cain hollered back, just loud enough to be heard outside the door. He heard a grumbled response, and a large man lumbered into view. He was roughly a foot taller than Cain with intense green eyes and his muscles visibly bulged under his tanned skin. Garret wore no shirt under his plus sized over-alls, but he kept one tucked into the back of his pants should the occasion arise that he would need one. His strong face was angled into a smirk, his strong jaw jutted out with the satisfaction of catching Cain at the board. Garret loved guessing correctly.

“I need you in the shop.” stated Garret.

“I’ll be down in a bit, I still have this,” Cain broke off to gesture tiredly at the offending steam car.

“Can’t it wait? The town is happy enough to know that walkin’ on the sidewalk is safe while her car is in the shop.” quipped Garret. “Besides, I need you to see something. It’s for that side project. I need to know about the chamber. I’ve tried shortening it and I’ve tried slimming it but it just seems damn near impossible to make it the size you want.”

“You said this would be done tomorrow,” Cain accused in an absent voice that hardly carried any real disbelief. He knew what he had asked for would be too much; it would have been difficult even for a master blacksmith to make. Of course, Garret was a master, perhaps the master. It had been worth a shot.

“I haven’t given up on the project, it’s just that it consumes a lot of my time and I’ve other obligations that come first.” Garret explained.

“But we’re friends,” reminded Cain jokingly as he stepped toward the board, “I feel that I should get a bit more priority than some ‘lowly’ customer.” Cain picked up a piece of chalk and scrawled an X and a 3.

“They pay.” stated Garret with a smile as he leaned down to pet Leland.

“Fair point.” commented Cain as he admired his nearly finished work.

“Since they pay and this is charity, I think we should head down to the shop to hammer out the little bump I hit.” suggested Garret as he picked up the raccoon and moved his heavily booted feet towards the door.

Cain grabbed a ring filled with keys from a small bowl as they made their way to the open doors of the shop. “Fine, but I’m driving,” Cain commanded in a friendly tone.

“You just want to ride your bike to impress girls.” Garret teased, then cooed at Leland. The raccoon playfully pawed at the blacksmith’s nose.

“No,” Cain said as he slid the key into the lock on the door. “I have my eyes to do that.” he joked, closing the door.

It was a rare silent moment in the shop, light spilling in from windows, floating dust reflecting it. The steam car and various other projects hung, their chains quiet and sturdy.

Slowly, a click echoed in the large room, as Cain unlocked and pushed open the door. With a spring in his step, he made his way back to his chalkboard and added a 6.

“Foul it, Cain! Come on!” Garret boomed from outside.

“Sorry!” Cain muttered, scurrying back to reconvene with his annoyed friend.

The trio sped along a dusty pot-holed road, the only road that led from Cain’s workshop to the heart of the crown city of Remnus, riding Cain’s favorite possession. If he had considered Leland to be a possession, it might have been his second favorite. As it was, Cain’s steam bike was his prize creation, the only one of its kind. All other steam-operated vehicles tended to be on the bulkier side, as they had to allow for the proper chambers for cooling, heating and storage along with being able to hold enough coal to keep the miniature furnaces seething along and enough water to keep them moving. Cain was a problem solver at heart, and he knew that there had to be a better way to travel. In the end, he decided that the issue wasn’t necessarily the power of the engine but the weight of the entire chassis. Everything, from the fuel to the water to the metal could be sized down and stream-lined. When it came to the bike’s structure itself, the issue hadn’t been that difficult to rectify. Simply hollow out the pipes that weren’t paramount to the integrity. When it came to the furnace, he sized it down to no bigger than a bread box. With the coal, he crushed a bucket of coal into a brick just smaller than both of his fists, side by side, or one and a half of Garret’s, depending on which unit of measurement is available.

The bike itself, though, was more than just a testament to Cain's mind and ingenuity, but also to his friendship with Garret. Garret was renown thoroughly as a master blacksmith, and as much as Cain was a genius in engineering, Garret was a savant with metal. The "Ox", as Cain often called his friend, a play on both his size and last name, was always integral in Cain's projects. His wild imaginings were only capable when built by Garret's hands; though the blacksmith rarely understood what things were when Cain handed designs to him, he often found strange ways during the making to further efficiency or improve the design in some way.

