This week's suggestion is one of Cathy's left in a comment and I'm turning it into a two-part story:
TRANSPORTED (PART I)
Instead, she focused her attention upon the stranger seated before her. She took in his long, dirty coat draped over the back of his chair and the mud-covered boots. Her thin lips twisted into a grimace that shot directly past distaste to outright detestation. Abandoning the safety of the desk, she marched over to the man, taking care to make no noise on the freshly polished wooden floor. As she approached the table, the man let out a growl of frustration; the very sound that had prompted Abigail’s original admonition. The animalistic sound made the hair on the back of the librarian’s neck stand up. Never one to be easily scared, Abigail continued until she was standing before the table directly across from the man. She wanted to get a look at his face, but his hair had fallen forward, obscuring his features.
It was then that she noticed the many books open across the table, pictures of gears and wheels plastered across every page. The man was muttering to himself and grabbing haphazardly at one tome only to shove it away and grab another a moment later. Scattered among the books were wires; tools; and pieces of copper, tin, and aluminum. Periodically, he would seize a piece of metal and, using wire and tool, affix it to an odd structure in front of him, then scratch out notes in a threadbare notebook.
Abigail watched him for a good five minutes before she realized he was never going to acknowledge her presence. She cleared her throat. “Ahem.” The stranger let out a gasp and Abigail permitted herself a small smile at having achieved her objective. The smile dropped off as the man simply reached out and placed a small, circular washer upon the metal sculpture. The librarian sighed and tried again.
“Excuse me?” Her voice was hushed. The man continued to ignore her. She raised her voice a little. “Excuse me?”
The stranger groaned in annoyance, raised his head, and brushed his bangs back, allowing the librarian a first look at his face. Abigail was startled. Hooded underneath a pair of thick, dark eyebrows were one large brown eye and a robotic laser that was diffused through a carefully placed monocle. His aquiline nose was almost too large for his gaunt face and his beard twitched as he clenched his jaw.
As he took in her face, his brown eye suddenly widened. “Oh, it’s you. Just give me a minute.” He returned his focus to the table in front of him.
Unprepared for such a reaction, the librarian stood for a moment in silence. Then her training took over. “I’m sorry…um, sir…but I’m going to have to ask you to-”
“Hand me the socket wrench, will you?”
The question stopped her mid-thought. “I’m sorry?”
“The wrench!” He threw out a hand sheathed in fingerless gloves, palm-up. When she hesitated, he pounded the table, making everything jump – including Abigail. He half-stood and lunged across the table. Abigail was horrified to hear a squeak leave her mouth and she took a step backward, but the man intended her no harm. He simply grabbed a tool from the table in front of her and held it up for her examination. “Socket wrench,” he growled and began to work once more.
“Sir, what are you-”
“My name is Tanvik.”
“Abigail. Yes, I know. They told me you were a tinker.”
“I’m a librarian.”
“And a tinker.” Tanvik looked up at her again. “They sent me to you.”
Tanvik cast her a withering glare. “You’re not stupid. Don’t play stupid.” He gestured to the hunk of metal in front of him. “I can’t figure out what’s missing.”
He stopped talking and Abigail realized he was looking to her for an answer. “What do you want me to do?”
The laser eye seemed to burn into her. “I’m expecting you to fix it, of course.”
“Fix it?” Abigail’s nerves tinkled forth in a laugh.
“I may be a modern 19th century woman, but I don’t know the first thing about…whatever that is.”
Tanvik opened his arms. “Please,” he begged. “I’m at my wits’ end. I need your expertise in this matter.”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you – I don’t have any expertise in this!” Emotion made Abigail forget her surroundings. This last word was almost shouted. Another patron at a nearby table hushed her and the librarian colored with shame.
“Please,” Tanvik repeated.
Incensed by her own transgression, Abigail seized a disc of aluminum from the table and flung it at him. Tanvik grabbed the metal structure and held it before him as a shield. As the disc struck the metal, there was a whirring sound. “What is it doing?” Abigail asked in alarm.
“It’s working!” Tanvik cried joyously.
“I don’t want that thing or you in my library. Get out of here!”
