After a successful trip to Ruk, the party are preparing for their next trip to Railsea. Following the clues to the disappearance of Bruce’s father, the group is focusing their efforts on the Manihiki Ferro Navy. Though most of the party is ready to start flexing their Strange powers in Railsea, Bruce is more reticent to go.
Katherine Manners, Lead Operative and founding member of the Estate pulled up a report. She had been Earth’s representatives on foreign shores. And that was when the less theatrical of the party wrote the report. This last Ruk trip had been no exception, with the discovery of secret genetic labs, the recovery of kidnapped Earthlings for experimentation and the destruction of a whole mountain along with the death of a serious opponent of Earth, Doctor Strangelove. She confirmed the facts through channels, found them accurate, and called in Bruce Johnson, the group member she was directly responsible for in for a chat.
As usual, Bruce was prompt and prepared. There was something else she noticed as Bruce entered her office and sat down. A quiet assurance. The confidence of someone who had gone through hell and come out the other side stronger. She approved.
“Bruce, you and your group have had quite the adventure in Ruk,” She prompted turning her screen with the report displayed.
“Did what we set out to do. Got into the kid’s head, got him fixed. His brothers too, though Mortimer is one to keep an eye on,”
“Noted, though we hope great things for him if he proves himself reliable,”
Bruce nodded thoughtfully, “He’s sharp, and he’s fast. A dangerous combination.”
“As too were your group, blowing up a large tract of Ruk,”
“Ah well, I believe you’ll find that was the build-up of a highly explosive gas that was being created by Strangelove,” Bruce started to defend the group’s action until Katherine waved his arguments aside.
“In doing so, destroyed a secret base and one of the Karum’s major players all while leaving our allies on Ruk out of the frame. This is a significant victory that will have implication for years to come.”
“Yeah, the Allsong said she was dead. Algernon asked,” He said, unconvinced, “But who’s to say she was alive at all.”
“Whose to say with Ruk,” She flicked to her screen to the other reports from Ruk, “Still there’s no sign that she’s alive and the Karum is in a panic. I think it’s fair to say she is no longer a threat to Earth.”
Bruce nodded, mulling over his thoughts.
“Anything to add before I file the report for good?”
“Ah no, nothing directly related to Ruk, only what we discovered.”
“How hard is it to deliberately get into a story-based recursion that you have an idea may be out there, but have no links or key?”
“Some do it. It requires a high concentration level and not a little luck if you don’t know if the recursion exists. Translations go bad every day. I can organise for some advanced translation coaching if you like.”
“Could you bring anything back?”
She shook her head, “Everything is translated. Whatever you find in the recursion will only change into something mundane to this world.”
“How about we use an anapposite gate? Like we did for the Martins?”
“Anaposite gates are rare things. We have no way of making a reliable gate.”
“We have the artefact from Ruk. Maybe we can rig that up.”
“Perhaps. May I ask what recursion you would try to get to?”
At this, Bruce became a little more circumspect, “Ah, I know of a specific shrink ray that we could put to use.”
“Truly. Would you like me to organise the coaching? Or would you like to think it over? You may find other options open up to you in your travels.”
”Huh?” Dumbfounded, Bruce stopped in his tracks as he was about to leave.
“Railsea, I believe a number of your party mentioned it was your next trip out.”
“Oh yeah, tidying up loose ends.” He recovered quickly, but Katherine could tell Railsea wasn’t Bruce’s idea of destination.
“Foresee any difficulties?”
“No…no. As I said, following up a few loose ends,” He shook his head as he reached the door, “And do keep an eye on Mortimer, I worry what he might get up to while I’m not around.”
Algernon and Rain were also visiting with their direct supervisor. It had become a bit of a tradition for both of them. Algernon was obliged to ask for a highly specific and useful item of equipment, a rocket launcher. Keating turned it down as usual. Rain had better luck, as he didn’t bother asking.
Walking into the administration centre as if he owned the place, he greeted the staff by name and seemed to loiter around Keating’s office door, as if waiting for him to arrive. Behind his back, he carefully picked the lock, not having a lot of luck. The lockpick had jammed, and as he was about to check what was hindering its progress, Keating walked into the office. Some would suggest this would be a good time to slink away, hide, and try again later. That wasn’t Rain’s way at all.