Cain was reminded of the bikes two sturdy wheels, pressing down hard against the road. They were rarely needed when Cain rode alone, both with a width of less than a foot. The added weight of Garret, however, kept the bike solidly ground bound, which was how Garret preferred it, as opposed to the other option. Garret was fully aware of the bike’s “capabilities”, just as Cain was aware that his friend deeply despised any height over a few feet, and kept the bike as steady and as grounded as possible. Cain sat comfortably on the main seat, Garret behind him on a raised secondary seat, and his height was only increased by the higher cushion. Garret held on tightly to Cain’s shoulders.

Something clung to Cain's waist, and he ignored tiny, sharp pain of claws digging past shirt and vest, knowing Leland was merely excited. The raccoon sat between him and Garret, nestled in a bag slung off Ox's shoulders, a small, Garret-built beige helmet fixed neatly to his noggin. Cain was proud of how well he handled the bike and was hardly worried about crashing, but he went along with the tiny helmet purely by how adorable the raccoon looked with it. Not just for the sake of his amusement, but others as well, and based on the over-joyed look that glittered in Leland's eyes while driving, he doubted the raccoon minded at all.

When they got closer to the center of town, Cain had to navigate clutter and debris left throughout the city. There was rarely enough traffic on the side streets, which Garret preferred, to necessitate taking the over-crowded streets, but a long, wooden crate laying in the middle of an alley gave Cain an excuse he was only too happy to use.

The driver, among other things, gave the right throttle a strong twist as he reared back, lifting the bike up in a "wheelie", and the bike, riders and all, jumped off the ground, leaving a tail of super heated steam in its wake. Cain let loose a hoop of sheer joy which he always felt when off the ground, but the brief moment of gravitational freedom was tempered by Garret’s rough hands, squeezing his shoulders to the point Cain considered what it would be like to live the rest of his days armless. Cain cut the power back a bit and allowed the bike to fall the four feet to the ground.

Instead of calming Garret it seemed to agitate him further. Cain could barely feel his hands.

Just before impact Cain wrenched the throttle again. Steam erupted from below them. Their decent slowed til they hovered just above the ground for a moment, and then they were all jarred for a second as the bike impacted, their heads nodding once in unison. Garret's hands relaxed and Cain felt the feeling return to his hands immediately, and was thankful Garret put up with his occasional "jumps". He would hate to see his friend genuinely angry.

Now in the most populated area of the city, Cain slowed his bike. He only liked to "show-off" for those close to him, and without family, that left his friends. Garret, however, hardly seemed amused by his exhibition. Garret always said nothing his size should be airborne.

“You okay Garret?” yelled Cain, the wind carried his voice back to Garret.

“I’d be better if we never had to do that again.” grumbled Garret into Cain’s ear.

Cain cut the engine and allowed their momentum to carry them to right in front of Garret’s shop. Or rather, Garret's family's shop. Four generations of Bellox had worked this shop before Garret had seen his first anvil. Garret Bellox, with a silent “x”, as he often reminded strangers, was the master of the shop since the death of his father four years previous. Since then he pushed his body to it’s limits and nearly destroyed himself to learn the trade his family was so well know for. Two years ago his efforts came to fruition when he started getting larger commissions from the bigger cities to the south. If a rich business man needed a prototype built for a new car model or train part, if they needed this one part to be perfect they would send it to the Bellox Forge and Garret himself would slave for hours to make it a work that would bring his family honor. His shop, the original stand his fore-fathers had built, was merely a tradition. All major work was done in one of the three factories the Bellox's owned throughout XXXXX. His only surviving relatives; two sisters, a cousin and his mother, all brimmed with praises for him, both in work ethic and in managing the business side of their industrial power.

Garret stepped unsteadily off the motor bike and sidled toward his open shop doors. A produce stand stood just to the right of the wide open door. Garret stopped, pulled himself up straight and turned toward the stand. A busy looking red headed woman in pigtails was bent over a hand basket at her feet. Garret had seemed prepared to call greetings but his words stuck in his throat as he scanned the upturned buttocks that faced him.

Cain tried to stifle a snigger, but he failed and it jolted Garret out of his apparent hypnosis.

“Hey, Miri. Thanks for watching my shop while I was away. Did anyone stop by?” asked Garret. He seemed to have regained his senses, but since he was still addressing the rear of a woman, he felt somewhat silly.

The red head stood, her skirt falling to its normal height no longer being pulled taught, and turned to face Garret. A smile lit her fair face, with her green eyes almost hidden in her dark lashes. Garret’s stance melted slightly. Physically he didn’t slouch but it seemed he wasn’t the same mountain he had been moments before.

“It wasn’t any real problem, I mean, I have to tend my stand anyway. A man with some soldiers did come by, but he said he could stop by later. I think he was an officer.” replied Mariana in her light, cheery voice, her smile never leaving her face.