There was a grinding sound. “It’s not supposed to do that,” said Tanvik, his eyebrows drawn together.
“I said, ‘Get out!’” Abigail lunged forward and tried to push Tanvik to his feet, but ended up taking hold of the strange device. Her ears popped as she and Tanvik fell to the ground. She felt the hard muscle beneath his clothing and, horrified that she might be seen as wanton, tumbled off of him and onto the wet sand.
She pushed against the damp softness and struggled to her feet. Looking about her, she found herself on a beach at the water’s edge. Her skirts were covered in grains of earth and her shoes were sinking with each lap of the ocean. She scrambled back away from the waters, her heart straining against her chest, breath coming short. She put as much distance between herself and the water as possible, but the beach was narrow and the dunes were high behind her. The sky was dark and heavy with clouds and a strong wind whipped through her thin clothing, chilling her. Abigail pinched herself and there was pain. This was real. She wrapped her arms around her torso.
“What is going on?” she yelled at Tanvik.
“It’s working again!” he cheered, holding up the device. Then he saw her face. “Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not okay!” she shrieked at him.
“What the hell is that thing?” She pointed at the device.
Tanvik’s brown eye blinked. “You really don’t know what this is?”
“Of course not!” she flared. “I don’t even know what you are!”
“I’m a scientist,” said Tanvik. “I work with your parents.”
Abigail felt a chill that had nothing to do with the weather. “My parents are dead.”
Tanvik paused. “What?”
“They died a long time ago.” Abigail had become desensitized to the word. “I was ten. It was a boating accident. They were coming back from a holiday when a storm whipped up and their boat capsized. They were both drowned immediately. It’s impossible for you to have met my parents.”
Tanvik watched her. “You’re afraid of the water.”
“What? No, I’m not!”
“Then come into the ocean with me.” Tanvik offered his hand.
“I’m fully clothed. Although, my clothing is partly ruined, thanks to you. I see no reason to ruin it further.”
Tanvik took a breath. “Your parents-” He was cut off by another whine from the device. “It’s starting again.”
“Get that thing far away from me!” she hollered.
“It’s not supposed to activate on its own,” Tanvik muttered, bringing the metal hunk up to his eyes to examine it closely.
“Throw it away!” she begged him.
The sky chose that moment to open up. Rain, harsh and unforgiving, pelted down from the sky in sheets. Abigail tightened her arms around herself and ran, half-blind, along the beach, searching for an escape. She could hear Tanvik hollering after her, but she couldn’t make out what he was saying. She didn’t dare slow down to find out, but her shoes were not made for running on the beach. As her feet flew out from under her, she cried out and tore them from her feet, flinging them away. She pushed herself back up, but at that moment, she felt Tanvik’s hand encircle her wrist. She fought against him, but the grind of the device reached her ears and before she could open her mouth to protest, there was another pop.
The rain was gone. Abigail was standing on a dirt road surrounded by construction and numerous people walking over a wooden bridge. The people were completely unfamiliar to her and seemed as surprised to see the visitors as they were to be there. Abigail stared at these people with their strange robes and something she had read in the library suddenly made a connection.
“Asia!” She shook Tanvik. “This type of dress is associated with Asia! How did we-”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. This device is a transporter.”
“Yes,” sighed Tanvik, “only it’s not working properly. I can’t seem to program it. You were supposed to help with that.”
“I don’t know anything about transporters!” she exclaimed.
“Of course you do,” said Tanvik. “It’s in your blood. Your parents are tinkers. So are you.”
“I am a librarian!” Abigail felt tears building in her eyes. “My parents…you don’t know anything about my parents.”
Abigail held up her hand. She had noticed that the people around them had stopped talking and were moving quickly away from the two strangers. “Tanvik, do you think…?” Someone began shouting at them and Abigail turned to see five men moving toward them at a swift pace. She didn’t understand the words, but she could read the expressions on their faces clearly: they meant trouble. “Tanvik, can you make the transporter thing work?”
“I told you, I can’t program-” Tanvik noticed the men coming towards them. “Oh.”
“Yes. ‘Oh.’ We need to get moving.”
