Pulp and Dagger Webzine Presents

Government Agent, Abram Donlevy in

The Terror of the Rails!

An Extraordinary Odyssey of Action and Wonderment!

Andrew Dunphy

Chapter Ten -  To Battle the Beast!

 SO, BRAM REALIZED WITH MOUNTING HORROR, this sub-terrestrial world was more than just a home to the sub-terrans -- the mole people as he had begun to think of them.  It supported its own, unique ecosystem.  And if the mole people were the humans of the world of perpetual twilight, than what did that make this thing that was even now bearing down upon them?

The Great White Shark, perhaps?

The creature was the size of a locomotive, and as long as two cars hooked together, with hairy legs that propelled it along the stony floor with a speed that very nearly rivalled that of a train.  In a sense, it did not look unlike a humongous centipede.  And much as a centipede was a carnivore among the insectworld, so too did it appear that this creature was intent on devouring flesh for its meal.

Their flesh, in fact.

The sub-terrans who were ushering them down the street were thrown into a panic by the advance of the monstrosity.  Some clutched to Bram and his companions more fiercely, attempting to hurry them off the street, while others pulled sticks from long pockets on their thighs.  The sticks were then folded open, to form short spears.  Bram doubted the strength of such weapons to repel the wild juggernaut, and it looked more like the futile efforts of men who believe they are doomed already to death.

Raman Singh, the towering Sikh, took up a position at the front of the party, hefting one of the miraculous electro-pistols that had earlier stunned Miles O'Leary.  The Sikh held up his arms, aiming carefully at the creature, refusing to flinch even as it came closer and closer, demonstrating the legendary courage of his people.

Then, he fired.  It was as if a miniature lightning strike flickered from the barrel of the gun, licking across the intervening distance.  A brief flash corruscated around a small area of the creature, where the lightning struck.  The creature howled, clearly displeased -- but not actually dissuaded.

Suddenly, diminutive figures leaped from the open windows peering down onto the street, their short spears in hand.  They landed upon the creature's hard skin, jabbing at it, but again with such little result that it seemed akin to futility.

Then the creature was among the front of their group, and Raman Signh was hurled against one wall, where he slumped unconscious.  The mole people were hissing and screeching in inarticulate fury, or terror, or frustration.  Bram could not be sure which.

All he knew was that they were going to die.  But not necessarily he and his companions, as those mole people who had been assigned to them by Raman Singh's last commands had almost got them to the entrance of a building.  Once inside, Bram assumed they would be safe.

He glanced back and, despite being a prisoner, found his heart welling with admiration for these little, strange people, who were braving certain death, who stuck to their assigned tasks no matter the personal consequences.  They were not human, and yet they could exemplify the very best of human attributes, it seemed.

"Damn it," he cursed himself.  He whirled and shoved through his guards.  In the panic of the situation, in the frenzy of the moment, they were unprepared for their prisoners to resist -- particularly for a prisoner to break away, and race toward the danger, not away from it.

He heard Mary Manyrivers scream his name, but he ignored her.  He ran, leapt, and rolled, coming up to press himself against one of the surrounding buildings.  As the monstrosity thrashed and snapped about, attempting to make a meal of the mole people, Bram hugged the wall, and slipped by it undetected.  He made it to the prone figure of Raman Singh and hastily unfastened the belt around the man's waist.  The electro-pistol was connected by wires to what he surmised was a battery hooked to the belt.  He had earlier seen how the weapon was rendered useless if the wires were broken, and he did not intend to make the same mistake.  Fastening the belt about himself, he leapt up and fired point blank at one of the creature's many legs.

He marvelled at the device in his hand.  There was a noticeable shudder, a vibration, as it discharged, but nowhere near the kick of a conventional projectile weapon.  And the effect was equally impressive.  At this close range, and with an area of the creature carefully targeted, the entire leg seemed to go limp, as though benumbed.

Unfortunately, disabling one leg at a time of a creature that had a hundred or more was not the most efficient of strategies.  Particularly not since the shot may not have crippled the beast, but it certainly drew its attention.  Its great, lumbering bulk whirled about with ungodly speed to find the puny creature that had so brazenly struck it.

Bram looked about and spying an overhead window, did the only thing he could do -- however insane it was.  He ran at the creature, before it had time to fully turn, and to bring its mighty jaws to bear upon him.  He ran at it, leapt up at it, catching one of the beast's legs, then kicked off of the leg, launching himself back toward the wall.

He reached out, barely catching the sill of the oddly shaped window.  Then he hauled himself up, even as he felt the building shudder beneath him, evidence of the creature's failed attempt to strike at him.  He turned back, peering out at the massive hide writhing just below him, almost within touching distance, the hideous, ridged skin seething like a nightmarish sea.  He took aim and fired again, rewarded with a webbish corruscation.  The creature bellowed.  He fired again.  But this time he noted the effect seemed to have lessened.  He glanced at the weapon in his hand, and noted the wires seemed to be secure.  Did the pistol exhaust its charge quickly?

What then? he wondered.  He had succeeded in drawing the creature away from the hapless mole people, but now it was after him.

Suddenly a blinding light flashed out over the street.  The creature screamed, its great hulk thrashing and twisting as though in pain or rage.  What was this light? Bram wondered.  Some new, unknown weapon, like the electro-pistol, or the sub-terrestrial vessel, the Charon?  Then he realized, no.  It was merely a light -- a very bright light.  But to a creature accustomed to the eternal darkness of this sub-surface world, that was enough.  The creature reared up, its legs scrambling, its coarse underbelly passing by Bram's window as it turned itself about.  Then it was down on its legs again and, as quickly as it had attacked, it was racing back into the surrounding shadows of the great cavern, presumably to disappear into the many tunnels that ran off from this central nexus.

Bram, breathing hard and wiping sweat from his brow, leaned out the window, squinting against the glare.  A platform sporting the great spotlight had apparently been rolled into place at the end of the steet.  He could distinguish little in the blinding light.  Then a word was uttered, and the light went dim.  It took a moment longer for Bram's eyes to adjust now to the dimmer illumination, but then he made out a half-dozen sub-terrans manning the device, and overseeing them, Sir Humbert Terrest.

Bram hesitated a moment, then tossed a leg over the sill and dropped back down onto the street.

Terrest approached, pulling goggles with smoked lenses from his face.  He stopped before Bram, not saying a word, then a slight smile turned his lips.  "If you would be so kind as to return Mr. Singh's weapon to him?" he said, as though it was genuinely a request, nothing more.  The tall Sikh had recovered somewhat and was leaning against a wall, still a bit shaken, but unhurt.

Bram looked about him.  The street was a wreck, and many of the mole people had scattered.  Singh was unarmed -- that just left Terrest.  For the moment, he had the upper hand.  Out of the corner of his eyes he saw his three conpanions -- Mary Manyrivers, Father Forcier, and Miles O'Leary -- peering out at him from where they had been ushered inside one of the buildings.  In Miles eyes, at least, he could read the man's hope, what Miles would do were they to exchange positions at this very moment: shoot Terrest and make a break for it.  This might well be the only chance they would have.  The enemy was disorganized, injured, and temporarily scattered.  There would not be a more opportune time.

"Your actions may well have saved some of my people," Terrest said, as though unaware of the delay in Bram's obeying of his request.  "I suppose that makes me in your debt."

Bram hesitated a moment longer, then slowly unhooked his belt, and handed it, pistol and all, over to Terrest.  "I suppose it does," he said.

Next episode: Prisoners and Guests

Previous episode: In the Land of Shadow

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The Terror of the Rails is copyright 2003, the author.