“Military? Did they give you any trouble?” Garret asked as he took a protective step toward Mariana. The military had a poor reputation when it came to manners, as at least the common soldier was want for them. The occasional officer, however, was often an up-standing citizen, trying to protect XXXX. Still, that hardly improved the reputation of the harassing foot soldiers of XXXXX.

“Well, I didn’t like the officer but the soldiers with him almost bought some stuff from my stall. The officer stopped them.” She said in a small huff, planting both fists on her hips. Her chest swelled as she heaved an angry sigh; Mariana did not have the financial stability of the Bellox or Cain, as her family owned a small farm outside XXXX, just doing enough business to live without wanting. Mariana was proud of the small stand, however, and would never accept help from her more affluent friends. The stall-girl was wearing a green button up shirt with a light blue sweater over it, the sweater, far from making her look conservative, stretched taught around her and managed to accentuate her womanly features. It’s neckline ran low and the sweater itself was only long enough to dip just bellow her prominent selling points. Garret tried to be oblivious to her clothes and posture; few things in life could take his sight away from Mariana.

“Why would an officer try to keep you from selling something?” Cain asked as he stepped past Garret, having previously been blocked from the red head's view.

“Hi, Cain!” Mariana practically bounced up and down as her smile grew wider, and to garret, somehow brighter. Had Garret noticed the smile he would have believed it wasn’t possible, but other thoughts had taken residence in his head.

“Well, the soldiers said they were interested in my melons,” began Mariana after she settled down. “They kept asking questions about the firmness and size. I mean, they were very informed consumers, you know?”

Cain’s eyes began to slightly water as the laughter threatened to tear through him to freedom. Garret’s brow furrowed and he clenched his fists. His very large fists.

Mariana didn’t seem to notice. “Then one of the soldiers said he needed to inspect them before he made a purchase. I was like, 'Sure, absolutely,' and he held out an hand, like this," she said, putting out her hand to demonstrate. It occurred to Cain that the gesture she made was one to grab something, not to have an item placed in an open hand. "But then the officer came over and yelled. Ugh, it was so disappointing. The way the soldiers were talking, I think they would have bought a whole lot of stuff, maybe even the corn and strawberries."

Cain, although he fought admirably, bent over, trying not to literally laugh his lungs out of his body, sounds of suppressed amusement escaping clenched lips. It seemed to him Garret was impersonating a volcano, ready to erupt, and he imagined smoke leaking from his ears.

Mariana looked between the two of them, trying to discern what could cause Cain such humor and Garret such anger. Slowly, realization lit her eyes.

“Oh,” said Mariana, as she looked down at her self. She quickly shielded her chest, her face reddening. "How silly of me," she nearly whispered, her embarrassment evident.

At this, Cain stopped his attempts to keep from laughing and was silent. He found humor in her innocence, her lack of understanding, but never her embarrassment.

Garret continued to fume for a moment, until Mariana caught his eyes and sighed. "Garret," she said. "Calm down, I hate it when you look that way,

Garret did as asked. If there was ever something he could do to please Mariana, it would be done immediately, a fact Cain was sure even Leland was aware of. Mariana returned her gaze to Cain; who had by now become completely silent, even though it had obviously pained him to stop his suppressed giggle fit.

“Are you going to show Cain the problem now?” she asked Garret.

"He had better, it's why he dragged me down here." Cain chided.

Garret, having completely forgotten his earlier anger, as he was wont to do, smirked. "Like you didn't enjoy bringing us here." he fake growled.

Cain only smiled back.

Garret walked into his shop, which was easily a twentieth the size of the smallest of his family's factory. Cain followed behind him, while Mariana leaned against the door, watching Cain walk away, the engineer, among other things, oblivious, though Garret was not. The shop was bigger than most buildings along the merchant roads outside, and more than ten of Mariana's stall could fit inside, and while Garret's shop was more profitable than Cain's shop, it had less clutter or tools scattered around it. The reasoning for this was well known to both Garret and Cain; Garret's work was precise and for hire, while Cain worked with anything and everything that struck his fancy, that the great Sir Walter's legacy was every bit the pack rat as his pet. Still, along the far side of the room lay pieces of a modern train engine and on the other there walls sat tables, which held long iron cross beams piled neatly according to size and width. The friends walked straight back to the end off the shop, where they reached Garret’s own personal work table. He used the table for his smaller, more intricate, more "pro bono" projects.

