Pulp and Dagger Webzine Presents
Government Agent, Abram Donlevy in
Chapter Seven - Within the Belly of the Beast
CONSCIOUSNESS WAS A SLOW PROGRESSION for Bram Donlevy.
First, he was aware of sensations. There was a gentle vibration running throughout his body. Instantly he assumed he was still on top of the weird contraption, the so-called "Devil" that he had discovered was some sort of giant vehicle. But he realized that the shuddering he was experiencing was less violent than that had been. It was even soothing. Then came the pain, a dull ache in the side of his head that spread tentacles of discomfort around his eyes. The after effect of the blow to the head he had received when attacked by the occupants of the machine -- the weirdly dressed and oddly diminutive occupants. After that, more clearly, came tactile feel. He was on something hard, and smooth. Not the dirt and grass of a prairie field, nor the soft fabric of a cot or bed. A floor then.
He cracked open one eye, just to get a quick impression of his surroundings. He was in a small room -- what appeared to be metal walls surrounded him, though with polished wood ribs. He stared more intently, unable to quite believe his eyes. There was a gold trim along the ceiling! And framing the door -- the only door that he could see without turning his head -- were red curtains! Overhead was an oil lamp depending from the ceiling.
It was a decidedly opulent room, he mused. At least considering the fact that it seemed to be serving as a prison cell. For occupying the room with him were his three companions: Miles O'Leary, the Fenian raider who Ottawa had insisted he work with, the man sitting surly in one corner; Father Forcier, a local Jesuit missionary who was examining the walls with a Jesuit's intellectual fascination; and Mary Manyrivers who he could not so much see, as sense just behind him, but he recognized her pleasant scent.
Slowly he closed his eye, not quite strong enough to rise, and not wanting to reveal that he was conscious until he could. Instead, he pondered.
He had been sent west to investigate mysterious attacks on the railroad that was being built to stretch across the Dominion of Canada -- once completed it would be one of the longest iron roads in the world and serve as a thread to bind this young country together. The popular theory among his superiors was that the attacks were sabotage by agents or agencies that were trying to undermine the very fabric of Canada itself. But the why was less bizarre than the how and what. Freshly laid ties were torn up, the very earth gutted and pitted, supplies absconded with, including heavy iron rails. Yet no tracks -- nothing recognizable as human or horse prints -- were discovered at any of the scenes. Occasionally men were found dead, just about every bone in their bodies broken. Survivors told of a great monster, a "Devil" that came quickly, and vanished just as easily.
It made no sense.
Until Bram had discovered it was some bizarre, hitherto unknown machine. But that provoked as many questions as it answered.
The occupants, for one thing. To a man they were short -- most reaching only to an average man's shoulders. And they were all garbed in identical uniforms that covered them from head to toe; even their eyes were concealed behind goggles. Who were they? Bram wondered. And what did they want? The attacks on the railroad were clearly directed and premeditated, yet according to Indian legends, the "Devil" had been seen in these parts for many years prior to the coming of the railroad.
Yes, there were still too many questions. Not the least of which being: where was he?
Braving himself against the pain, Bram opened his eyes fully and looked over at Mary Manyrivers. She was kneeling by his head and watching him. Seeing him turn to look at her, catching her watching over him, seemed to startle her. "Oh," she said. "You're awake."
Bram grinned thinly and slowly rose to a sitting position.
"It's about bloody time," said Miles O'Leary. "I was beginning to give you up for dead. And though that's something that would normally have me thanking the Almighty -- not now. You got me into this, you can damned well get me out."
Father Forcier knelt beside him. "Rest, now, my son," he said, pointedly disregarding Miles' comment. "You received a nasty blow."
Suddenly a low clack! sound bounced off Bram's ears and his eyes shot to the door. He could not see anything, but he surmised it had been the sound of a panel being closed. No doubt they had been observed the whole time and, now that he was awake, the sentry had gone to inform a superior.
"Where are we?" Bram asked, rubbing his head.
"On board this bizarre machine," explained the priest.
Bram was impressed. So the vibration was from the movement of the machine, but obviously something was utilized to dampen the shudders that he had experienced as being so much more strenuous outside on the vessel's hull. "Quickly, then," he said, gaining his feet. "That door will open in moments. We'd best be prepared to take advantage of it. Miles and I will lead the attack. You two follow behind and keep your heads down. We'll make for the nearest hatchway and jump out."
"Is that wise?" asked the priest. "We are badly outnumbered."
"True. But if we're on board the vessel, I imagine the corridors are narrow, cutting back on the number of men who can come at us at once. And based on what I saw, one on one, we have the advantage of size and weight."
"Someone's coming," hissed Mary, standing by the door.