“Mr Keating, I’m so glad I caught you,” He deftly stepped away from the door as if he hadn’t been standing there for minutes. He walked up to Keating, hand outstretched and Keating complied to the customary greeting. It gave Rain the chance to turn Keating around, so he did not see the door and the jammed lockpick.
“I have been remiss in keeping you abreast of my group’s activities if you have a moment I’d love to fill you in.”
“Rain, what a surprise. Ah, yes that would be good…” Keating mulled over his current tasks, “ I can spare you a moment or two in my office…”
“I was hoping for a walk . You will be pleased to know I have been availing myself of the Estates excellent councillors. They suggest more physical activity and sunlight, and it is such a lovely day,” He looked out the second storey office windows to the usual heavy leaden sky of Seattle.
“Unfortunately I have quite a bit of paperwork to get to…”
“No really, I Suggest we go out for a walk,” Rain pushed, embedding the suggestion into Keating’s mind. He hadn’t wanted to do it. He didn’t know the penalties for altering the mind of an Estate official, but at that moment it felt more likely he’d be caught for the attempted break-in than manipulating his supervisor’s mind. He watched Keating’s face slacken as the push took hold.
“I promise not to keep you long, the walk will do us a world of good,” Rain steered Keating towards the door.
The two walked around the Estate commons to the far side of campus, near the library. Having timed his story to finish at that point, he left Keating there and once out of sight, sprinted back. There he found the lockpick still in places. Now he could see the jam, Rain unlocked the door and quickly stepped into the office.
Keating’s bottle of bourbon wasn’t too hard to find. Rain knew he kept it near his desk for easy retrieval and disposal and soon found it tucked into a bottom draw. Keating’s long legs had returned him to the office earlier that Rain anticipated. His silhouette through the frosted window of the office door sent a jolt of adrenalin through Rain. He only had one option. Carefully tucking the prized bottle away in his long black coat, Rain opened the window and leapt through.
For some, falling is just flying over short distances. The twenty feet to the ground was a very short flight. Pushing his legs out in front of him, they took for the first brunt Rain’s landing. He allowed momentum to roll him back onto his feet and walked away before Keating even had a chance to notice his window was open.
Rain was worrying over the bourbon bottle in the mess when Algernon and Peggy came in for lunch that day.
“The box I can get, I’ll ring around a few bars in the city and see who has one on their shelves, but I want to make this bottle spectacular.”
“A half a bottle of alcohol?” Algernon asked, bringing his lunch to the table, now both were looking through the bottles amber glow.
“Exactly, that could be any half bottle of bourbon. I want to make it clear it’s his half bottle,”
“Well there’s plenty of room to put something in with the bourbon. You can get Peggy to try out Hertzfeld’s glove. She could get something inside without cutting the glass.”
The suggestion had the desired effect, and Rain’s face lit up, “Golf balls! Peggy!” He called the Doctor over and gestured for her to sit down.
“If I got a number of golf balls, possibly two…?” He asked his technical advisor, Algernon.
“Three would fit nicely,” Algernon replied thoughtfully gauging the available space in the bottle.
“Three balls, would you be able to use Hertzfeld’s glove to put them inside?”
“Yes. I could also break the bottle. Can I ask why we’re doing this?”
“It’s a Christmas present,” Rain replied as if it were self-evident.
Peggy nodded, “Very well, bring them to my lab as soon as you acquire the balls.”
After a few days trip out to see Ni’Challan, Rain stopped by Keating’s office again. This time the supervisor was in, busy with a project of his own.
“Sorry to trouble you again, I was wondering if I could ask your advice on something rather important,” Rain poked his head around the door. He noticed a step ladder dominating the room and a security camera mounted into the corner facing the desk. Wires hung from the camera, and false ceiling tiles gave access to the services above.
“Security camera?s You know Algernon is very good at installing those. He used one very effectively in Ruk just recently,”
“I am rather busy at the moment, can it wait?” Keating grumbled over the directions to the camera installation.
