The White Rose of Fiorazzurro
Chapter 5 (or, “Night on the West Side”)
Fiorazzurro proper was divided into four sections. Calimero lived on the same side as the Traders Market, the Ovest District. It was a fifteen minute train ride between his studio apartment and the market itself, a ride that he usually spent in silence, going over formulas again.
But no, today he had three other people taking the train with him, and one of them wasn’t even a person.
He kept staring straight ahead as the train rumbled through the tunnel, stopping every once in a while to pick up new passengers. These trains were usually a good diversion to think about life and to plan out some new potions, but there was too much on his mind at the moment. The cowboy and his assistant had stepped in and caused quite the din at the stage, and he had needed to leave the market without checking on his booth. He knew it would be fine, courtesy of Rana, but that would cause some red tape over the next few days. There was the issue of the cowboy himself and why he had gone to such lengths to help Calimero, and more importantly, help Milaya, whom he didn't even know.
And then there was the question of Milaya. Calimero had escorted her to the train, but she had gotten on all by herself, walking through the gate without an ID as if it was nothing. When she stopped at the gate, she had flashed something in front of the sensor, and the gates had opened for her just fine. Calimero hadn't gotten a good chance to take a look at the device she had used, but she was looking at it now. Her eyes hadn't even left the screen of the small device...in fact, she seemed to be tapping on the screen itself for some reason. Intentional smudge marks? Calimero knew better than to ask questions at the moment.
The cowboy and his friend sat alone. Calimero remembered who it was: a prodigy by the last name of Collodi who had been really famous in the news a few years back. People said he could make robots, and world rulers like Queen Cendrillon had started commissioning them. Calumets hadn't known then whether Collodi had taken her up on the offer or not, but now he knew why he had disappeared the way he had: that android had something to do with magic, and Cendrillon would have had the cowboy's head.
He had saved them all back there, Calimero and Milaya together. Why?
"Excuse me," he finally said, trying to speak to the Stetson wearing man. He had tried before, but he had just brushed Calimero off before getting on the westbound train.
Collodi looked up, dark eyes peeking out from underneath his hat. "Look. If yer gonna start speakin' ta me, ya gotta call me by name."
A pause. "Signore Collodi?"
He jumped. "Where the hell'dya hear that name?"
Collodi's abrasion caught Calimero off guard. "Uh - I - well -"
"Many people have heard of your previous exploits, Sheriff," the android said in her flawless and perfect Italian. "I can imagine as a regular citizen of Fiorazzurro, this man knows your story from years ago. You are the only recorded person in history to ever create a functioning robotic life form, so coming into contact with me infers that you are located close by."
Collodi growled. "Yeah, sure, whatever, but if we're in public, call me Sheriff. Got it?"
Calimero nodded. "Yes, Sheriff."
"Where we headed anyway? We had to escape that market, but I reckon I don't actually know where we're headed."
"To my apartment, for now." Calimero didn't like the idea of having three people in his apartment, but at least that way Collodi would see the lab and know he's among magic users. That planted a thought in his mind. "It's surrounded by a field of white roses."
"Oh." The look of recognition didn't cross Collodi's face. He must be that new to town. Oh, well. He would find out one way or another.
He glanced over at Milaya, across the aisle from where he was seated. The android was to her left, Collodi on her (its?) other side, and while there were a few other people in the car, it was mostly empty. The market wouldn't close for another two hours, so the train line wouldn't see a rush in use until then.
Calimero sighed and tipped his head back, closing his eyes. When he didn't show back up to his booth, Rana would pack up and return his unsold stock to the warehouse. He'd let Rana keep half of the sales he made - he deserved it for the work he was doing to cover Calimero's identity as a magic user. Besides, he had done the same for him one time when Luka was sick and he had needed to run back and forth between the booth and their studio to check on her.
Tomorrow would be a Oneday, the start of the workweek. One days were inventory. Calimero loved inventory. He enjoyed writing down which potions he had sold within the week and which ones he would sell again on the next Tenthday. Conventional potions and then the more complicated magic ones; he would need to write them all down. Perhaps there was a potion he could make Collodi to thank him for saving Milaya? He could definitely make him some more of those exploding dust packs. They were an old faerie trick, from back before when the faeries were all killed off. Nobody knew a lot of the old faerie tricks, and Calimero had been surprised that Collodi had.