Bram gestured for Mary and Father Forcier to stand at the far end of the room, to draw the eye of the men who opened the door. He and Miles positioned themselves on either side of the door. He waited, tensed and ready, fists balled into knots of bone and muscle. He twitched with expectation as he heard the crank and clatter of something on the other side, a lock being released. Then the door swung inward. Without waiting, he leapt through. Three of the short men were caught by surprise outside in the corridor, as he flung into them. He slugged one, sending him crashing into the wall, and pounced on a second even as the third turned to flee. But Miles O'Leary tackled him and the two crashed to the floor. Within moments, all was still in the short corridor.
Bram rose, legs braced as though ready for more. The corridor was short and lit by oil lamps in sconces along the wall. He looked down at his fallen captors, but they had been carrying no weapons that he could appropriate. "Come on," he muttered, "speed is of the essence. We strike fast and furious. One of us has to get off this ship and tell the authorities what we've discovered." So saying, he raced to the end of the corridor and flung open the door there, bursting into the next room.
It was a wider chamber, and a handful of the weirdly garbed figures milled about, but still not the full body of the company. Bram's unexpected intrusion startled them, and he was among them, fists swinging, before they could mount a proper counter attack. He heard Miles at his back, laying into their captors with a ferocious glee, a love of the fight, that Bram did not share. Bram only wanted to be off this contraption -- subduing their captors was a means to an end, nothing more. He felt his hopes rise as he realized that along one wall were nestled a couple of hatchways. Clearly this was one of the main exiting chambers of the ship. They were almost free.
He grabbed at one of the hatchways and was momentarily startled by the violence of the trembling that went through his fingers. It was like touching a door that was standing up to a gale force blizzard. Had a storm arisen while he was unconscious? He pried at the fastenings, attempting to open the hatch.
A hand on his shoulder swung him about, and instinctively he threw a punch at where he expected the little man's head to be. Instead, his blow was blocked not by a little man, but by a veritable giant of a man who then grabbed him by the shoulders and flung him across the chamber. Bram hit the wall, his vision blurring momentarily from the second heavy blow he'd received in but a few hours. Then he launched himself at his new assailant. The tall man was dressed in clothes similar to the little men, but his face was uncovered, revealing the features of a bearded and turbaned East Indian.
The Indian attempted to get him in a bear hug, but Bram ducked and delivered two quick punches to his stomach. The blows seemed to have little effect. Bram side stepped as the big man swung at him again. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Miles clawing at the fastenings of one of the hatchways. If Miles managed to escape, on his own, could he be sure the man would report to the authorities? Or would he merely flee back the United States?
Events never proceeded far enough for him to find out.
Miles cried out as his body seemed to snap rigidly to attention, then he collapsed.
"Please, let's have none of that." The voice was calm, cultured, and it stilled the fight as readily as water on a campfire. Bram turned to see a man standing in the doorway that was opposite to the one through which they had come. He was a white man -- stiff-backed and silvered hair, with mutton chop sideburns that became a mustachio over his lip. He was dressed like everyone else on board the vessel, though in his hand he held a peculiar looking device. It vaguely resembled a pistol, and though Bram was unsure how, he was certain it was responsible from Miles' collapse. "You really don't want to open that hatchway. Believe me. Raman Singh, if you would be so kind as to escort our guests this way, perhaps we can have a civilized discussion."
Having lost the momentary advantage of surprise, Bram, Mary, Father Forcier, and an unsteady Miles O'Leary were herded into the next room by the man known as Raman Singh and their still unidentified host. The chamber beyond was clearly the control room for the vessel, and little men moved about, checking gauges, shifting levers. It resembled nothing so much as a weird marriage between the pilot house of a seafaring ship, and the engine of a train. At the front of the room, curtains were drawn, presumably concealing the view of the outside. Similar curtains were on either side, as well.
"Who are you?" demanded Bram. "What do you want? What is going on?"
The man who seemed to be in charge looked at him with neither malice nor compassion. "All in good time. But first, I think it is important that you understand why escape is both impossible, and inadvisable." He gestured to one of the little men, and the fellow moved to one of the side curtains and pulled on a cord, drawing them back. A window lay beyond.
For a moment, Bram was not sure what he was looking at. It was dark, but something swirled and slithered past the glass. He stepped forward, mouth agape as slowly it dawned on him just what it was that he was viewing.
"Mon Dieu!" said the priest.
"As you can see, escape is impossible," explained their host. "As we are already burrowing far beneath the earth's surface and are surrounded by nothing but rock and stone."
Next episode: The Devil's Master
Previous episode: Trapped!
The Terror of the Rails is copyright 2003, the author.