Rain could see Keating would not be so patient with the usual nonsense, so he brought up a subject that he’d been considering for some time. He slipped in and closed the door.
“I’m considering my future. I don’t think it’s a surprise to discover I am not the corporate type and my building relationship with Ni’Challan has me thinking of life after The Estate.”
“You’re thinking of leaving?” Keating looked up incredulous, “I know your methods are unorthodox, but you are a very fine agent. The Estate would be poorer without you.”
The compliment, genuinely given, gave Rain pause.
“That’s very kind of you to say, and I do want to still be of use to The Estate, but possibly in not such a formal capacity,” He stepped in front of the golf bag, deeply moved by what he’d heard.
“And you intend to work with Ni’Challan? We could do with a liaison out in the Graveyard of the Machine god,” Keating now sat down and mused over the possibilities, “We have such individuals all over the shoals. Still, there are very few inhabitable places in the Graveyard…yes, that could be very useful…”
The two of them chatted about a future role for Rain outside the confines of The Estate proper. Rain was impressed by how insightful Keating’s vision of his future. A contact in the Graveyard for information and to represent the Estate to the community in that area. Rain found himself enjoying the conversation, even as three balls somehow made their way from the golf bag and into his pockets.
He thanked Keating, apologised for taking up his valuable time and raced over to Peggy’s lab via a stop at the dormitory to pick up the bottle. It was a moment’s work for Peggy to phase the glove through the glass of the bottle and deposit the three balls in the bourbon, Keating’s signature clearly visible in black Sharpie through the clear amber liquid.
Bruce looking for the group, found them all circling the bourbon bottle, Rain goggling at their new creation.
“You’ve been up to mischief again,” Bruce said, walking over to see what all the fuss was about.
“How is this news to you?” Peggy replied as Rain was about to hide the bottle from Bruce’s sight. He thought better of it and let the upright citizen examine their handiwork.
“Is that Keating’s signature?” Bruce pointed as a ball floated lazily passed his finger only millimetres off the bottom of the bottle.
“Do I want to know?”
“Probably not.” Rain smiled, and changed the subject, “So, already for Railsea?”
“I have training in the dojo this afternoon. The martial arts master has agreed to train with my crowbar, fully padded of course.” Bruce deflected, but his friend was a magician and con man.
“Naturally, and then after? Tomorrow morning. That would give me time to find a box and gift wrap the bottle.” He said, tucking it away.
“I have concerns over Mortimer and the triplets. I know you don’t think of them as real people, but I have a deep concern for their welfare…” Bruce sent the conversation down a misdirected quagmire of blame that even Rain felt he had to defend himself.
“I never…you know me, I love the boys… “ He looked to Algernon and Peggy before realising Bruce’s scheme, “Mr Johnson, was that you trying to steer the conversation away from Railsea?” He looked proudly at Bruce as Bruce’s face turned red.
“That was very good, you had me wondering what I’d said to make you think such a thing,” Rain replied, and then returned to the subject at hand, “So, tomorrow morning then.”
“We need more information,”
“Now you sound like Algernon,” Peggy commented, and even Algernon had to agree.
“All the information is in Railsea, we just have to get to Manihiki from Bollons,” Rain countered, “Come on Bruce, you do realise you’re the last enigma amongst us. Let’s go save your father and clear up that blot on your past.”
Bruce agreed grudgingly, and Rain didn’t push the subject. He remembered the private conversation they’d had in the Dreamlands. Bruce harboured legitimate grudges against his father and was unsure he wanted the man back in his life. He kept that little snippet to himself, keeping the privacy he had created in the dream.
Instead, Rain informed Algernon that Keating had installed a surveillance camera. Instantly, Algernon pulled out his laptop and hacked into the one camera system via wifi. He left his computer to record whatever random video it picked up for future use.
The next morning, as promised, the group gathered in Peggy’s lab for the translation to Railsea. Bruce was wearing the wings Algernon had ‘acquired’ during his time with Doctor Strangelove. A real work of Ruk science and art, the wings were light weight and fitted well to his broad back. He fiddled with the strappings not used to the restriction on his shoulders and waist.