The train slowed down for their stop, and Calimero got up. "This is us," he said as the train jolted to a halt.
He turned to his left just in time to catch Milaya, who hadn't been anticipating the sudden stop. He held onto her shoulders; her strange mechanical device skittered to the train cart floor, landing face up. The screen was lit up with Cyrillic letters that Calimero couldn't read, but there were no buttons on the actual device that he could see. How did one actually get anything done with those?
"Are you all right?" he asked as he let go of Milaya, bending down to pick up her...whatever it was.
"Yes," Milaya said as she reached for the thing and took it quickly from Calimero. She stuffed it into a pocket with a look that wouldn't accept questions.
Calimero just nodded in response. "Everybody, follow me. Unless you have somewhere better to go, in which case, please tell me."
There was no objection, so Calimero led the way up the stairs, over the hill and past the small park with the fiorazzurro trees from which the country got its name. The Ovest District of Fiorazzurro laid out in front of him, a land of wide open spaces. Whomever had originally designed this part of Fiorazzurro had taken their sweet time and, as a result, hadn’t really had a chance to finish it. The result was a sprawling neighborhood with short buildings and many different groups living there.
Calimero’s lab doubled as his studio apartment, and he led the entire crew there. The android followed silently behind Collodi, and Milaya was even farther behind them, still tapping on...whatever that thing was. Calimero wanted to get a closer look at it, and he was sure Collodi would want to see it as well, but now was still not the time. They passed the grocery store and the local courthouse before getting to his street, a narrow alleyway that had once housed immigrants before being transformed into an industrial area.
“You guys can stay here for a while,” he said, “but it’s probably smart not to stay overnight. They have my information on file and may decide to check in on me here.” He had been forced to put the studio down as his address on the application form, and they had never used it before...but that didn’t mean they weren’t going to use it now.
“Oh, that’s fine,” Collodi noted. “We’re staying on the East side and will take the train back in a short bit. Prob’ly best to hide out here for the time being, though.”
“I should note that your entrance may have not been the best idea you have had in a long time, Sheriff,” the android chirped. “You realize everybody in Fiorazzurro is going to know your name in a short amount of time, and they will connect your appearance with who you once were.”
“I know.” Collodi tipped his hat. “All part of the plan, my dear woman. All part of the plan.”
Calimero sighed. He was glad that Collodi had his own place to stay, otherwise he wasn’t sure how he was going to deal with all of this eccentricity for the rest of the night --
That would be Milaya, who had come up from the back. She raised her hand. “Is there a hotel or other place with accomodations that I should stay in for the night? I am...new to the area and I have not yet worked out those arrangements for myself.” She was still holding the strange electronic device in her hand. Collodi gave it a look, and noticing what he was staring at, she slipped it back into her pocket.
For Calimero, it was easy. “Oh, that’s no problem. You can stay here, as long as you don’t mind it being kind of a dump. I haven’t cleaned the lab in a few weeks.”
He was sure a girl as polished and as foreign as Milaya would say no to staying in what was essentially his bachelor pad, but she nodded. “If it has someplace to sleep, that is all I need until I contact my friends.”
“Contact...? Oh, is that what you were doing?”
Milaya walked right past Calimero and up to the front door of the huge building. It was still painted white, but it hadn’t been true white since its better days. “I make no concessions,” she said as she opened the door.
Oh, droppings. “Don’t do --”
Milaya took two steps into the huge room and tripped over two cords, falling face first into the apartment and landing in a huge pile of clothes. Calimero instantly regretted not cleaning the place for so long, then turned to see Collodi snickering behind him. “Good going,” he said.
He sighed. “You might want to watch out for the cords.”
“Coulda told us that sooner. Not gonna help her.”
“Fine. Whatever. Just come in.” Calimero stepped out of the way as the other two walked inside his humble abode. He shook his head. "Hindsight. Always perfect."