Pulp and Dagger Webzine Presents
Government Agent, Abram Donlevy in
Chapter Twelve - Of Atlantis...and the Utopia Plan
"INCROYABLE!" EXCLAIMED FATHER FORCIER. "Atlantis, you say?"
It was truly almost beyond belief, thought Bram Donlevy, that here in natural caverns miles underneath the prairies of Western Canada, existed the remnants of that fabled land. Yet was it any more beyond belief than the very existence of this sub-terrestrial world itself?
He and his companions sat about a dining table in a great hall, both guests and prisoners of Sir Humbert Terrest and his aide, Raman Singh. The food was impressive. The conversation mind boggling.
"I don't understand?" said Mary Manyrivers. "What is this 'Atlantis'?"
"It is a story -- a myth almost," exclaimed the priest excitedly. "A tale of an advanced civilization that lived and died out many millennia ago. It was believed to have existed somewhere in the vicinity of Greece -- I've told you of Greece, yes?" he asked the Native Indian woman.
"Poppycock," sneered Miles O'Leary. "Do you mean to tell us these furry little misfits are Atlanteans?" he demanded, making a dismissive gesture toward the diminutive mole people who were acting as waiters for their meal.
"Not in their current state, I should think," Terrest assured him. "But you are familiar with some of the theories that have been gaining credence in Europe these days? That Charles Darwin and his ideas of evolution? I would surmise that these sub-terrans were men, like us, thousands of years ago, when they fled the destruction that claimed Atlantis. Why they settled here, in this eternal darkness, we may never know. Perhaps, remembering the destruction of their island nation, they chose an environment less prone to environmental upheavals. Perhaps they encountered hostility from the local Indian nations and were driven here. Who can say? But living here for thousands of years, forced to adapt to the conditions, to the sort of predators you have already encountered, moulded them into the beings you now see."
"You speak their language," observed Bram. "Can't you ask them?"
Terrest took a sip from his goblet, then shrugged. "Sadly, the changes were not all physical. Their minds are...dimmer than that of a normal man. They seem to understand little of their history, or even this magnificent city in which they dwell."
"I must say, monsieur," said Father Forcier, "that the Holy Church regards the theories of M. Darwin and his ilk with great scepticism. Assuming this town is the product of some off shoot of Atlantis, I am far more inclined to believe that the Atlanteans died out, and that these mole people were an existing indigenous species that has merely taken up residency in these buildings."
Terrest shrugged. "An equally plausible scenario, Father. I do not presume to say which is the more authentic."
"Atlantis was said to be an advanced civilization," Bram muttered to himself, considering. Then he looked at Terrest sharply. "Your sub-terrestrial vehicle, those lightning pistols of yours -- you did not invent them, did you? You found them?"
"Do not undervalue the contributions Raman Singh and I brought to our devices," Terrest said good naturedly, "but yes, we were working with existing technologies and ideas we first encountered here."
"And how did you come to be here in the first place?" asked Bram.
Terrest settled back in his chair, fingering his goblet. He shot a glance at Raman Singh, then smoothed his mustachio with a flourish. "I was born in Cornwall, Ontario of good, United Empire Loyalist stock. My grandparents, loyal to the British Empire, had fled the United States prior to the revolution with only what they could carry or drag with them. It is perhaps easy to be more dismissive of such acts now, as democracy is proving more resilient and reliable than was first believed. But at the time, George Washington and his kind were seen by men like my grandfather as little more than opportunistic thugs, seeking to overthrow the established government in order to entrench themselves as rulers of their own little fiefdom. Thugs quick to threaten and persecute any who did not share their vision. Although many legitimately supported Washington and his views, many others of those who stayed in the Americas did so simply out of cowardice, to keep what was theirs by supporting which ever side appeared to gain the upper hand -- which was Washington and his revolutionaries in the end. When my grandparents fled, they were giving up everything they knew, and risking life and limb, out of personal principal."
Miles, the Irish-American, snorted. "And they were wrong. The British Empire cannot last, and democracy -- even in Canada -- has taken root."
"I do not debate right or wrong, though I will say it is a grey area. After all, it is Canada and the British Empire that abolished the mortal sin of slavery years before the 'democratic' United States, and it was with Canada that many Indian nations sided during the conflict of 1812, seeing in it a more amiable ally than the United States with their bloody Indian Wars. Even recently, was it not here that Sioux Indians led by Sitting Bull fled, seeking sanctuary from their American persecutors? Washington's 'democracy' did not apply equally to men of all colours and creeds. But, as I say, I do not intend to debate the right and wrong of my grandparents' actions more than a century ago. My point was merely to say that the concept of maintaining personal values, no matter the cost to one's self, had been ingrained into me by the actions of my fore bearers.
"When I came of age, I joined the British army, to see the world, and I eventually rose to being a major in the Royal British Engineering Corp. I had done my share of fighting, of course, but my true calling was in the building of things, not in the tearing of them down. It was while serving in India that I made the acquaintance of Raman Singh, a Lieutenant in the British service. Indeed, he saved my life from Thuggee assassins. It was also in India, however, that I began to grow disillusioned with British rule -- something that will doubtless appeal to Mr. O'Leary's sensibilities. I began to see in British Imperialism a sin almost on a par with the atrocities committed by the Americans against their negroes and Indians. The British were, perhaps, less malicious in their intent, but that is for wiser men than I to debate. And so, I resigned my commission and, with faithful Raman Singh at my side, we set out to find a place where men -- and women, of course," he smiled at Mary Manyrivers, "could live lives adhering to principals and justice." He stared thoughtfully at his goblet, then he looked up. "We did not find it."