Algernon led the translation this time and the party without fuss, found themselves dissolving into the Strange. The first things they could see as they arrive were the greys and dull browns that dominated Railsea. They were standing in their blood-splattered clothing in the one-room bedsit once owned by Caw Eh Carve. The furnishings were different, though in the same dreary time-worn fashion of all of Railsea. Bruce’s wings here were even more impressive steampunk versions of themselves. All brass with gauges and dials looking more at home on a steam engine with details picked out in gold gilt and glossy black. He was about to protest their gaudiness when the front door opened and a hairy man dressed only in a bath towel entered the bedsit.
“What? Do you mind?” He asked, grasping his defensive towel with one hand, looking around him for a weapon for the other.
Algernon raised his crossbow in readiness.
“Yes we do,” Peggy blustered, pushing passed him and through the front door, “Propriety sir!”
“Sorry to have disturbed you, “ Bruce acknowledged the man’s genuine complaint, “We’ll be on our way.”
They were back, walking down the street of Bollons, smelling the dust in the air, taking in the industrious human activity amid a dessicated world. Above, the sky was a thick grey covering of cloud that unlike Seattle, never lifted. From vantage points around the city, a sea of sand surrounded Bollons, crisscrossed by train-track, creating random geometric shapes out to the horizon—the Railsea.
“Oi!” A voice yelled. Rain turned to Algernon.
“Know anyone called, Oi?” As they slowly turned to see an artist drop his paint pots and run across the road and into an alleyway. Giving chase were the yellers, three Manihiki Ferro-Naval officers who seemed to have taken offence of the artist’s work. Walking back to the mural, for it was too large and detailed a work to be called graffiti. All one side of a building had been bisected laterally the top painted the same grey-green as the sky, the bottom the unique yellow-brown of the sand around Bollons. To the left, a shape was blocked out ready to paint in the details. The text on the sign was obvious for all to read.
“Like the movie?” Rain asked as the four of them stared amazed at the mural, “Or was that the other way around?”
“What is this?” Bruce asked, feeling very exposed.
“Your past exploits?” Peggy suggested, “You did capture the Dreaming Sable.”
“Harpooned, he never caught it.” Algernon corrected, “Though that shape to the left looks like it could be a moldywarp diving into the sand.”
“Why would they take offence at that?” Peggy asked, referring to the Naval officers well out of sight.
“It has to be a recent development,” Rain dredged up what he knew of Railsea history, “There’s no historical significance that I can gather.”
He looked around them as the party studied the mural for more details. People in the street were giving the mural, and them, a wide berth. It seemed it was dangerous to take an interest in the Almighty Bruce. The wide berth didn’t stop Bruce himself, reaching out and grappling a passing stranger.
“What’s this?” He asked again, as the shock had robbed him of speech.
“I don’t know, a picture,” He replied, a smug little grin on his face.
“My friend means, why would the Ferro-navy take offence at this mural?” Rain supplied the required context.
“Oh! Bruce has been kicking their arses all over!” He chortled, then caught himself and glanced around them to see who’d noticed.
“So who is he, a Captain?” Rain asked and was rewarded with a dismissive look from the stranger. There was a disconnect. Bruce wasn’t a train Captain, but then who? Or what?
“You’ve been such a helpful fella, what if I buy you a drink and you can tell us all about it?” Rain suggested, determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
“Er…if it’s all the same, I’d rather go…”
“I really do Suggest you join us for a drink,” Rain pushed, but was stopped by a familiar heavy hand on his shoulder.
“Let him go,” Bruce said simply.
“But, oh very well…” Rain grumbled and turned back to the man, “Thank you for your time, you have been very helpful.” The man’s eyes cleared of the Suggestion and scuttled away, confused and bewildered.
Algernon, unrestrained, walked up to another random person and scanned their thoughts,
“Hello, who’s Bruce?” He asked, pointing to the mural.
Bruce, odd name for a fella, Thought the woman, who verbally apologised and also scampered away.
“Not a person,” Algernon informed the group.
“Well, we can find out all that later,” Peggy finally said once it was clear there was little more to gather from the mural, “I need new clothes, let’s got to the market and we can ask there.”