“Before I show this to you, remember I’m a blacksmith. I’m not used to working with small, intricate mechanics.” Garret said as he held up his hand in front of Cain’s face. “You see these? They are for making wholes in mountains or crushing boulders. Not for teeny things."

"Everything is teeny for you," Cain said, and Garret just stared, not moving his hands from his face. "Fine;" Cain sighed. "I get it, this is hard for you."

“Wrong, it was hard for me.” corrected Garret as he grabbed a small wooden box and handed it gently to Cain.

Cain stared at it for a while before accepting it. Even holding it in his hands he had difficulty accepting that it was there. The box contained something far too heavy to be this light. The box must be empty, he thought, just one of Garret’s jokes. But still Cain held the box with his right hand, it couldn’t have weighed more than seven pounds, and he opened it with his left. In the box, on a violet velvet cushion, was a gun.

Not just a gun, it was a hand sized gun, the world's smallest gun. Cain set the lid of the box onto Garret’s work table and, with his now freed hand, carefully picked up the firearm. It fit his hand perfectly, like the handle was molded and designed to fit to the contours of his group, which, of course, it. Three thoughts flowed through Cain's mind as he held the gun, lifted it, looked down the barrel, inspected it. One was that his best friend, Garret Bellox, was indeed the greatest blacksmith the world has ever seen. Second, the box itself had weighed four pounds; the gun was practically lighter than air.

Finally, Cain thought about how dangerous an item like this was. A hand held gun, exactly like the specifics Cain had given to Garret, but as always, somehow better, was a frightening thought in the hands of those who would use it for nefarious reasons. he vowed not to be one of them.

“Happy Early Birthday, buddy.” said Garret with a warm smile. “A couple of things about this thing.” said Garret, as he gently took the technological marvel from Cain. Cain allowed Garret to take it even though he wanted to hold it longer. “Because of its size, the barrel will over heat much faster with sustained fire,” started Garret, and, as an after thought, said, "This gun is capable of automatic fire of up to ten shots per ammo shell., but overall, it can shoot well over a hundred shots before you should stop because of over-heating."

Cain arced an eyebrow, the shifting moving up the goggles that sat on his head.

"I figured out how to allow sustained fire for eight shots," Cain said. It had been quite the accomplishment. He had spent hours in front of papers strewn about his own desk, pencils in both hands, both worn to nubs. Figuring the mathematical specifics that would allow the engineering design of automatic fire in a gun smaller than any other was a monumental task, even when considering the unique work-around Cain had long ago figured out. Still, it never ceased to amaze him that Garret had, as usual, taken his designs, and with a few adjustments, had added something extra to the creation.

“It really wasn’t all that hard to figure out after I started working on your designs. I just scaled down some drawings of the innards of a Gatling’s, then figured out how to relate the loading mechanism to the smaller weapon and added some various things here and there to compensate.. It's a bit bigger than what you designed, but it gets that two extra shots per shell, but, that's not the big thing I added.” explained Garret modestly. "I also added this part, here;" he said, while pointing to the loading chamber just below the barrel of the gun. Cain had noticed it did not hold the ammo shell he had designed when he had held the weapon, but he merely thought Garret had just not loaded it yet.

"See this little notch here?" Garret asked, to which Cain nodded. "If you press down the tab here, then it becomes a belt feeder, like the ones on a Gatling. I added a few slim braces to help with the recoil, and a few small slits to act as vents. You put a belt in, and bammo, hand-held Gatling." the blacksmith beamed, handing the gun back to Cain. "Give it a try?" he offered, using his thumb to indicate a stack of hay in a corner of the shop.

Cain nodded, and took a small ammo belt Garret offered. He fed it in as Garret had shown him, and took quick aim at the stack of hay. Mariana jumped with the fourteen shots that erupted from the handgun. Cain, nor Garret, was worried about attracting the attention the people who wandered outside, as the community had become used to weird sounds coming from any building owned by Cain Walter or Garret Bellox. The grouping was phenomenal, yet again physical proof of the bizarre synergy between Cain as a creator and Garret as a builder.

"Nice," Cain smiled.

"Oh, I know," Garret said, more than a little smug. he had every right to be. "Here," he said, tossing Cain a ammo shell. "Try a shell."

Cain complied, pushing the tab back to where it had been and fitted the shell into the bottom of the gun.

"Its still holds those ten shots I mentioned earlier."

"What about the emergency chamber I had?" Cain asked.

"Emergency chamber?" Mariana asked from the doorway still. "You have a gun with an 'emergency chamber'?"

