Professor Barrel awoke to find he had fallen asleep on top of his work again. He scratched his eyes and carefully dabbed the drool off the stack of graphs he’d napped on. The aging professor looked down at his work and then around his little, cramped room. It wasn’t like him to doze off while doing important research but lately ruin statistics and ancient cyphers just didn’t seem important anymore. His bunk was a mess. Clothes were strung everywhere, old dishes still laid were he had eaten from them, and there were more books piled on the floor than were on his bookshelf. “Oh Barrel, what are you going to do now?”
It had been seven months since his daughter and son-in-law had set off for Forbidden Island. He’d begged them not to go but now he realized he hadn’t begged them enough. Honestly, he had been very proud of those kids. They worked so hard for that moment. The couple had been preparing for this trip for years. Every ruin they’d dug together was just practice. Banner and Matilda were so much more prepared and experienced than he and Bluecher were all those years ago. They had the best weapons, the best radars, special ships they designed to weather the landing. Everything Barrel didn’t have.
But that didn’t matter now. Barrel was sure they were dead. Seven months is a long time, and he’d seen the hell that was Forbidden Island. Subzero temperatures, extreme winds, deep, mile long trenches that you could barely see through the snow, and that wasn’t even the scary part. He didn’t know how he and Bluecher survived that trip. They were the first, and they couldn’t even remember how they’d left the place. He shouldn’t have told her all those stories.
After he returned from Forbidden Island that’s all little Matilda wanted to talk about, and Barrel himself was equally as enthusiastic. He told her all he knew about digging, about all the reaverbots he’d seen in his life, about the refractors, about all the action, and all the mysteries. Then he told her about Forbidden Island. How it was the center of all these things, and that only he and Uncle Bluecher had ever lived to tell the tale. He described the deadly reaverbot monsters they saw there, all the strange markings, the frozen diggers, the massive crashed ships, and about the blurry green figure they could barely remember. Matilda was absolutely fascinated and dedicated her life to going there someday. In the meantime, she met a man, went on adventures, and started a family. Banner was a good man, smart, and brave. Above all else, he was in love with his wife and daughter. Forbidden Island meant everything to him, but only because that was Matilda’s one true passion, and he loved the fire in her eyes when she talked about it. He wanted to make her dream come true.
Barrel opened the drawer of his rustic little desk and pulled out the last family picture that Banner, Matilda, and their precious toddler Roll had ever taken. Matilda was giving her trademark wink, banner had his big red cap pulled over his eyes, and little Roll was crewing on her fingers. They were so happy eight months ago. Barrel wished he could cry, but he couldn’t. His implants wouldn’t let him, but sometimes he could still feel the sensation. “They’re gone… they’re gone! And it’s my fault! Why couldn’t I just keep my trap shut! She would be safe right now if I didn’t fill her head with that forbidden nonsense!”
Barrel laid his head on his desk and moaned quietly until he almost drifted off again. He was hoping he’d have a sweet dream of them. He was interrupted by a soft tapping on his metal door. Barrel slowly lifted his head from the desk and rubbed imaginary tears off his face with a chart. “Roll honey, go back to bed. You need to get your sleep.” He called to the little girl tapping on his door. It was no use. Volleys of soft taps echoed off the door until Barrel picked himself up and answered.
“Gwampa I can’t go to sleep” the little girl said with a tired look on her cute face.
“It’s very late now Roll. You’ve got to go to sleep.” Barrel said with a frown, looking at the orphan. She didn’t know what was going on. He’d just told his granddaughter her parents went on a trip.
“I can’t go to sleep” she reiterated.
“Okay, okay. What do ya’ need hon? Some milk?” asked the old man.
Roll grabbed his hand and pulled him out the door. “I want a story”
She guided him next door and hopped in bed. Her new bedroom was sparsely decorated with a just a bed, nightstand, and a dresser. Three sides of the wall were painted pink while he left the other blank for her to draw on. Amongst the cute little cats, bunnies, and flowers was a doodle of Roll hold hands with her parents. Barrel turned the bedside lamp on, shuffled through a pile of children’s books on the floor, and asked “Okay now, do you want to hear about a princess, some talking bears, or…”
“I want a story about mommy and daddy” the tired little girl interrupted.
Gramps’ face turned pale “About mommy and daddy?”
“What do they do when they are away?” she asked quietly.
“Oh, umm… well, well…” Barrel panicked. He didn’t want to tell her the truth. He didn’t want to end up losing her too.
