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 Eight -  The Devil's Master

 BRAM DONLEVY STARED THROUGH THE PORTHOLE WINDOW at the darkness beyond, a darkness comprised of earth and stone as the bizarre machine in which he and his companions found themselves burrowed its way through the very earth itself.  This explained how the so-called "Devil" -- the monster that had been plaguing the building of the trans-Canada railroad -- how it could appear and disappear so easily.  The machine arose from the ground, and escaped the same way.

"I trust you are satisfied that it is possible neither for you to escape, nor for I to release you.  At least, not for the moment."  The speaker was a tall, silver-haired man with muttonchop sideburns and a mustachio.  He stood at the front of this, the pilot house of the weird vehicle, a pistol in his hand that could somehow cause a man to collapse without a sound.

Bram glanced warily around, not unlike a cornered beast seeking to know the strengths and weaknesses of its hunters.  Another man, a tall Sikh Indian, stood, arms crossed, before the only exit from the room.  While around them, little men, none more than five feet in height, operated the levers and dials that controlled the vehicle.  The little men were garbed from head to toe so that Bram had yet to see any of their faces.

Slowly, he stepped back to join his three companions: Mary Manyrivers, Father Forcier, and Miles O'Leary.  "Will you release us?" asked Bram, picking up on the man's words.

The silver-haired man hesitated, then said, "I'm not really sure what I'll do with you...for the moment."

At least Bram could admire his frankness.  "So who are you?  What is this...thing?"

"In reverse order," said the man, "this 'thing', as you call it, is called the Charon, the world's first terrestrial/sub-terrestrial vehicle.  And I am Sir Humbert Terrest, master of this ship and all it implies."

Bram frowned, finding that last comment provocatively vague.  As, he supposed, was Terrest's intention.

"That is Raman Singh," he said, gesturing to the tall man, "my aide.  And these are my...adopted people," he said, indicating more broadly the people manning the actual functions of the vehicle.  "And now, if I may be so bold as to inquire about yourselves?"

Bram hesitated, wrestling with the notion of whether he should maintain the cover name he had adopted when first arriving out west, or part with his true name.  The decision, however, was not his.

"He's Abram Donlevy, a government agent," said Miles O'Leary.  "He came here to stop you."

Bram glared at Miles, but held his tongue.

"Indeed?" asked Terrest in a neutral tone.  "And yourself?"

"My name is Miles O'Leary, what you might call a political prisoner who was impressed into this man's service, else lose my freedom entirely."

Miles lost no time assessing the situation, Bram thought ruefully.  What was the old saying about 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'?  Miles had obviously realized that, whoever Terrest was, he held no love for the established authorities, and that made him a potential friend of the would-be Fenian raider.

"And these others?"

Miles shrugged.  "No idea."

"Then perhaps they could answer."

Miles pursed his lips, sensing a mild rebuke.  Bram almost smiled.  Father Forcier stepped forward, hesitantly.  "I am Father Jean-Marc Forcier, of the Jesuits, and this is one of my congregation, Mary Manyrivers."

"A Jesuit?" asked Terrest, mildly interested.  "The Jesuits are well-reknowned for their intellect.  You are a most welcome guest.  As are you, my dear, who are as radiantly beautiful -- and as unexpected -- as a blossom blooming amidst freshly fallen snow."

Mary seemed momentarily unsure how to respond, but Bram noted the slight flush to her cheeks indicating she was not entirely displeased by the compliment.

"I will admit to some intrigue as to the nature of this vehicle," conceded Father Forcier.  "It is like something out of the romances of Jules Verne, non?"  Though whether he was attempting to wheedle information that they could use from their host, or whether he was genuinely caught up in scientific curiosity, Bram could not say.  "How does it work?"

"On the surface it moves about on wheels that are enwrapped in a heavy metal belt, which provide it with flexibility and maneuverability in areas where a conventional wagon might become stuck.  You might even think of it as being comparable to a train track that the train carries with itself."

"Fascinating.  Essentially it is a wheel comprised of many smaller wheels."

"Yes.  Very much so."

"And for subterranian travel?"

"The nose of the Charon is tapered with a spiraling groove.  When we begin our descent, the nose begins rotating, essentially acting as a giant drill, opening the way.  The wheels continue to act as our primary source of propulsion, and horizontally running gutters along the ship's hull help funnel the displaced earth behind us."

"Covering your tracks," said Bram coldly.

Terrest regarded him, then shrugged.  "I prefer to think of it as minimizing our impact upon the natural environment."

"And the source of your power?  Surely it is not steam?"

"Not exclusively.  When we are on the surface, and can vent the steam, then yes.  During our current travel, power is derived from an electric generator."

"Electric?" exclaimed the priest.  "Incroyable."

Bram was not totally immune to the wonders that were being discussed.  Clearly the Charon was a staggering technological achievement that far outstripped most of the world's current technology.  He had been dully impressed when he had first realized it was an artificial construction -- and that was before he realized it could travel beneath the earth as well as on it!  But that still left so many questions unanswered.  Like why?  Why had Terrest used his remarkable machine to attack and sabotage the railroad?  Why had he built the machine in the first place -- though Bram supposed he could see the military applications for a machine that could surprise an enemy from below.  And who were Terrest's diminuitive companions?

Before he or anyone else could voice these questions, a red light -- electric powered, no doubt -- flashed on one of the control boards just behind Terrest.  Terrest glanced back at it, then leaned over and murmured something to one of the small, masked men.  Whether he spoke to them in English, French, or some other language, Bram could not be sure.  Then Terrest looked at his unwilling guests.  "We can resume our discussion, and the many questions I'm sure you have, in more comfortable environments shortly.  We are arriving at our destination.  Raman Singh, please escort them back to their quarters until we are ready to disembark."

