In other words, he focused on anything that wasn’t: What does he need to talk to Khale about? Did I do something wrong? What did I do wrong? Am I in trouble? What does he know? Does he know about the mission?
It wasn’t easy, because sitting beside him on the public zip train was Barthew Base. He knew that the man had to have had a personal teleport or at the very least, a private car on the zip train. Yet there he was, sitting beside him, watching him with interest. He hadn’t said anything since Croy-li had pulled out a few tools, except to the people around him to assure them that he wasn’t doing anything dangerous.
They still had ten clacks left before they were in Freeman’s Hold and then it was still another thirty clacks walk to Kay Castle. He could bypass that walk by telling Khale he was coming and his brother would send a car for them, but he liked the walk. Normally.
“You turned it wrong,” Base said softly.
Croy-li looked up at him. “Sorry?” he asked. He didn’t even know what he was doing, how could Base? Except that he was the greatest mind in the past centuries.
“You were making a water heater. But if you keep the way you’re going, it’s going to explode and take out half of the train,” he said softly, so only Croy-li could hear him. “Right now you have most of a pressurized water bomb in your hands. So please turn that valve the other way and remove the light strip.”
Croy-li stared at him for a few breaths before quickly pulling up the light strip. He had only put it in there to see what was inside of the conductor. He hadn’t considered that the addition of that bit of fusing wasn’t a good idea. It was, indeed the beginning of a bomb. All he had to do was add some water, finish the pressurizing and it would have been ready to go. He ducked his head.
“Sorry,” he muttered. He stared at his hands, wondering when he had taken off his right glove. That could have done it. If the conductor wanted to explode, he might have been influenced to do with it what it wanted. He’d built bombs before.
“Were you unaware?” Base asked softly, plucking the conductor from Croy-li’s hands before the boy could do anything worse.
“I wasn’t paying attention,” he admitted sheepishly.
That made the phantom laugh. “You almost made a water bomb from a conductor because you weren’t paying attention?”
Croy-li’s shoulders were up to his ears. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s alright. Do you often build bombs when you aren’t paying attention?”
“If it wants to be a bomb,” he said softly.
Base watched him for a long moment. “What sort of technopath are you?” he asked.
“I’m mostly a data-path,” Croy-li corrected. “I feel the network and data and become part of it. I can speak with technology on an electric basis so long as it’s connected in some way to a network.”
“So this?” Base held out the conductor. “It isn’t. It’s on its own.”
Croy-li shook his head and took it from him. He gently stuck his hand inside and plucked the heart out. It buzzed loudly in his veins for a moment and he remembered he hadn’t put his glove on, but as soon as it started, it stopped. He showed the data chip that had once connected it to a main computer to Base. “It’s not much, but it’s enough of an echo of the machine. This isn’t connected right now, but up until you took it out, it was. It has a memory of being a part of something and more than that, it has a sort of personality. This bit felt abandoned and wanted to feel one more time.”
Base was watching him with such undisguised intrigue that Croy-li didn’t stop like he normally would. Ever since leaving the Argents with the Thief Lord, he had no one to talk shop with. None of his team understood it and none of them really wanted to. But Base understood, in some manner, and more than that he cared.
“So while I was working on it, it put the impulse through me to give it something big, something that would feel like being a part of the network again. The only thing that feels like that is being blown up. It’s an intense, immediate feeling, only it ends as soon as it starts. It could feel itself losing the memory of the network, and with as little as there was to begin with, it couldn’t imagine being a part of something else. I was just fiddling, but I’m easily led in one direction or another when I don’t really have plans.”
“And so it used the echo of the hydraulics chamber to put you in mind of…?”
“It was more the conductor. Electricity is all it knows, but it felt a sort of pain from the water of the tank when it leaked. My brain is always a little connected to whatever electric field there is. So maybe someone’s talking about bombs? Maybe I just remember building water bombs for Thief Lord. Maybe someone recently did this and it stuck with me.”
Base smiled again, leaning back into his seat. “Interesting. And you think it could happen with anything?”
“Maybe. I don’t think most toys are going to want to become bombs, but Amadhay’s toy mouse was made from the same parts that the laser guns are made from. That’s why I made a laser mouse.”
“Why did it explode?”
Croy-li shrugged. “I was four? Maybe I was missing some parts, put something in the wrong place, maybe Amadhay snatched it from me too fast.”
“Do you often find your inventions blow up?”
Croy-li looked away. “Sometimes, yeah.”
“Do you know why?”
“No,” he sulked. “They just do.”
Base nodded after a few more clicks of Croy-li’s sulking. “Do you have any plans for University?” he asked.
Hoping he knew where this was going, but not wanting to jump to conclusions, he shrugged as casually as he could. “I think I’m supposed to become the Herald’s liaison.”
The phantom waved his hand. “You’re already that and you do a wonderful job of it. What would you like to do besides that? Are you thinking of doing the tinkering track at University?”
Croy-li swallowed and looked hopefully to Base. “Um, do you think I should?” he asked.
