Pulp and Dagger Webzine Presents

Government Agent, Abram Donlevy in

The Terror of the Rails!



An Extraordinary Odyssey of Action and Wonderment!

by
Andrew Dunphy


Chapter Fifteen -  Escape!


 BRAM TURNED TO FLEE THE ADVANCING EXPLOSIONS explosions in the tunnel, then stopped.  Raman Singh was in no shape to make his own escape.  Cursing under his breath, Bram went to the big man and helped him to his feet as the explosions roared closer and closer.  Stumbling they made it to the mouth of the tunnel and he sent Singh, half climbing, half sliding, down the ladder.  He was next and ducked just below the level of the tunnel as the final explosion roared through his ear drums and a great, grey cloud of dust and stone burst out of the tunnel mouth like flames from a dragon's mouth.

The ladder was wrenched from its moorings, sending both men plunging to the level below.

Bram hit the stone floor below awkwardly, but miraculously avoided breaking anything.  He lay there curled in a ball, arms shielding his head, as stone debris rained down like hail.  This geological deluge continued for close to a minute before, at last, puttering to a halt.

Covered in a layer of fine, grey dust, he staggered to his feet, coughing and squinting.  He looked up at the tunnel high above, still obscured behind a fog of dust that swirled like a living blanket before what had once been the mouth of a cavern.  Singh had not realized it, but he had done Bram's work for him.  By setting off the charges after Bram had removed most of the sticks of dynamite, all he had succeeded in doing was collapsing the ceiling of the tunnel itself, nothing more.

Terrest's great plan to collapse the ground beneath the railroad hadn't been stopped, but it had certainly been set back many months as the cave would have to be re-excavated before new charges could be set.

He turned and spotted Raman Singh sprawled on the ground, unconscious, looking almost like a prone statue what with the grey layer of stone dust covering his entire body.  Stumbling forward, he removed Singh's belt with its battery for the electric pistol and, re-attaching the pistol's wires to the battery, placed it about his own waist.  Then he hooked his hands under the big man's arms and dragged him clear of the cavern wall -- just in case more debris came raining down.

Already mole people had arrived, their large, dark eyes wide, their snub noses twitching.  They did not know what had transpired, or Bram's part in it, so they made no effort to stop him as he shouldered through them, leaving them to look after the mute Sikh.  He made it out the back of the throng and instantly met up with Mary Manyrivers and Father Forcier who had also come to investigate the explosion.

"What-?" began Mary.

"Let's just say I've thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into Terrest's plans.  We've got to get out of here -- I'm not quite sure how, but we have to get back to the surface."

"The Charon," Mary said, referring to Terrest's sub-terrestrial vehicle.

Bram nodded.  "It's a thought.  I'm not sure if I can figure out how to drive it, though."

"But I can," she said.  In answer to Bram's curious stare, she shrugged.  "I asked.  Terrest showed me how.  It wasn't very hard to persuade him."

He grinned ruefully.  "Maybe not for you.  Come on."  Taking her soft hand in his, and with Father Forcier at their backs, they ran in the direction where Terrest kept his amazing machine that could move through the very earth itself.  The very machine that had given rise to the strange stories of a Devil haunting the plains above their heads and that had brought Bram west in the first place to investigate.

Thanks to the distraction caused by the unexpected explosion, their way was clear, and the only sound that echoed off the stone cavern that coccooned them was the panting of their breaths and the patter of their footfalls.

At last they came to a halt before the black, metal hull of the Charon, the vessel like some enormous beached whale.

"What will you do?" asked Father Forcier.  "What will you tell your superiors?"

Bram looked at him, surprised by the question.  "Everything.  Terrest's strength is in his anonymity.  A few regiments of troops armed with cannons can put up a satisfactory defense once they know what they're fighting."

"And the sub-terrans?" asked the Jesuit priest quietly.  "What will your superiors do when they learn of a whole other species of man living beneath their feet? Terrest may have lost his way, but he was not incorrect in his disillusionment with civilization.  Will the sub-terrans not be exploited, hounded, by the very people you answer to?"

Bram stared at him for a long moment, unsure what to say.  At last, he said, subduedly, "I guess you'll just have to argue in their defense."