"But that still does not tell us how you came to be here in this marvellous, unsuspected world?" insisted the Jesuit priest.
Terrest did not react, as though ignoring the priest, though perhaps it was merely because he was already moving in that direction. Instead, he resumed his narrative. "Eventually I returned home, to Ontario, but it too failed to satisfy the need for Utopia that had been awakened in me. I decided that, if the perfect world did not exist, I would attempt to construct it. Raman Singh and I headed west, to where we had heard of the vastness of the prairies -- this being before the railroad, of course. There were people, of course, both Indian and white settlers, but we believed we could find a solitary place to stake out a claim, then draw others of like mind to us. We -- I -- miscalculated. We found ourselves in the middle of an icy, prairie winter, wandering blind, slowly freezing to death. The very solitude we had sought was now proving life-threatening. Then came a miracle, or so we thought -- if you believe in such things as miracles," he said, casting a glance at the priest. "We encountered a small group of trappers, a mixture of white men and Indians. We thought we were saved. Instead, they stole what little supplies we still had, and beat us senseless. Raman Singh, too brave for his own good, fought them and took the brunt of it -- he has been unable to speak since that night."
In silence, the group glanced at the towering Sikh, who met their gazes without flinching.
"What ever faith I had left in humanity was robbed that night along with our supplies. And the very multi-racial aspect of our attackers made their opprobrious act all the more damning for the species as a whole. Bloody and battered, I shouldered Raman Singh as best I could, and stumbled into the raging blizzard that surrounded us, my eye lids half frozen shut, aware that death was imminent. Then I spotted a figure through the swirl. A small figure that I, at first, took to be that of a youth. He did not see me, nor was I eager to draw his attention after our last encounter with men. But I followed him, hoping he would lead me to his cottage or other shelter. Imagine my surprise when, after a few minutes of this pursuit, I watched him abruptly vanish. I hurried forward, wondering if I had imagined him, whether the cold and my injuries had induced a hallucination. And then I stumbled upon a hole in the ground. A hole just big enough for a man to squeeze through. Was this where my elusive quarry had gone? I wondered. And if so, what was it? A little pocket in the ground to avoid the wind, or an actual tunnel, leading somewhere else? I was fearful, but I knew we had no choice. With our last strength, Raman Singh and I entered the tunnel -- for tunnel it proved to be. There was no sign of the boy I had been following. We crawled -- I don't know how far.
"Away from the killing wind, some strength returned, and we might have gone a mile or more. A mile I assumed at the time was horizontal, but was clearly vertical, taking us down, down into the earth. Eventually we both passed out. It was a sleep I expected never to wake from. Instead, I did awake, we both did. We had been found by the sub-terrans who had never before encountered surface dwellers so deep within their domain. They brought us to their city, and nursed us as best they could. Imagine our surprise to see a world that no surface dweller had seen before -- at least, not since the Atlanteans themselves, thousands of years before. As we recuperated, we began to explore this city, to learn of its people, and in dusty, unused chambers discovered ancient technologies that the sub-terrans themselves had long since forgotten existed, and no longer understood." Terrest finished, as though his story was at an end.
"That's...extraordinary," Mary Manyrivers said at last, speaking for all of them.
Terrest smiled at her, and Bram felt an unconscious tightening in his jaw. It was not hard to see that Terrest was enamoured of the beautiful Indian maiden. And he did not particularly like that fact. "You've told us who you are, and what this place is, but you haven't told us: why? Why are you attacking the railroad? Why are you killing workers? Why did you spare us?"
"I do not kill for pleasure, Mr. Donlevy," Terrest assured him. "The Chronos is not the most wieldy of vehicles. I assure you, the men who died merely were foolish enough not to run far or fast enough to avoid her. I can hardly be blamed, any more than a buffalo stampede can be blamed for a man trampled beneath its thundering hooves."
"Foolish?" Mary said. "Sir Terrest, you're talking about men's lives."
Terrest shot her a glance, realizing that his callousness had offended her.
Bram interrupted before Terrest could rephrase his statement or apologize to her, though even Bram was unsure whether he did so to pursue his inquiry, or to allow the wedge between Mary and Terrest to grow more firm. "And we were spared? Brought here?"
"I was...intrigued. It was clear you were not the usual sort of people I expected to encounter. Besides, once it was clear you had fathomed the nature of my vessel -- that it was a vessel -- I felt it best to detain you until I could consider the matter. I am not yet ready to make myself fully known to the world."
"And why attack the railroad? Raiding parties?"
"To an extent. I certainly have felt no qualm about confiscating supplies and equipment that may prove useful to myself and the sub-terrans. Some of the food you are eating now is the product of such raids."
"But that doesn't explain the sabotage."
Terrest looked at him, and smiled. "No. And such small deterrents have been but a prelude. Soon I will implement my full project...which is the utter, and complete destruction of the railroad from here to the Ontario border, and the driving of every man, woman, and child from the world above our heads!"
Next episode: The Endless Tunnel
Previous episode: Prisoners and Guests
The Terror of the Rails is copyright 2003, the author.