Jinki Shizzlecrunk pulled a lever on the side of her tent. The lever connected to a string, which was pulled tight. The other end of the string was connected to the foot of a rooster who let out a squawk and ran.
Some might say the rooster ran like a chicken with its head cut off. But in fact chickens with their head off run like a rooster attached to an automagical-folding-tent. They run in big circles wildly trying to get away. But their brains are too small, or in some cases too unattached, to realize they aren’t getting anywhere.
Gears and cogs spun. A loud whirring and cranking sound came from the contraption which further scared the rooster who ran even harder. The tent collapsed. Articulated metal arms accordioned in, neatly collapsing the tent into a compact form.
With the tent now folded, Jinki threw the rooster into a cage. The cage, tent, and belongings were all piled onto, into, and in some cases hung from a cleverly designed backpack. All told, the backpack was at least twice the height of the young gnome, and much too heavy for her to move unaided. It wouldn’t have been a problem for a human, but gnomes came in at around half the height of an adult human. Jinki had solved that problem with a series of metal bars, pulleys, and rope which served to reduce the effort required to lift the load but left her looking like some sort of medieval cyborg.
The road to the next village was long and dangerous, but it wasn’t even sunrise yet so she figured she could make the journey in one day as long as she didn’t run into trouble. Jinki didn’t normally have any problems with bandits. Her pack might have been filled to the brim, but there was little any thief would want.
To be fair, this wasn’t why they didn’t bother her. It had more to do with the ridiculous contraption she was wearing and the universal spirit of my-god-surely-its-going-to-collapse-and-crush-her-any-minute that every onlooker had. She was protected from bandits by the spectacle. In fact, sometimes the bandits themselves protected her from wild predators just so the show wouldn’t be ruined.
The pack clanked and jingled on Jinki’s back like someone trying to close an overstuffed junk drawer. But it wasn’t junk, at least not to Jinki Shizzlecrunk. It was the stuff dreams were made of. The bag was overstuffed with gears, pulleys, rods, and all manner of gizmos. Trash to most humans. But one man’s trash was another gnome’s autonomous-hole-digger or automatic-dog-crusher.
That last one had been a horrible accident, but it turned out the device worked on melons pretty well. Although come to think of it, there didn’t seem to be a good reason to crush melons. Now, dropping them off a building, that was tried and true scientific method there. Need to make sure gravity is still working properly? Melon dropping gets you there every time. And if you should happen to need a crushed melon at the same time? Well, that was killing two birds with one melon.
That gave Jinki an idea for a melon cannon, but she mentally filed it for later. She didn’t have any melons on hand. While she could probably make a reasonable wireframe facsimile, it wouldn’t break properly when it hit the target, and how was she supposed to find the most efficient melon crushing method if she didn’t use an actual melon?
It was possible, she supposed, that she was getting off track slightly. Keep it together Shizzlecrunk. No one needs a melon crusher. Now a melon baller, now that was something everyone would surely want.
“Get out of the way!”
Jinki whirled around and spotted a horse-drawn carriage fast approaching. She attempted to step backward, but the contraption holding up her pack wasn’t designed for reverse movement. The hinge on the leg was designed to only move one way as part of the pack-stabilization-thingamajig.
Shizzlecrunk fell to the ground with a loud clatter.
Onlookers hidden in the bushes groaned or silently cheered as the pack managed to not crush her to death. Jinki climbed to her feet slowly. A couple of gold coins exchanged hands as a series of wagers played out.
The carriage continued without slowing down, In fact, it might even have sped up.
“Well, if their wheel breaks, they better not come begging me for help.”
“Hello!” a voice shouted from a distance away into the trees.
“Yes!?” Jinki shouted a reply. “Come on out if you’re planning on robbing me!”
“Help! Please! I’m not sure how much longer I can hang on!”
Shizzlecrunk forced her way through the underbrush and ran into the woods towards the voice. It was a sort of run anyway, the pack didn’t allow much speed. She climbed over roots and gullies as best she could, her pack bouncing up and down as she went.
She almost ran off the side of a cliff.
