The White Rose of Fiorazzurro
Chapter 3 (or, "The Space Cowboy")
Everybody in Bologna thought that Giovanni Collodi was mad. Well, after a while, he figured he would just accept the label instead of denying it.
At the age of eleven, he had won the local science fair by creating a mechanical hand, its synchronicity with the human brain something that the National Health Institute had taken notice of. By age thirteen, he was building programmable androids and displaying them all over town. He made visits around the European Union, meeting King Gregory of England and the Prime Minister of France. When Queen Cendrillon of the tiny Italian island nation of Fiorazzurro had risen to power, she had insisted that Collodi's androids serve in her court. His response? He dropped off the face of the earth, staying in Bologna and continuing to tinker with his toys. He wouldn't let anybody find out the real reason his electronics worked, much less a regal ruler who was against magic.
He had hid out in Bologna, in the warehouse that his father had built for him back in school. While hiding out there, he worked on his ultimate magnum opus, an android that could pass for human. It was complicated; he was better with the actual construction of hardware than the software inside, but three years and several hours of complicated coding later had resulted in a basic program. Blue wasn't fully human - if asked a question that she didn't know or have the answer to, she would sit, unresponsive, until Collodi gave a command she knew. She was built in parts, the head first, followed by the rest of her body. She was given Collodi's original automated hand and could move herself - but Collodi carried a remote control in his pocket that could operate her and override her coding.
It was all sophisticated, and should have been the science fiction export of the millennia. Except for the fact that Blue had no clear power cell. There should have been batteries, or wires, or solar panels, or something operating her. The power that went to Blue consisted solely of Collodi and Collodi alone. He wrote the computer code to pull power from his own being, and it activated. He didn't have any other magical abilities, but it was enough to give some people cause for concern. When asked, he told people about the battery in Blue's back, just for show, plugged into the rest of her wires with a fake tube. Not even Blue knew that she was powered by magical energy.
While he worked on Blue in his warehouse, Collodi heard about the stories in Fiorazzurro. He had never been - declining Queen Cendrillon's offer had been his only chance to - but he had always wanted to go. Back when he had still been in school, he had found a book in the library that had talked about the island, how it had formed, its legends and folklore and how it had differed from Italy proper. It was so fascinating for Collodi to find out more, to see pictures of the huge trees and the blue flowers that gave Fiorazzurro its name. He loved it so much that he gave Blue her eyes, deep and azure like the flowers themselves. When Collodi looked into Blue's eyes, he saw the beauty of a land he had long ago declined, a land he wanted to find a way back to.
Italians with a passport were the only ones who could travel to Fiorazzurro without any special visas or permissions, but Collodi knew that he was still being watched. The Queen had not been happy about his decision, and if he chose to come into the country, his every move would most certainly be tracked. Collodi's solution? Rename himself through the only other method that had inspired him: traditional American Western literature. Zane Grey's novels had been translated into Italian, and he absorbed every single one of them. By the time Blue was completed, he was no longer Giovanni Collodi, but Sheriff William Collodi, and Blue was, in part, his sidekick, and also his noble steed, always at his side. Their mission? To find a way to free those who had been oppressed under Cendrillon's rule. Collodi's plan wasn't to go against the Queen, but merely to find a fair way to free magic users like himself and lead them away from the Capitol, to the edges of society or back to Italy safely.
This had led him back to Fiorazzurro, with new, fake passports for both him and Blue, and then to the Ovest Traders Market on his second day in town. He had just considered it a way to get used to the island's subculture, but the moment he had seen the blonde girl get pulled by her hair by a police officer, he knew he had to step in.
"Folks round here don't know the meanin' of the word," he said in his practiced drawl, rolling off his tongue in his native Italian. "A sherif is somebody who keeps the peace. Namely, a sheriff is someone who objects to anybody gettin' pulled by their hair. I dunno, that don't seem very human to me. Whaddaya think, Blue?"
