Vassily Xenolavic, watchmaker extraordinaire, crouched over his final job of the day, his 13 foot form belying the agile fingers which worked below him as he tended to the timepiece. Severing here, sewing there, his hand stained slightly by the rusty colour of long dried watchblood. He glanced up at the clock above his head - it read one minute to six - and he slowed slightly, adjusting the magnification of his MagnoVisionTM, preparing to sew up the final artery, and restart the watch’s heart bang on the hour. Two stitches from time the bell above his door tinkled. Without taking his Magnos off the job in hand Vassily lifted his Single AllSeeing to address the visitor and spoke “I’m sorry ma’am. We’re just closing.”
“Oh, I’m not a customer Vassily Xenolavic” The visitor answered with a slight grin. “I have a little test for you.” She was a hybrid creature, almost as tall as Vassily with beautiful mantis eyes raised above a furred brow. Captivating in her strangeness. She stepped forwards and slid something on to the counter to his left.
“One second…” Vassily turned all three eyes to the watch before him and with a final flourish knitted the last stitch and with a flick of his thumb and forefinger restarted the heart just as the clock ticked round to six o’clock. Suddenly, as if on cue, the workshop was filled with the sound of chiming clocks. The end of another working day for Vassily Xenolavic. He replaced the back of the watch, wiping it clean of blood and held it close to his left ear, his AccuteAuralTM zooming in on the tiny heartbeat now sounding behind the ticking. A smile came across his face, and he looked back up to address his beautiful visitor. “Now what can I…” She was gone. Only a faint smell of lavender remained as proof she’d ever been there. Vassily looked at the counter to his left for trace of the item she’d placed there, but it was bare, she must have picked it without him seeing before leaving. Ah well - another beautiful lunatic in this asylum of a city. Vassily Xenolavic couldn't spend his time worrying about her. He had business elsewhere tonight.
Scooping up the newly mended timepiece in his huge hand, Vassily stooped to push a large ornate pulsing clock to one side and access his safe. Depositing the watch in its depths, he carefully withdrew a large item, clearly throbbing and writhing in his hands. He wrapped it up tightly in a thick black cloth and placed it in the bottom of an old cloth holdall. Making sure the safe was well hidden again, Vassily Xenolavic delicately slung the holdall across his shoulder throwing his thickest coat over the top and crossing the room in two huge strides, moved on out into the New Cbozun night.
The Howl and Pussycat was one of the seedier bars in New Cbozun’s once thriving Northern Quarter, and Vassily had to smartly sidestep as he reached the doorway to avoid a once thriving drunk who was being punched unceremoniously through it.
He pushed passed the drunk’s assailant and made his way to the bar where he joined the throng of hybrids, both those who had chosen and those who had the alterations forced on them by legal or lawless authority.
“Vass my friend. Grape or Grain?” called out Bardaloph the vulpine bartender, midway through spilling the former over his already well-stained apron. “Grain”
Bardaloph popped the cork from a bottle at the back of the bar and slid it over to Vassily, followed by a glass coated in a thin layer of grease and grime. Clutching the glass in one hand, and the bottle in the other Vassily made his way over to the darker, more dangerous tables at the back of the Howl.
Meret was already waiting for him in a booth. Narrow eyed, with a thin moustache, his elbows and knees were swollen, the joints ossified as punishment for some misdemeanor or other. His eyes were slit like a serpents and his tongue was forked. It didn’t take an expert to tell you that Meret was no good. He was constantly figitting, wringing his hands in front of him, his ophidian eyes shifting side to side, distracted by everything. Vassily squeezed in opposite him in the booth, leaning forward so he didn't crush the holdall hidden under his coat.
“You showed then. I didn't think you would” Meret said with a creepy grin
Vassily met his gaze and emptied a large measure of grain into his glass. He examined it for a while, trying to decide whether the glass was worth the risk then shrugged and threw it back. “I guess you were wrong”. He refilled the glass and adjusted his AccuteAuralTM. He wanted to know if they were being overheard.
“You brought it?” Meret asked, taking a sip of his nearly emptied glass of grape.
“Yes. I have it. You bring the money?”
There was a pause. Meret shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I can get it. Like I said, I didn't think you’d show.”
Vassily sniffed and emptied the glass “And like I said. You were wrong.” He examined the glass once more. “It sounds to me like you’re wasting my time”.
Meret quickly finished the last of his grape and shuddered. “No Vass. I’ll get it. Give me an hour. I’ll be back in an hour” he leapt out of the booth and slid off into the crowd.
Vassily sighed. An hour in the Howl was about an hour longer than anyone should spend in there. A scent caught his nose from behind the booth, the familiar musty smell of lavender and he glanced round over his shoulder. A newly posted notice now adorned the wall behind his head. It read “Cranto Cranium’s Carnival is here. Prepare to be amazed. Come and see the RealWorld. Chuckwell Hill, New Cbozun East. Daily from 10 o’clock eveningtime.”
Inhaling the familiar aroma, Vassily thought back to his visitor, and then turned his attention back to the bottle in front of him and set to waiting.
The bottle was almost empty by the time Meret returned. He shuffled back in opposite the huge watchmaker and pushed a pair of stuffed envelopes across the table. Vassily peered inside. “It better me all there Meret”
“It is man. Told you I could get it”
Vassily shrugged off his coat and pulled the holdall over his shoulder. “It’s inside. Wrapped up tight.” Meret snatched at the bag. “Be VERY careful with it Meret. One jolt to it and you’ll be taken home in pieces. IF they can collect them all.”