"It takes a few moments for the steam to accumulate to an acceptable level to allow propulsion, in fact, approximately 27.42 seconds of heating, which is accomplished when the trigger, here, connects to the ammo shell here, causing a heating coil to spark inside in a almost insect-sized chamber, which-" Cain rambled, going over the calculations in his head that had originally led to his designs in the first place.

"Cain, buddy," Garret said. "Breathe."

Cain sighed into a smile, and looked back at Mariana, who started to twirl her hair with a look in her eyes he didn't quite recognize. "Sorry. Your original point, Mariana, was the emergency chamber. I was worried about the draw time after pulling it from the holster. I'm assuming per my design," Cain said, pointing to a part part of the weapon. "That here is the emergency chamber, where three rounds are stored inside the gun for-"

"Seven rounds." Garret corrected.

"Seven?" Cain asked.

"Yeah. Seven. I filed down rounds, so they'd be better fit into the chamber. They're not as big as normal shots, but you get a couple more of them."

Cain shook his head. "Garret, you never cease to amaze me."

Garret smiled lightly as he rustled his own dark hair in a show of humility.

"They're your plans, I just add a couple of things."

"Oh, look, you boys are so cute, working together," Mariana said in a genuine gush. But now I have to ask the question," she started, still in a sweet tone of voice that could calm any savage. “Why in the world would Cain need to fire a gun?! Why would he need to be able to fire stained bursts?” she yelled, the sweetness gone. it was obvious she had given up on tending her stall, as this was easily more pressing to her.

Cain didn't say anything. He could feel his cheeks warm as they reddened, but before he could offer an explanation, Garret started talking.

"Mari, remember a month ago, when Cain was at the University or Tomijor, and some guy mugged him?"

"Yes, I do," Mariana shot back, clearly not backing down as to why a engineer, among other things, needed a hand held gun. "And if I recall, Cain walloped him a few good ones."

"Yeah, but it got us thinking. Cain got lucky; sure, he's handy enough in a fight, but what if there had been more than one mugger, what if they had a gun? Cain isn't impervious," Garret explained.

"Says the man who's built like a mountain viewed through a viewing lens." Cain shot, taking a playful jab at Garret's ribs.

"Exactly," the blacksmith continued, ignoring his friend

“There Mariana, satisfied? I need it for my own protection.” Cain said.

“Couldn’t you carry a sword on you?” asked Mariana, seemingly unconvinced. “That’s what my father does when he has to travel.”

“Yes, but you father is built like me,” pointed out Garret, “Cain just doesn’t look intimidating enough when he carries a sword.”

"I do carry a- well, a special-" Cain started to whisper defensively, but Mariana spoke over him,

“Fine, I can see why he would need a gun,” admitted Mariana. Cain cringed slightly at her admission that he wasn’t imposing in stature, while Garret smirked. “But why,” Mariana continued, “Does it have to be stained fire and semi stained?”

“First off,” began Cain, “It's sustained, not stained. It's imperative to maintain a healthy rate of fire in combat in case of numerous assailants, particularly if they've taken cover behind any source of debris which could protect their-”

Garret cut him off . “You know us boy and our weapons. We just like making silly things that go pop. Its just our nature,” explained Garret.

Mariana raised her eyebrows, but nonetheless, accepted this gross over simplification since she saw it, more often than not, proven true the more she hung around the explosive duo of Cain and Garret.

"Fine. I get it," she said at last, putting her hands up in defeat. "You're lucky I like you two. And Cain," she said, as her voice lowered in volume. "You're so cute when you ramble."

Again, Cain blushed, and he removed the goggles that sat on his head if only to give his hands something to do in wake of his embarrassment.

Garret was about to say something in retort, when a holler from outside got their attention.

“Hey, melon lady,” shouted the voice from the street, accompanied by a few sniggers. “I want your melons, lady!”

“Oh, customers.” Mariana sighed happily, and she turned to go back to her stand.

“Hold up there, Mari,” commanded Cain as he grabbed her by the hand and pulled back into him. He placed his hands on her arms and looked deep into her eyes, “Garret and I will handle these customers, okay?"

Mariana paused for a moment, seemingly lost Cain’s glacial blue eyes. Her own emerald green eyes were wide and vacant when she answered, “Okay.”

Cain let her go and half jogged to catch up to Garret. The blacksmith was already almost to the door, and Cain was glad he had been the one holding the hand gun at that moment, for if his suspicions, and based on his gait, Garret's suspicions as well, were true, the blacksmith would surely be in the mood to use it. Cain dropped the weapon on a table and covered it with a nearby towel, just in case.

