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 Eleven -  Prisoners and Guests

 "I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU!" SHOUTED MILES O'LEARY.  "You had a chance -- and you threw it away!"

The four of them sat in a large, dingy room that, judging by the piles of material stacked in various corners and along the walls, was more accustomed to serving as a storage room than as a prison cell.  Bram wondered if the fact that these sub-terrans seemed ill-equiped to handle prisoners was a positive sign...or a very ominous one, indeed.  He glanced at Mary Manyrivers and Father Forcier as Miles continued to rant.  The source of the Irish-American's emnity was the fact that Bram had managed to get a hold of one of the strange electro-pistols...and then returned it to their captors.

"There was no point in making a break for it," Bram finally said, interrupting the unending harrangue.  "We have no idea where we are, or how to get back up to the surface world.  As it is, I -- we -- now have a bit of a credit of good will.  I helped fight off that creature," and this time he did not modify his pronoun, "and I gave back the gun.  Terrest is more likely to trust us, to give us some freedoms and courtesies, now."

"Aye," snarled Miles.  "I didn't fight off the beastie -- why should I?  Why should I risk my neck for the twisted little freaks that live down here?"

"Perhaps because we are all God's children, monsieur," said the Jesuit priest quietly.  "Even these mole people."

"As well," Bram continued with his earlier point, "we were sent here -- at least you and I were -- to figure out who or what was sabotaging the trans-Canada railroad.  We know who, after a fashion, but we still have precious little idea why, or how Terrest acquired his marvelous devices.  And I think that's important to know."

"You think?" stuttered Miles, red-faced.  "You?"

"Yes, I," Bram said coldly.  "And let's not forget that, when it comes to you and I, I'm very much in charge.  You're a convicted would-be revolutionary who's only walking around free so long as you assist me.  Don't forget it."

Miles stopped, staring at him in a silence that seemed to slam into the room after such a heated conversation like a wave slamming back into shore, smothering the dry land beneath its weight.  Slowly, Miles grinned.  "Aye, sir.  Don't you be worrying.  I most definitely haven't forgotten the nature of our relationship."

Bram was not ignorant of the implied threat in Miles' words, but he was sure the latter-day Fenian wouldn't try anything so long as they both needed each other.

"Besides," offered the priest, attempting to be helpful, "this is all so fascinating -- there is so much to learn about this world and its denizens."

Miles stared at the man in the black cassock for a long moment, then snorted in disgust and wandered off to brood by himself in another part of the room.  Bram looked at the priest, but had nothing to say.  He sympathized with Father Forcier.  He was not immune to the wonders that they were experiencing, but he also knew that they must stay focused on matters at hand.

"After all, this Sir Humbert Terrest has yet to offer us any genuine harm."

Bram pursed his lips.  "Not us, but don't forget that there were dead men at the scene of some of his attacks on the surface."

Father Forcier looked away.  "But we must not judge until we know the full story."

Seeing nothing further to add, Bram rose and went to inspect some of the piled equipment.  After a moment, he heard soft footsteps come up beside him and he glanced over as Mary stopped beside him.

"What is all this?" she asked.

"Supplies stolen from the work camps, as near as I can tell.  Sacks of flour, here, railroad ties over there.  Terrest and his group seem to be scavengers."

"Is that why they attacked the railroad -- to steal supplies?"

"That must be part of it -- but not all.  He's been deliberately impeding the progress, actually tearing up the tracks with his vessel, the Charon, where he can.  No, he's definitely trying to stop the construction."

Mary brushed a delicate hand across a sack of flour, an action that seemed deliberate in its pointlessness.  "My people thought The Devil, as we called it, was trying to help us, by stopping the railroad.  But it isn't, is it?  It's just one more white man fighting other white men.  It has nothing to do with us."

"What's wrong with the railroad?" Bram asked quietly.  "It will bring supplies, medicines, schools."

"Yes, and more white people to steal our land, to hem us in and steal our rights.  It will bring boundaries and borders to a land where many of the tribes are nomadic, moving where they will, when they will.  Instead of allowing us to join this new Confederation of yours -- if join we want to -- on our own terms, with our own free wills, we are being pushed into it, as a man is pushed into a wall when surrounded by wild wolves."

"I hadn't really thought of it that way," Bram admitted.