“I told you that it’s not working properly.” Tanvik gestured with the transporter and Abigail grabbed it from his hand.
“Of course it’s not working properly! You’ve got a gasket out of place here!” She grabbed the offending part and twisted it into its proper position. Immediately, the transporter began to hum. “Come on! Grab hold of it!” She thrust the transporter into his hand and with a pop, they were far, far away from the guards.
Abigail jumped back as a train roared past on rails only a few yards from her location. She tripped over a rock and landed hard against Tanvik as he was getting his bearings. The train whistled as it raced on, oblivious to the terror it had inspired in the breasts of the travelers. The wind from the passing train whipped her wet skirts around her. Abigail took a moment to get her heart back down to a normal pace, then turned to find Tanvik staring at her.
“How did you do that?”
She was equally bewildered. “I have no idea.”
“They were right!” he said. “You are a tinker!”
Abigail did not respond to this. She was utterly confused. If she really was a tinker, then maybe what Tanvik said about her parents…no. She began walking down the length of the track. She didn’t have to turn around to know that Tanvik was right behind her. The device was warm in her hands and she flipped it over and around to take it in from all angles as she walked. Her mind was a jumble of thoughts. They walked in silence for a mile and a half, neither one willing to offend the other with speech.
Abigail finally stopped at a sign: Waterfront Station. She turned to Tanvik. “Any idea of where we are?”
“Can’t say as I would know it,” Tanvik admitted. “Your parents are-”
“My parents are dead!” Abigail hurled the declaration at him, picking up her pace.
Tanvik caught up to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. She shrugged it off, but he grabbed her again and whirled her around. “Listen to me! Your parents are alive, Abigail!” He took her by both shoulders and forced her to look at him. His red eye was blinking insistently.
“No!” she croaked out the word, a sob caught in her voice. She had spent years living with the knowledge that her parents are dead. She had buried the wound long ago and a hard scab had formed over it, but Tanvik’s words cut straight through the scab and it was as though she were a child once more. She shook her head against the pain.
“Yes!” Tanvik insisted. “They sent me. They said they’ve been watching over you, but they couldn’t come to you.”
“Why the hell not?” Abigail saw no reason to be polite.
“It wasn’t safe,” Tanvik explained. “When their boat capsized, they realized that it was no accident. Someone wanted them dead and whoever it was had no problem committing murder. They couldn’t put you in that kind of danger. So they decided to fake their own deaths and go underground.”
“To protect me?” she was skeptical.
“Where was the protection when I was growing up?” Abigail screamed.
“They were under threat of death!” Tanvik told her.
“They let their daughter think they were dead! What kind of protection is that?”
Abigail shook herself free of him resumed her journey. Tanvik followed close behind, but wisely chose to say nothing. After a league, she turned on him again.
“You knew they were alive,” Abigail accused.
“I never knew who they were. They found me, adopted me, and gave themselves false names. I guess they thought that a couple with a child would be less conspicuous.”
“Less conspicuous than what?”
“Than a random couple that just happened to show up. They were really doing it to protect you.”
“Say ‘protect’ again and I’m transporting out of here.” She held up the device.
“You know how it works?” Tanvik asked.
“I’ll figure it out!” she snapped at him. “You said you didn’t know who my parents were, but when you saw me, you said, ‘Oh, it’s you.’ How did you know who I am?”
Tanvik puffed out his chest. “I happened to have a happy talent for science. It’s not quite the same as being a tinker, but I know a few things. As I got older, I knew something was wrong and I started asking. Mind you, they weren’t very forthcoming about what had happened to them, but last year, they came around. They told me all about the boat and you and the enemy (after swearing me to secrecy, of course) and I decided I wanted to meet you. So I did my research and found out where you were. I figured the transporter would be a perfect test to make sure I had the right person. Boy, I wasn’t so sure when I first saw you, but you really impressed me.”
Abigail ignored the compliment, choosing instead to ask one question: “Why do they want me now?”
Tanvik lowered his voice, though there was no one around. “There’s a chance to take out the man who wants to kill your parents.”
Abigail stared at him. “And?”
“And you’re going to be the assassin.”