The priest stepped back, smiling wistfully.  "I'm afraid I'm not going back with you."

"What?" Mary exclaimed.  "But Father-?"

He shook his head, reaching out and touching her cheek with one hand.  "I can be of more use down here than I ever was up there.  In my profession, we refer to 'the call' that tells us, deep inside, that we were meant to take our vows.  Well, now that same voice tells me I was meant to come here...and to stay."

Mary stared at him, her eyes shimmering wetly.  But she could think of nothing to say.  Bram put an arm around her comfortingly.

"Look after her, my son," the priest advised him.

Bram nodded stiffly, then guided Mary toward one of the hatches.

"Halt!"

They both turned to see Sir Humbert Terrest rounding a huge stalagmite, a score of mole people at his side.

"Hurry," Bram said, ushering her toward the vessel.

"Wait!" shouted Terrest, half ordering, half pleading.  "Mary?"

She stopped and looked back over her shoulder at him.  Their eyes met, then slowly Terrest looked her up and down, seeing how she had replaced the evening gown he had given her with the clothes with which she had first arrived.  He stared, eyes pained, mouth agape.  Whatever he had wanted to ask her, she had already answered him.  Then a darkness boiled into his eyes, a hardness.

"I can't let you leave.  I've been to the tunnel, I know what you've done.  A mere set back, nothing more."  He yelled something in the tongue of the mole people, and the diminutive figures surged forward.  Mary scrambled through the hatchway and Bram raised his electro pistol, firing at a couple of the nearest figures.  They collapsed, unconscious, and served to tangle up the feet of the figures behind them, tripping them.

"Get this thing moving!" Bram shouted, slamming the hatchway while remaining outside.  Then he grabbed the ladder and scrambled up onto the roof of the Charon.  Mole people clawed up after him, but he held the high ground and kicked them off before they could gain the roof.  He heard the Charon hiss deafeningly beneath him, and was almost knocked from his feet as it shuddered to life.  A mole person gained the roof unexpectedly behind him, but he fired his pistol and a miniature lightning strike sent the figure tumbling off again.

"It stops now, Terrest," Bram shouted as the Charon began to lurch toward one tunnel.  He glanced at Father Forcier, standing apart from the throng of Terrest and his mole people.  He remembered the priest's heartfelt words.  And, more, he remembered his previous assignment --- the party of would-be Fenian raiders he had led into a trap -- to their pointless, unnecessary deaths.  Sometimes doing the correct thing was not always the right thing.  "One way or the other it stops.  I can keep my mouth shut, and you can keep your little world, but leave the surface in peace.  If you continue your attacks, I will inform my superiors about everything I know.  It's your choice.  But you don't want to face an army Terrest.  Believe me." The Charon was picking up speed, so Bram threw open the roof hatch and dropped into the interior.

He ran down the short hall and burst into the control room.  Mary was frantically racing from side to side, throwing levers, checking dials, trying to run a ship that was designed to be manned by an entire crew.  "Tell me what to do," Bram said, coming to her side.

"We can't turn or maneuver, or run it as well as Terrest's people," she advised him, panting with effort.

"Just point it up," he said.  "That's all we need.  I don't care if we end up in Vancouver or Halifax.  Just so long as it's up."

Side by side, they worked the controls for many minutes until Mary seemed reasonably satisfied that the vessel could run itself.  Then she started to sag, and Bram caught her in his arms.  She did not pull away, and instead settled against him, contentedly.

"Terrest seemed...upset.  About your leaving, I mean," Bram said tentatively.

"He was an intriguing man," she said neutrally.  Then she looked up at him.  "I don't think he was evil, despite what he had done and was planning to do.  Will you keep his secret?  Will you not tell of him and his mole people to your superiors?"

Bram shrugged.  "I think they're more interested in results than reasons.  As long as the attacks stop, I don't suppose they'll question how or why."

She nodded, as though to herself.  Then she said, "I think he had just let the world make him hard.  He had lost his love, and without love, he had no anchor in this world, or any other."