Mariana snapped to her senses and charged out after her boys. She had always been a voice of diplomacy whenever the two had gotten worse for their senses, and was never far behind when they were in a huff; though she had little idea what caused Cain or Garret such anger, she knew enough to know they were tense.

The sight of her running out of the shop caused the soldiers molesting her stand to turn their attention elsewhere, and they stared a chorus of cat calls and whistles.

Garret turned to see what they were yelling at, and Cain could see by the look in his friends eyes that Garret, on some level, wasn't a angry as he had just been.

Cain knew his friend was over-protective of their red-headed compatriot, but now was hardly the time to wonder as to how far the emotions in Ox went. Cain scanned the seven men who were surrounding Mariana's stall. Soldiers were common sights around Keldona, especially after the Keldinian-Troylan war that had ended only a few years earlier. The soldiers were of the patrol type, wearing crisp blue uniforms with accompanying hats, rifles hung over their shoulders and quick swords hanging from sheaths on their belts.

At least we aren’t dealing with metal shrouded Goliaths, thought Cain to himself. Garret was visibly shaking with pent up anger at the soldiers, and Cain wanted desperately to calm his friend. Easiest way to do that, he figured, was to take charge of the situation and get Kaldona's finest away from Mariana's stand.

“Hey,” shouted Cain, “I heard you were here earlier. What the foul do you want?”

Cain had their full attention. Garret stepped away from him, slowly and unobtrusively.

“Who the hell are you?” asked one of the soldiers, a brawny number with buzzed hair under a military cap. His blue coat was slightly unbuttoned and his hand rested heavily on his sword. Most importantly his breath smelled strongly of liquor.

“Drunk, that’s wonderful,” Cain sighed to himself, then addressed the soldiers, “The melon girl is closing up shop so she can’t help you; you can tell me what business you have with Bellox Foundry so that your trip wasn’t wasted, but then you will have to leave. Might I suggest the bars three blocks to the south.” Cain would have mentioned that Perry’s Tavern was on that particular block and it had the best berry ale he had ever had, but the soldiers started pushing produce off the top of Mariana’s stand and that set Garret into a fury.

“Foul off.” the drunk soldier commanded, oozing bravado from his patchy-stubbled face. Cain wondered if he was trying desperately to grow facial hair to look more intimidating, or just look older. “Leave, ya 'mok, or we’ll mess your face like the squash!”

Cain sighed. He looked back at Garret, and, seeing his friend was more angry than he, as per usual, he took a particularly long wrench from his belt. He twirled it around in his fingers, then twice alongside his palm.

“I’ll take three, you get four?” Cain asked, only half serious. At the threat, the soldiers stiffed and took steps together. Cain knew not out of fear, but due to training.

“Please,” Garret replied. “You’ll be lucky to get past two when I’m done.”

Cain sighed again.

“You always over-extend yourself.”

The moment the retort escaped his lips, Cain dove at the nearest blue-garbed soldier, ducking as a swollen fist swiped the air where his face had just been. Feeling the knuckles move his hair, Cain grinned as he brought the wrench down against a left kneecap, feeling the leg buckle underneath. The blow was meant to hinder and hurt, but not cripple. Cain may have been a classic rebellious youth, but he hardly wanted the entire military of Keldinia brought down on his shoulders.

Behind him, the ‘Ox’ charged two soldiers; they barely had the time to register the very large man running towards them when Garret’s outstretched arms took them both down. The blacksmith didn’t pause in his gait, and brought his hands around to both sides of a nearby soldier's head, boxing his ears.

The soldier yelped, cupping his ears in a futile attempt to stop the ringing which pulsed in his head. It was a momentary discomfort, though, in comparison to the pain he felt when Garret crashed his forehead into the soldier's skull.

Cain smirked as he brought his wrench to bare upon the next closest drunk, partially delighting himself in the abuse of a prime example of military corruption. Cain was young, but he wasn't immature enough to think this particular lot mirrored the majority, or even many, of his nation's military. He was aware, though, that the stereotype was occasionally deserved. The soldier, the largest of his fellows, brought both of his arms up in the manner a seasoned fighter would; fists high and head low to block a series of blows.

Cain hefted his wrench high, making a show of the swing. The soldier moved his arms up, to block the blow he expected. Having planned the telegraph, Cain instead kicked at the soldiers shins, hard, causing the soldier to reach for his legs. Quickly, Cain swung the tool down onto the mans shoulder, causing him to kneel in pain.