“I’m down here!” cried the voice.
Shizzlecrunk looked down the face of the rocky edifice. There, hanging from a root, was an elderly human. The weight of her pack almost pulled Jinki over the edge. She teetered for a moment but managed to regain her balance. She thought she heard the faint clinking of coins exchanging hands in the bushes, but there was no time to give it much thought.
Jinki stepped back and hit the quick release which allowed her to step out of the cobbled together mechanical bracings and set the pack on the ground. She flattened herself on the ground and reached out her hand, but it was clear that even if the man let go with one hand and stretched, he still wouldn’t be able to reach.
“Just great,” he said. “A gnome. Couldn’t have been a human or even an elf? They’re pretty tall.”
“Sorry,” Jinki said. “I can leave if you want?”
“No, no. I love gnomes. One of my best friends is a gnome. Do you have a rope or something?” he asked.
“Would you be able to pull yourself up? I’m just a gnome after all,” she said with a hint of disdain in her voice.
The old man nodded his bald head at his spindly arms, “No, I don’t think so. The only reason I haven’t fallen is my arthritis won’t let my fingers let go. These old arms ain’t what they used to be.”
Jinki started rifling through the contents of her bag. “No worries. I’ll get you up here in a jiffy. We’ll just have to use science.”
Jinki grabbed a rope. Then a couple of pulleys. She started pulling springs, valves, and cogs out and assembling them. The rooster crowed She had a plan for something that was definitely going to work. It would just take a bit to work out the kinks.
The sun rose over the forest. The rooster began to crow to let the world know that morning had arrived, but the sound turned into one of fear as Jinki eyed the cage and approached with the rope. Roosters don’t have very large brains, but this one had been used as the engine for enough devices to know that it wasn’t going to like this.
The sun was setting in the distance. It was really quite beautiful, but there was no time to appreciate that, After a few false starts, a couple of prototypes, and a complete redesign the machine was finally assembled.
“There we go! Now we’ll get you up here no problem,” Jinki said.
She smacked the side of her latest contraption, the automatic-rope-puller-upper. She flipped a lever. The rooster squawked and ran. Rope started spooling out of the machine and dropping down the cliff face. “Now just grab a hold and it’ll pull you right up.”
There was no sound from the man.
Jinki looked over the side of the cliff and didn’t see him anywhere. Oh-
No, she did see him. He was at the bottom of the cliff.
This wasn’t the first time Jinki had been slow with device construction, but it was the first time she’d been responsible for someone’s death. Next time she would have to build faster. Perhaps a device that could be assembled that would aid in the quicker prototyping? Or possibly increase build speed itself? With the correct application of forces, one could construct mechanical arms and fingers that could move faster than living ones.
Or maybe she shouldn’t have built the scale replica beforehand. Next time she could settle for all the sketches. And if a replica was needed, maybe it didn’t have to be built to such exacting detail.
Jinki spent a few hours building a device that would disassemble the automatic-rope-puller-upper and was proud of how few prototypes she ended up making.
It was terrible that the old man died. But the good news was, at least the machine worked.
As the gnome wandered into the woods and back to the path, two men crawled out of the bushes. They walked to the edge of the cliff and peered down at the body down below.
The first man said, “Well, I guess you win the bet.” He handed the second man a couple of gold coins.
The second man took the coins and secreted them away, “My back is killing me. I can’t believe we had to sit in these bushes all day. Still, it was worth it. Sometimes robbing people gets a little tiresome, you know. Always have to run away, nobody trusts you. It’s tiresome. Sorry again about…” He vaguely gestured at his urine soaked trousers.
“Don’t worry about it. A bet’s a bet. Can you believe that guy thought we were going to pay his family if he fell to his death?”
“I know we’re thieves, but maybe we should pay them. We told the man we would do something, we should do it. I have my honor, you know. Even if I don’t have my dignity.” He gestured again at his damp pants.
“No, I’ve been thinking about it all day. We have to do it. If we show up with the coins and his corpse, they’ll never think we’re thieves. Then we can rob them in the night, we won’t have to run, and they’ll still make us breakfast in the morning.”