“Uncle Boocher said they were diggers.” Roll said impatiently.
“When did you talk to Uncle Bluecher!?” Barrel exclaimed.
“On the radio when you were asleeping.” She said with a sly grin.
“Why didn’t you wake me up? It could have been important.” He lectured.
“I called em all by myself! I asked em what mommy and daddy does.”
Barrel was astonished. “That’s a complicated communication system! You sure do take after your father I say!” congratulated Barrel, getting a little ahead of himself.
“What does a digger do?” she asked persistently.
“Agh, alright I’ll tell you, little girl.” responded the surrendering Barrel with a faint smile.
“When your mommy and daddy go on trips they go digging. That means they go into those dusty old ruins and find some of those glowing refractors.” He explained.
“What’s a rune and a refraker?”
Barrel realized he had a lot to explain. He went over what ruins, refractors, and reavers were, and paused for her questions. “Do they hurt the weavers, gwampa?” she asked plaintively.
“Oh, ah well… uhh they are just like your windup toys. It doesn’t hurt them when they break. No, no I’m quite sure they don’t feel anything.” In truth Barrel didn’t know, he wasn’t expecting to be asked that.
“How do refrakers work?” she wondered.
“Oh, good question Roll! It has to do with the way light bounces off them when they spin, we think, but I’ll probably have to wait till you're older to explain it to you.”
Roll frowned and said, "But I wanna know now!”
Barrel laughed and thought about how she’d called Bluecher all by herself. “Well okay then, I’ll teach you a lesson tomorrow if you like. You can even take a look at my books if you are careful. Now are you ready for bed?” Barrel asked.
“One more story Pwease!” she begged.
“Well these aren’t really stories you know! You’re just asking questions.” explained the proud grandfather.
“Why do people dig?”
“Well there’s no one answer for that, Roll. I think mainly they do it just so they can have food for dinner. Some people do it thinking they’ll get more zenny then they’ll ever need and can buy whatever they want. That’s all Werner ever cared about. Others do it just for fun, just for the adventure. Folk like me just want to understand what it is all about. Alright is that it now? No more questions?” He asked as he stood out of his kneeling position at her side.
Roll leaned up from bed and asked “Why do mommy and daddy dig?”
Barrel sighed and slowly sat back down on his sore knees. “They are looking for the Mother Lode.” He admitted.
“The Mother Lode” Roll said with great curiosity. “It’s supposed to be the greatest treasure in the world. Most think it is so many refractors that we will never run out if we find it but no one really knows what it could be! Why every digger dreams of finding it!” Barrel exclaimed. He was clearly getting a bit too excited by talking to his clever grandbaby. He looked back at the blank wall and then to Roll again. “But it may not be real, just an old legend. Just a fool’s errand…” he trailed off sadly. Roll looked as if she was about to cry. “Now you’ve made her sad, you old fool.” He chided himself.
Barrel grabbed Roll by her shoulders. “Look now, hey it’s alright, if anyone can find it it’s your mom and pop! Why your momma’s so smart she makes old professors like me look like the students! And your daddy is the best mechanic on any island, he can build any weapon or fix any ship he wants and he’s got a pretty mean right hook too!” The professor proclaimed while swiping the air with his fist. “He’ll keep your momma safe, (not that she can’t hold her own) and when they find that Mother Lode they’ll put it to good use. Whatever it is they’ll use it to help people, just like they do when they fight off air pirates and pay off peoples debts!"
“Mommy and Daddy fight pirates! Tell me, tell me!” Roll squealed. Barrel had to pause for air. He was starting to get a little winded, but a lot more optimistic too. “I’ll have to save that for another night! We’re going to bed! I have to meet a friend on Nino Island tomorrow. He has something he wants to show me there. We’ll flip some pancakes, I’ll teach you your refractor lesson on the way and if you do a good job I’ll let you hold the wheel. Now get some rest.” The old man wheezed as he shut of the light and tucked his grandbaby into bed.
“When are they coming back?” Roll called out quietly as Barrel was about to leave.
He let go of the doorknob, walked back over, and brushed her face with his hand. “I don’t know honey, but I’m sure we will see them again soon.” He assured her in a way he couldn’t assure himself.
“Where did they go, Gwampa?” she cried, latching on to him. Barrel held her head and struggled with what to say. “I’ll never let her go there, I won’t tell her about Forbidden Island” he convinced himself. “I don’t know baby, they didn’t tell me, but they’ll come back. We’ll see them again. I’m sure of it.” He cried back.