Singh stepped away from the door and drew from his pocket one of the odd-looking pistols with which Terrest had temporarily disabled Miles O'Leary.  At a closer glance, Bram realized a couple of wires ran from the gun to a box hooked on Raman Singh's belt.  It seemed impossible to credit, but with Terrest's earlier reference to electricity, he wondered if the weapons were electrically powered somehow.

With the weapon, the Sikh gestured them through the door into the next chamber.  Bram affected an air of calm, but inside his heart was racing, his mind turning over options.  Their previous escape attempt had proven futile because the vehicle itself was impossible to exit from while burrowing through the earth.  But by Terrest's own admission, they were about to re-emerge onto the surface.  He had not detected a change in the footing, a sensation of rising, but he had already concluded the interior of the Charon was somehow protected from the more extreme shakes and shudders that affected the exterior.

They were herded into the next chamber, the one that served as the main unloading section for this side of the Charon with hatchways along the side.  Their destination was beyond this chamber, in the room in which he had first awakened.  He caught Miles O'Leary's eye, but was unsure if the Fenian understood his intention.  But Miles was too much of a survivor not to be perpetually vigilant for the right moment to make an escape.

And that moment came.

The Charon shuddered, and there was a great scream of gears and venting steam as the vessel shuddered to a halt.  Raman Singh, focused on his captives, was thrown momentarily off balance by the violent stop.  But Bram had been expecting it -- hoping for it, at least -- and had been ready, loose in the knees.  The moment the Sikh tipped, forced to catch himself against one wall, Bram pounced.  Raman Singh saw him, tried to raise his weapon, but Bram was inside his guard too quick, and delivered a mighty blow to the big man's mid-section.  The towering Sikh had the better of him by size and strength, but he had his skill, his experience.  He delivered two more jabs to the man's torso.  Then, catching the man's outflung arm, Bram threw his shoulder into Raman Singh's chest and flipped the man entirely over him.  Singh hit the ground with a clunk, and lay there, dazed and groaning...at the very feet of Miles O'Leary.

Bram went to retrieve the Sikh's weapon, but Miles eagerly snatched it up first.  "Don't be a fool-!" Bram shouted, but it was too late.  Miles, clearly having paid no attention to the peculiarities of the gun's design, had wrenched it free of the wires in his haste to be the weapon's possessor.  Bram had little doubt it was now no more useful than a wrench.

"Come on," he hissed.  He turned and fumbled at the latches of the nearest hatchway.  He glanced over his shoulder, alerted to the sound of banging at the side.  Father Forcier and Mary Manyrivers were attempting to keep the door that led to the pilot house closed as Terrest's other helpers attempted to barge their way in.

With a snort of relief, Bram loosened the fastening and flung open the hatchway.  He raced to Mary and the priest and put his shoulder to the inner door.  "Go on.  Miles and I will hold the door as long as we can."

"Too late," said Mary.

He glanced over in time to see Miles disappearing through the hatchway.  "Damn," he hissed.

"You can't hold it alone," Mary said.

"Go!  I'll be right behind you."

The priest raced for the exit, but Mary hesitated a moment.  "Go!" Bram repeated, grunting as the door lurched inward slightly, almost bursting open.  Mary turned and raced away.  When he saw her scrambling through the hatch, he launched himself from the door and was leaping through the hatch even as he heard footsteps clattering behind him.

He tumbled from the Charon on to hard stone.  It was still night, which struck him as momentarily strange.  He had assumed that, with his unconsciousness and their long travelling, that it would be daylight by now.  Then he had no time for such frivolous thoughts as little men poured around him.  They came not from behind, from the Charon, but from around the sides of the vessel.  He cursed his stupidity.  He had assumed that the occupants of the Charon were the entirety of Terrest's entourage.  Clearly that was not the case.  These other men must have been gathering to help unload the Charon or some such thing.  And now they had run smack into them!

Without hesitation, he began to swing his fists left and right.  The little men were not as powerful as he, though not inconsequential, either.  Still, it was in their numbers that they posed the greatest threat.  He had to be away from them, and quick.

As he fought, he grabbed one and, for the first time, stared into its face.  "Good God!" he exclaimed.  He had never seen one of Terrest's men without his face covered.  For a moment, he thought the man had thick muttonchops like Terrest sported.  But then he realized...it was fur!  The man had fur fringing his face.  His nose was snubbed, his lips drawn back from pronounced teeth.  But it was the eyes that were the most shocking.  Big, black pools, comprised almost entirely of pupil.

Terrest's men were not men at all -- not as Bram knew the term.

"Bram!" screamed a voice.  Mary!

Bram flung aside the bizarre creature and looked toward the woman, confused.  Mary stood by herself, apparently unmolested.  Why had she screamed? he wondered.  Then he realized she was looking all about them.

Bram did likewise.  Before them sprawled a small city -- a city of soft flickering lights, and bizarre architecture of curving domed roofs.  It was stunning, to believe such a place could have gone undetected, even in these untamed prairies -- stunning, but hardly a sight warranting a scream.  Then suddenly he realized Mary was looking up, not across.  He followed her gaze and could see no moon, no stars.  Instead, there was a vaulting ceiling of rough stone and stalacites.

It was not still night, as he had first surmised.

"Welcome, my friends!" Bram looked up, to see Terrest standing on top of the Charon.  "Welcome to my domain!"

They were still miles underground!

Next episode: In the Land of Shadow

Previous episode: Within the Belly of the Beast

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