Garret felt the third of his soldiers practically crumple into his punch as he saw Cains last enemy fall. He assumed Cain was holding back, as usual, to avoid serious repercussions. While he understood and sympathized with the inventor, among other things, his pride would not allow him to pull his punches, either literally or figuratively. With a swift chuckle, part theater and part genuine joy in fighting for Mariana and his friend, Garret turned just in time to see his last soldier pulling out his sword from its sheath. Garret blundered to a stop as Cain rushed between the sword point and his own exposed chest.

The sharp, tempered tip of the sword waved slightly, and Cain knew his eyes followed its every movement. While he wouldn't risk a look back, he could not help but long for the hand gun Garret had completed for him. In the back of his head, Cain wondered if the lighter weight of the firearm would ironically give a heavier sense of protection, but the thought disappeared as the soldier made another step.

The soldier wore Cain's lost smirk and edged his way closer to the pair. As he neared, Cain and Garret stepped back as one.

"Do we escape back to the shop then?" Garret whispered as the other soldiers began to rise. The one Garret had bloodied with his face was the slowest to his feet.

"For the gun? No. Things are bad enough without revealing our breaking of multiple laws.” Cain whispered back.

“We are fighting soldiers. Line? Crossed.”

“You know what I meant.”

"You have a plan then?" Garret.

"Sort of. Buy time, figure a way out." Cain replied. He looked briefly to his friend, taking a step backwards at the same time to compensate for the brief loss of visual on the sword.

Garret was eying him more harshly than the sword.

“What? I said 'sort of'.”

"Hold your steel!" Shouted an impeccably dressed man, his silver hair demanding as much respect as his voice. His shirt wore more medals than his troops hid muscles under their own uniforms, and unlike his subordinates, he had a clear advantage.

He was sober.

“Do you louts not know who you accost?” the man continued.

Cain looked to his friend as he saw the soldiers relax their guard. Garret was busy, cocking an eye and mouthing “accost”, a look not of dis-understanding but disbelief on his chiseled features.

“Do you not realize who this is?”

Realizing the commanders intent, Cain tried desperately to avoid what was to happen next. What always would happen next.

“Really, they don't. Perhaps they'd like to learn? I've been working on my backstroke.” Cain mocked, shaking his wrench slightly. His attempt to goad the soldiers into continuing the fight worked barely, as one decided to follow his compatriots lead and draw his sword.

“No, Maccrish!” the commander again yelled an order. He turned back to Cain. “My apologies, Lord Walters. These louts must not recognize your visage.”

“They can apologize later,” Cain said, taking a step towards the group in one final attempt. Instead, the older soldier stepped between him and the group, placing his hands in a praying gesture.

“Please, sire, they do not understand, thus I explicably understand your agitation,” he begged. “Surely they would do better to realize the son of Arthur Walters in the future.”

Even in their drunken state, realization dawned on the soldiers, as Cain knew it would, and the two soldiers returned their swords, the rest standing quickly at attention.

Again, Cain was reminded that his father was as close to a deity as many recognized in Keldona.

“Humble -hic- apologies, sir,” one of the soldiers hiccuped. “We should have been more careful.”

Mariana, having stood in the back for too long, marched up to the forefront of the ordeal, an uncharacteristic look of stern stubbornness hardening her features.

“That's right, you lamoks. And pay for my melons!” she yelled, an accusatory finger pointing at the disarray of her shop.

Again, Cain watched as Garret arched an eyebrow, and heard one of the soldiers try to silence a snicker.

“Of course, my dear. We wouldn't want any harm to the friends of Mr. Walters,” the older soldier stammered, reaching into a pocket.

“Pay the lass because it's the right thing to do, not because of who my father was.” Cain commanded, desperately searching for control of the situation.

“Yes, of course,” the commander placated. “An undeniable piece of wisdom and altruism.” The commander practically smiled as he poured a generous amount of coin into Mariana's waiting palms.

The red-heads eyes were as large as Lelands when the raccoon was getting a treat, though Cain quickly mused the girl licked her lips more. Still, the thought did not change his now sour mood.

With a slight squeal, Mariana stepped back with her new wealth into the shade of her market tent. “A months worth of my stipend, dear lass. Hopefully ample compensation for your rebuilt market stand, and I wish you well in new ventures with it forthwith.”

Cain finally lowered his wrench completely, and could not help but rub his eyes in frustration.

“Again, my apologies, Lord Walters. Should you find it in your heart to forgive my men, we of the Six-Hundred and Eighth Squadron would be happy to come to your aid.”

“Please, just go.” Cain sighed through his fingers, which had slid down his face.