"I think the act of getting pulled by one's hair sounds quite painful, and rather inhumane in practice," Blue noted. Her Italian was dead on, if not coded to sound proper to hide any mistakes in coding.
"And what, you're saying she doesn't deserve that? She's a foreigner. She should have never been here in the first place."
Collodi was getting tired of this. He took one look towards the grandstand, where the fiddlers were finishing their feisty fight. An idea sprung into his mind. "Blue, follow my lead."
It took him approximately two seconds to jump onto the stage, taking the corded microphone from one of the stands. "Ladies and gentlemen, one more round of applause for our musician friends!" he yelled. The crowd, thinking it was a part of the act, all clapped along. Collodi could see the boy with the goggles, the one who had first spoken up to the police officer, clapping in the crowd. He looked straight into his eyes and winked once. The boy smiled back. Good - Collodi was going to need his help for this. He scanned the crowd and saw the prisoner girl, still being pulled away. They were now on the left fringe of the crowd.
"While we wait for our next act to come onstage, I would like to show you an illusion," he told the crowd, ditching his fake accent for the moment. Magic tricks were illegal, but if they were presented as illusions and could be proven as slight of hand, they were fine and even encouraged by the Police. "I would like to ask my assistant Blue to come onto the stage."
Blue climbed the stairs and stood by Collodi, tall and as attractive as a model in her short blue dress. She folded her hands behind her back, ready and standing at attention.
"Now," Collodi said, holding his hands up into the air, "I need one volunteer from the audience." He pretended to scan the crowd, but honed in on the goggle head boy and pointed at him. "You. You look like you'll do."
The boy pointed at himself, but Collodi nodded and pulled him up onto the stage. He was as tall as Collodi, not as dark, though, dressed all in black. "What's your name, and what do you do?"
This part Calimero felt comfortable with. He could even use it to benefit him. "My name is Calimero Pineiro, and I sell potions in this very market. Not magical potions, mind you, but potions to help you live a better everyday life. I'll be in booth 5B a little bit later, so anybody who stops by and mentions this illusion will get half off one bottle." He hoped it worked; since Milaya had stopped by first thing that morning, he hadn't had any business and had lost two potions to his own stupidity.
"All right, Signore Pineiro, I need you to stand completely still for this..." Collodi pressed a small button on his Stetson, enabling him to mind-link with Blue. It only worked when he was wearing the hat, but it worked wonders otherwise. "Blue, I need you to grab this man, teleport to the girl, and escape to the market's edge when I say the words." He heard a nearly silent beep that indicated that Blue had processed his request. He smiled. This next part was going to be fun, as long as he made it out alive.
"When I say the magic words, Signore Pineiro and my assistant will disappear from the stage." Collodi readied the material in his hand. Normally he would be required to stick around and prove how the illusion had happened, but since it was magic, he would have to book it. "Piri piri piripao!" he yelled, and then he threw down the dust he had been holding in his hand. Immediately the dust kicked up, creating the illusion of an explosion. Collodi had made several of these packets, created from a basic chemical imbalance, not entirely illusion but not entirely magic either. He watched through the blooming smoke as Blue grabbed Calimero and, just like that, vanished into thin air.
And now, he would need to take his leave. "So long, suckers!" He yelled before throwing down another explosion packet. With another bang, Collodi grabbed his hat and dove off the stage, into the crowd. The smoke was now so thick that nobody around him could see it, and he even had to get low to the ground to make his way through.
He finally saw an opening, and ran through the crowd, past several onlookers who were clapping, eager and still thinking he had been on stage. He got to the edge and noticed the police were too busy helping people who had inadvertently inhaled smoke. They didn't even notice him as he ran out of the center and down one of the spokes, passing stall after stall, running into people and kids and dogs and food carts.
He whipped out his Tele-comm, a small multifunction device he used to keep an eye on Blue when she wasn't around. He switched the positioning system on, and he noted that she had teleported with two other people to the edge of the next spoke over. Perfect. He sent a request to meet him directly to the right, and then made a beeline for the underground station.