Without a pause, Base shook his head. “No. I don’t. If you getting distracted or just experimenting can turn into you building a bomb, or worse, simply exploding, you would be a danger to the other students,” he said bluntly. “The normal tinker track wouldn’t be a fit to you and you’d probably be thrown out.”
“Oh,” Croy-li whispered, dropping his gaze to his lap. He tried not to focus on the way that stung. His idol was telling him to give up something he loved because he wasn’t good enough. Maybe the Thief Lord was right…
“But considering I have no students, there wouldn’t be the same problem if you came immediately to an apprenticeship with me. I think I’d be able to catch just what has you blowing things up a lot faster than any of the other Tinkers, and to be honest, it would be safer for me to keep an eye on you. You might accidentally make the next war machine because you were imagining swimming with our water Herald.”
It took Croy-li a few clicks to realize that he had really just heard what he thought he had. He looked up at Base to see an expectant look on the inventor’s face. “Mind you, I can’t officially offer you the apprenticeship until you’re done with Schooling, but with your brother’s permission, I’m sure we’d be able to add a few new lessons to your schedule. It would be in my warehouse, and anything you saw in there would have to be kept a secret.”
“You want me as an apprentice?” Croy-li whispered in disbelief, holding his breath.
Base smiled. “Yes, Croy-li. I would like to have you as my apprentice.”
“You never have apprentices,” he whispered again.
Base shrugged. “I haven’t had the time.”
The rest of the ride, Croy-li was shell-shocked. The Barthew Base wanted him as an apprentice. Even after he’d almost accidentally made a bomb. Even after he admitted that his stuff kept blowing up. He had to have known plenty of other starstruck inventing hopefuls who’d wanted his tutelage before and he’d chosen Croy-li. He couldn’t wait to tell his team. He couldn’t wait to go to the warehouse. He couldn’t wait to…
“Prince Croy-li?” Base nudged him to attention. “This is our stop.”
“Oh, right, of course,” Croy-li exclaimed, jumping to his feet. As he led Base to the exit of the train, he pulled his DS out and called his brother.
Khale answered immediately. “Are you staying in Verseins tonight?”
“What?” Croy-li asked, perplexed for a moment before realizing that he hadn’t talked to his brother since he’d been in the medical room. “No. I’m actually in Freeman’s Hold right now. I just got off the train. With Barthew Base.”
Khale chuckled lightly. “Alright. I’d offer a car, but I know that you won’t take it and Bart prefers horses. Can you ride?”
“Of course I can,” Croy-li responded, eyeing the train hub. There were three exits. One would take them directly to the streets, another would take them to food and the third would take them to gain a form of transport. Base was already heading to that one.
“Good, because Bart loves horses. There’s a horse there that you can borrow. She’s my personal one, Sunny. I’m sure they’ll offer her to you. If not, I’d prefer you ask for her than take any other one.”
Croy-li rolled his eyes. “No one sabotaged a horse to get to me, Khale.”
“You never know,” his paranoid brother countered. “And I would prefer you be safe.”
“Fine, fine,” Croy-li assured him, though he had absolutely no plans of riding Khale’s ‘safe’ horse. He’d seen Khale ride her before and he was nowhere near the equestrian his brother was. He needed a smaller horse that didn’t move like the wind.
Base was standing next to a brown mare with wild eyes when Croy-li caught up with him. “What do you think?” he asked Croy-li, who gave the horse a wide perimeter.
“I think that if she doesn’t try to murder you outright, you should count yourself lucky.”
Base laughed. “Not much for horses?” he asked.
Croy-li shrugged. “I’m fine with them. I prefer the mechanical ones I can control, but there are worse animals.” He focused on the stallion beside Khale’s favored horse. Sunny, a light colored monster of a horse that stood towering all the others was showing love to the honey colored stallion beside her, rubbing against him. That horse was about Croy-li’s height, but built stockier.
“That one’s Sandy,” the stable master told him before giving him a double take and giving him a deep bow. “My prince,” he added. “I assume you’ll be taking Sunny?”
“No,” Croy-li blurted out when the man went to make quick work of getting the mare ready. She trotted around the honey horse, who didn’t move. Croy-li made eye contact with the stallion. “I think I’d like Sandy.”
Base chuckled under his breath, but the stable master nodded. “Of course. Anything you’d like,” he responded, grabbing a different saddle.
While Base got his horse ready, Croy-li stood back and watched the stable master. He’d never really paid attention to this part, but if he was going to be around Barthew Base, he decided that he’d make sure he didn’t disappoint him. If Base readied his horse, so would he the next time they took horses.
“Sandy was a good choice,” the stable master said conversationally now that he was comfortable with Croy-li’s presence. “He’s Sunny’s little brother and a bit easier to control. Sunny is good and all for the king, but she’s a bit too large for you, no offense. I’m sure you’ll be the same as your brother once you’re done growing. You look just like he did at your age, all legs.”
Croy-li shrugged, unsure if he was being complimented, insulted or simply being compared to Khale. “Thanks?”
“Alright, there we go. Remember to feed him once you get to the castle to make sure he doesn’t associate you with hard work and no reward.”
“Will do,” Croy-li promised, mounting the horse. Base sat atop the wild eyed mare a bit off to the side, moving with barely controlled energy.