Bram brushed a lock of jet black hair from her face.  "Then we must all remember to hold onto love," he said.  He leaned forward and kissed her, at first tentatively, then more boldly as she did not pull away.  Her arms snaked about his head, and her lips strained hungrily against his.

"How touching."

Bram whirled, pushing Mary protectively away from him as Miles O'Leary emerged through the open doorway, striking him across the head with a stick.  Bram staggered back, his arms flailing blindly before him to ward off the next attack.

Miles had obviously fled to the Charon after deserting him at the tunnel, Bram realized.  Miles must have guessed Bram would attempt an escape.  He had been hiding on board all along!

The club hit his forearm, but with a savage swipe, he was able to knock it from Miles' grip.  But he was still half-stunned from the blow to the head and Miles closed with him, getting him in a bear hug.  Then he felt the electro-pistol wrenched from his belt and Miles stepped back, grinning, the pistol levelled at him.

"This has been a long time coming, lad."

"No!" Mary screamed.

Miles pulled the trigger.  Nothing happened.  The grin drained from his face like sand from an hour glass.  Then he glanced at the wires dangling from the handle of the weapon...pulled free of their battery.  He realized he had done that mistake once again.

"You just don't learn, do you, Miles?" demanded Bram.  He launched himself at the Fenian, delivering a bone-cracking blow to his jaw.  Miles spun about, then collided with one of the control consoles.  A panel dented inward, eliciting a series of tiny sparks, but Miles rebounded off of it, crashing back into Bram.  The two men struggled again, a tussle made all the more vicious by its very silence.  Suddenly Miles pulled back, Bram's belt in his hand -- the belt with the battery! He stabbed the wires back into their housing, grinning like a madman, even as Bram kicked out, sending him back into the wall.  As he hit, his fingers spasmed on the trigger, firing not at Bram, but into the panel.  Suddenly Miles screamed, his body arching violently as the pistol set off something in the wall, and blue and yellow lightning corruscated around Miles.  Sparks flew, smoke billowed -- one section of the wall exploded outward.

In a moment, flame was everywhere.

Mary screamed and Bram grabbed her hand, dragging her from the inferno that was consuming the pilot house of the Charon.  "We've got to get out of here or we'll be roasted alive!"

"But how?  We're trapped!"

He raced toward the nearest hatchway and grabbed at it, feeling it shudder violently against his palms as thousands of tonnes worth of solid earth rattled by it outside.  With a wrench, he pulled open the hatch and Mary yanked him back as earth and stone whipped inside, scraped free of the surrounding earth by the passage of the Charon.  She clung to him desperately and he held her as they stared at that impossible barrier, as loose stones and rocks rained inside, rattling off the metal floor.  He pressed his lips to her hair, holding her close.  "We have to be near the surface," he said.  "Any minute now."  It was a declaration that had nothing to do with fact or a measurement of distance.  Bram had no idea how close they were to the surface.  But he knew that if the portal did not clear the surface soon...they would die, burned alive in this vehicular Inferno.

And then, with no warning, the rain of stone abruptly ceased and sunlight blazed through the open hatchway and fresh, cool air washed in.  And just in time, for he heard the engines of the vessel give a mournful roar and the Charon shudder to a sorry stop.  "Outside, hurry!" he shouted, realizing that the fresh air was liable to accelerate the fire even more.  He helped Mary through, then followed her out.

They tumbled outside, rolling down a mound of earth thrown up by the Charon's emergence into the surface world.  As their tumble came to a stop, Bram gained his feet and, grabbing Mary's hand, the two of them raced from the death throes of the "Devil".  Stumbling to a halt some distance away, they both turned to watch its last moments.

The Charon had only barely emerged into the world of daylight, with little more than its nose sticking out before its mighty engines stopped, its motor being consumed with fire.  Had they tried any other portal -- they would still be trapped inside!  Black, ugly smoke billowed from the vessel, spewing out the open hatchway like viscous blood.  Then, slowly, ever so slowly, the Charon began to sink back into the freshly churned earth, disappearing forever from the sight of man.

Then he held Mary close and, for the first time in days, they both watched the sun rise over the open prairie.

The End

Previous episode: Total Destruction!


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