The soldiers followed silently as their commander beckoned them. Garret made a quick jerk towards them, faking a renewed aggression. One of the soldiers responded with a glare and a rude gesture, until his eyesight caught Cain watching him, and he instead walked away with a slight bow.

Mariana hopped thrice, then lunged towards her pair of friends, her arms thrown open for a hug. Garret smiled and threw his open to catch her-

-only for the girl to embrace Cain.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she beamed, finally pulling back to shake two fist fulls of coins. “And this isn't even all of it, there's more one the counter, I just coun't hold it all-

The girl's praise was lost on him.

Cain Walters sighed, and made his way to his bike.

“Cain, where are you going?” Mariana asked, her hands coming up to her collarbone in a look of sheer abandonment.

“Home,” the son, among other things, said. “I don't feel like celebrating. You two have fun.”

Garret put his large, blacksmith arm around Mariana and pulled her close.

“I think we can manage that, but you sure, buddy?” he asked. His smile told Cain that Garret was happy with either outcome, though he didn't understand why, and in that moment, he didn't care.

“Yes, Cain,” Mariana said, taking a step closer. “Please stay.”

Cain looked at her, then pumped a pedal on the bike with his foot, causing the reaction that started the machine.

“I'll see you guys tomorrow, promise. I just want to go home.”

XXX

The cold, clear night air felt good in his lungs.

Cain Walters sat atop a large, wide railing outside a half-circle balcony that was the lone protrusion from the tower that was yet one of many of his father's legacies. A thought that had certainly not left his mind.

Cain's vest was laying crumpled and forgotten on the floor, next to the doors he had entered to sit on the balcony, and his tie hung rather loosely from his neck, the knot almost a foot down. His head was leaned back, his dirty blonde hair acting as a buffer between the wall and his head, and though his balcony afforded him a perfect view of Thaywall, capital city and crowning jewel of Keldona, along with its surrounding mountain ranges, his attention was instead focused on the snow globe his father had left him.

Almost as if reluctant, he turned the key in the bottom of the base, listening to the familiar clicks as the gears inside turned and connected. When the key stopped turning any further, his hands slipped from the metal, and the key turned the opposite way, on its own, as the music device inside began to play. The melody was as somber as always, reminding him of a harp. His mother had once called the song "Angel Tears", but the over dramatic nature of the tune's name was most likely just his mother being her usual, over-blown self. She had always had an air of drama and mystery about her, and Cain was content in believing her warm smile had continued on in his own features.

With as little careful deliberation which had been present when he turned the key, Cain turned his arm so that the snow globe was upside down, and he watched with bare interest as the fake snow floated down to the top of the glass bubble. Finished, he turned it back over to watch it snow down upon the miniature house that had always been a source for his imagination, and at times, a destination. Below the house, which was a picture perfect rendition of a classic home, with roof and smokestack and single door and windows, was fake, badly painted grass, with the phrase "Progress begins in dreams," etched into the ground. His father had often said that, but always trailed off. Cain always did wonder exactly what, if anything, ended the phrase.

Cain's eyes drifted from the globe and rested above, to the stars. The sound of the musical gears continued, echoing down softly to the deserted streets below.

His father.

His relationship with his father, however tragic his fate was, was a source of constant trouble for him. The senior Walters had met his end in an accident, the "invention of a lifetime" being too appropriately described for his father's own good. No one knew what the device was supposed to do, but the machine, which was built into the basement of a building that had become a historic landmark for Keldona, was never touched again, exactly as if the society his father had helped built only kept it around as a lasting monument to Arthur Walters.

Cain himself had never entered the building.

There was no regret as Cain pondered that fact, nor was there pride. He didn't hate his father, a fact he constantly reminded himself, he just hated that Arthur Walters was his father. Everything in this world Cain owned, aside from his wrenchsword, his birthday present from Garret, his prized bike and, of course, Leland, were things given to him by his father. Nothing he had was his own, he felt, nothing except his failures.

Cain closed his eyes for a moment, thinking about the board downstairs in the shop, the numbers and symbols and equations as burned into his mind as the simplest of math problems or historical fact.

He opened his eyes again as he felt Leland hop onto his lap. The raccoon, if scared of the fall from four stories above that would be the result if he missed his jump, never showed it. Instead, Leland curled up into his lap, resting his head on Cain's chest, the look in the raccoons eyes one of understanding.

Cain often wondered exactly how much the creature truly did understand.

With his free hand, the young man, among other things, reached up and scratched behind the raccoon's ears.

But his eyes never left the stars above him.

The End

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