Mary looked at him, her dark eyes behind a gossamer veil of her black tresses.  "I had only really met one white man who I thought I could trust, and that was Father Forcier.  Father Forcier who has spent so long among us, he sometimes seems more Indian than white."  She moved closer and Bram could feel her warmth.  "Only one white man I could trust," she repeated, "until today."

Bram leaned closer, their lips almost touching.

Suddenly the moment was shattered by the door opening, and they both turned.  Raman Singh, Sir Terrest's first lieutenant, stood there, bundles of clothes in his arms.  He looked at them, then placed the bundles on a barrel by the door and departed, closing the door behind him.

Father Forcier picked at the clothes for a moment.  They appeared to be of the same regular uniform warn by Terrest, Singh, and the mole people themselves.

"I guess we're to dress for dinner," said Bram ruefully.  "At least we won't have to fight over who gets to wear what."

"No," said the priest, "I'd say it was fairly obvious who was meant to get this." He stood up holding an evening gown of radiant loveliness, in stark contrast to the drab uniforms intended for the men.

Where on earth did Terrest get a woman's dress? Bram wondered.  It was one more mystery to add to the list. 

* * *

Raman Singh returned to collect them half an hour later, accompanied by a body of sub-terrans.  They were led from their room, and from the building itself, back out onto the dimly lit street.  Bram had a kind of uncomfortable sense of deja vu, recalling the attack by the huge sub-terrestrial creature in these very avenues just hours ago.  But now the streets seemed quiet, harmless.

As they were led toward whatever destination awaited them, Bram watched Father Forcier, trusting to the Jesuit's insatiable curiosity to inform him of anything that might prove significant.  He also did not want to dwell too long on Mary Manyrivers, previously beautiful, but now looking almost radiant in her dress.  Bram was not a ladies man at the best of times, and he was not sure what to say to her, or how to act.  Precisely because they had seemed to be about to cross a line, but had been interrupted before doing so, meant that he was unsure just where exactly they stood in regards to each other.  Had things changed...or had they not?

Then they were led into another building and escorted down a long hall, only to halt before large double doors, ornately carved with stylized fish and dragons.  Raman Singh stepped forward and pushed open the doors easily, moving ahead of them into the room beyond.  Bram and the others obediently followed.

It was a sumptuous dining hall, and before them was spread a long table, draped with a silk table cloth laid out with plates of what looked to be expensive Chinaware.  Food and wine was already being laid out by mole people acting as servants, their eyes concealed behind smoked goggles to shield them from the light of the candelabrum shimmering in the table's centre.  High backed chairs were arranged around the table and standing at its head, a tall, silver haired man with muttonchops.  Sir Humbert Terrest -- the self-styled Prospero of this sub-terrestrial island.

"Greetings," he said pleasantly.  "Please, be seated."

Bram and his companions exchanged unsure glances, but then Bram nodded subtlely.  But as they made to find their own seats, Terrest pulled out the chair nearest the head of the table -- the head being reserved for himself, no doubt -- and said, "You are a spectacle, Miss Manyrivers, a shaft of sunlight illuminating the eternal darkness of my demesne.  Please, join me?"

Mary Manyrivers looked at Bram, but Bram could only shrug.  She went and gracefully accepted the seat at Terrest's right hand.

As the rest of them seated themselves, Terrest continued, "Please, help yourselves.  We are rather informal here, Raman Singh and I.  I do recommended you begin with the pate, while your palates are clean.  The flavour is sufficiently delicate that it can be overwhelmed by the later courses."

Bram netted his fingers and leaned forward.  "I trust, in addition to providing sustenance for our bodies, there will be something for our minds, as well?"

Terrest smiled at him.  "Interrogate away, sir.  What would you like to know?  Who am I?  How did I get here?  What are my plans?  Who are these little people?  What is this place?"

Bram knew Terrest was mocking him -- there was so little he knew, Terrest could begin practically anywhere.  "Yes," Bram said, randomly picking a topic, as though it was part of a previously plotted out course of inquiry, "what is this place?"

"Why Mr. Donlevy, you are enjoying one of the greatest mysteries of human civilization.  Here, beneath the great Western Canadian prairies, is the lost civilization of Atlantis!"

Next episode: Of Atlantis...and the Utopia Plan

Previous episode: To Battle the Beast!

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