“O - OK - OK man.” Meret stuttered
Vassily rose from his seat cramming an envelope in each of his coat pockets. “You can have the bag for free”.
By the time Vassily reached the air outside, the grain was beginning to catch up with him. He blinked a few times and an spat in the street. “Fucking Bardaloph and his bad grain” he muttered. He battered his way down the crowded street, past the thieves, knifers, whores and pushers. New Cbozun was a shit-stained city, smeared with the excrement of a million sordid sold out souls. He glanced at the dubious goings on at the periphery of his vision. He remembered the days when those street lights actually lit up, fueled by the fire from hybrid Dragon-flies. He reached his workshop just as the clocks inside were ringing ten and stowed the envelopes with the fixed watch in the safe. Not the kind of business he’d want to get mixed up in normally, but 100 grand was a full year’s rent and Vassily was 6 months behind as it was.
He climbed the stairs to where he’d laid his bed, and fell asleep nursing a final glass of grain.
He woke early the next morning, still clutching the glass, with a dry mouth, a splitting headache and elusive memories of a strange dream - full of a relentless ticking and beautiful women with praying mantis eyes. Rubbing the sleep out of all three of his own eyes, Vassily struggled to the kitchen, trying to rid his head of the ache and the ticking.
Over a morning glass of biograss, he tried to recall the dream without success. He managed to muster the strength to make it to the the door of his workshop, and once that was open, the ticking in his mind became less insistent, swallowed by the myriad of ticks and beats from the other timepieces. Something was still not right though. Overnight, something had changed. Vassily sat head in hands trying to work out whether it was something in the workshop that was different or something inside his head.
Eventually he rose, the colossal watchmaker feeling like he was crumbling. He moved to the window, and stared at all the bustle of a morning in New Cbozun - above his head women were hanging their washing, in the street traders were hawking their dubious wares, and the jobless were searching for jobs or innocents to rob. Through the windowpane he could almost smell the BiofishTM frying.
Feeling a bit more himself he moved back to the counter and something caught his eye, a sliver of something on the worktop, lost a moment later as his angle changed. He moved back and dialed his MagnoVisionTM up high, his eyeballs bulging from his head to increase the focal length. No doubt about it, something lay in front of him on the top. Something very very small. Even with the MagnoVisionTM dialled up to full he couldn’t quite make it out. Flicking on his AccuteAudioTM and maxxing it out, he bent double and held his ear near to where the anomoly lay. His massive heart skipped a beat. From the worktop came a quiet but unmistakable sound. A sound Vassily Xenolavic knew extremely well. The ticking of a timepiece. Vassily slowly tilted his huge head and MagnovisionTM on max too now, higher than he’d ever needed before, tried to examine what the tiny thing was. There was definitely something among the flecks of dust and tiny imperfections of the top, but even at this magnification, he couldn't quite make it out clearly. It was like the dream when he’d woken - always just around the corner from his pursuing mind.
Vassily Xenolavic was not a man to be beaten. He’d never seen a watch or clock he could not fix, no project too complex for him to create. Rummaging out the back in the storeroom, he searched for the SuperMagnoMicroscopeTM he knew was there - he’d used it while he was saving up for the MagnoVisionTM operation.
Eventually he found it, buried under a stack of back issues of MagnoNewsTM and set it up on the counter next to the object. He was hopeful that with the SuperMagno and his MagnoVisionTM dialed up full he might be able to identify the anomaly. Vassily tried to work out the level of augmentation. With both devices, it must have been well over five million times, probably closer to seven or even eight million. After searching the worktop for a while the Vassily found where the anomaly lay and trained his composite magnification on the spot. As he adjusted the focus, before him, the device swam into view. On the counter lay an absolutely immaculate minute clock, smaller than he found have thought possible. Who made this device? Vassily wondered. The device certainly required further investigation. Opening his tool case, Vassily selected the smallest pair of tweezers he owned and under the huge magnification set to the laborious task of filing them down until under the dual magnification until they appeared little wider than a hair would in normal conditions. Moving his attention to the device, he flipped it over carefully with the new tweezers and searched for a makers mark of some sort. In the smallest script he’d ever seen, Vassily could just make out a series of letters - B.. R.. O… C… O… T. Who was this Mr Brocot? Whoever he was, he was a master of the craft, the like of which Vassily had never even imagined existed. Customising some of his other tools he set to removing the back from the timepiece, careful not to injure the beating heart within. Vassily realised he was sweating. Adrenaline was surging through him. He took a moment to take a couple of much needed deep breaths and continued with his exacting task. Eventually he managed to prize the case open and carefully used the doctored tweezers to set the back aside.
What lay within was perhaps even more surprising than the object itself. For no heart beat inside. Instead, lay a series of smaller and smaller toothed wheels, coiled springs and a tiny hanging weight, which was swinging to and fro and in which, Vassily surmised, must lie the device’s power. Head aching from the concentration and eyes burning from the over magnification, Vassily rose up and blinked. He dialed down the MagnoVisionTM and carefully laid a cloth over the device. Whatever he did, he must find the woman that had brought the device to him.
Grabbing his coat he made for the door and, locking it behind him, turned to the East and set out for Chuckwell Hill.