The Bollons markets were the heart of Bollons itself with anything and everything on sale, even rumours. Here Peggy found the first pair of pant that she thought may fit and asked to buy them. It was a rare, but not unheard of thing for a woman to go around in men’s clothes and Peggy’s money was as good as the next gentleman’s. Rain was a little more choosy and wove in and out of the clothing stalls until he felt suitably dressed and the party had heard several different versions of the legend that was the Almighty Bruce.
“Fight the power! Almighty Bruce!” One shopkeeper proclaimed a little loudly and scared himself, checking who had heard and ducking back into his clothing racks, “Yes, the captain was a deserter from the Ferro-Navy. He found himself a train out on the Railsea and liberated the tiny mining community of Omoka. Almighty Bruce has been hunting the Ferro-Navy trains ever since.”
“Regardless of what you think of him, he never forgot you,” Rain said quietly, as he adjusted the fit of a worn but serviceable gold and brown silk striped vest. From a stand, he snatched up a yellow silk scarf and tied it loosely like an ascot around his neck.
Bruce glanced back as Rain completed his dressing with a long blonde frock coat that had seen better days, “There’s nothing to say that it’s him.”
“Your unusual name and him being a navy deserter says it is,” Rain murmured back and went to pay.
“Anything else we should know?” Bruce asked the stall owner.
“Nothing really, just don’t mention the Bruce around the Navy.” The stall owner added unhelpfully.
Omoka was north-west of Manihiki. The group would need to take passage on one of the trains heading north to find the Almighty Bruce, her Captain and hopefully Jimmy Johnson.
“We need to get on a Navy train,” Algernon stated adamantly. If the Bruce were attacking Navy vessels, they could do worse than book passage on one.
“Yes, let them come to us,” Rain said as Bruce shook his head.
“That’s the hard way. I want to know more about this Captain first.”
“To the rumourmarket then, “ Rain clapped his hands together and led the way.
The rumourmarket of Bollons was famous. It was a great place to find out information, but more importantly, it was a place where information could be disseminated and spread. As they walked, they prepared a little rumour of their own, so when Bruce and Rain discussed terms with the rumour mongers, they had something with which to barter.
“Good day, I’m looking for information on the Captain of the Almighty Bruce,” Rain announced to the rumourmonger, “I have a trade, information pertaining to the Captain’s son.”
“The son of the Captain of the Almighty Bruce?” She said in disbelief, “I have to hear this so, for what little I know, you’ve got a deal.”
They moved through the rumourmarket talking to every rumourmonger they could. In exchange for whatever snippet they could offer, Rain and Bruce told them, “The Captain’s son is on his way to Manihiki.”
They came away knowing less for certain about the Captain than they had previously. No one in the rumour market knew the Captain’s name, though the story of him being a press-ganged deserter was by far the most common tale about the man. One rumour had him as an old Naval Admiral seeking some personal revenge of his own. The most ludicrous was that there was no Almighty Bruce and that it was, in fact, a Ferro-Navy conspiracy to raise money.
They were heading back through the market when they spied four Ferro Navy Officers heading in their direction.
“These damn stupid wings,” Bruce said as he realised they had been spotted by the brass wings glittering on his back, “They’re too flamboyant for this.”
“Nonsense,” Rain smiled and stepped up to greet the officers, “ There’s no such thing as too flamboyant.”
“Gentlemen, what can we do for you today?”
“What do you know about the son of a certain Captain?” One demanded, obviously seen as the most intimidating of the four.
“Captain?” Rain asked
“Captain who?” Bruce added hoping these log-heads would drop that snippet of information to show how clevers they were.
“You’ve been sharing a rumour about his son all over the market, what else do you know?” The officer flexed. Yes, these officers were used to bullying people for what they wanted.
“Oh, the rumour wasn’t that we knew the son, the rumour is that the son is heading for Manihiki,” Rain explained as if it were all a simple misunderstanding.
“Huh,” The officer grunted and looked to his fellow navy men for help, “Know any more?”
“‘Fraid not, gentleman, that’s what brought us to the rumour market in the first place.”
The four officer’s seemed to deflate at the news. Their hot tip had turned cold.
“Uh…if you hear anything, we’d appreciate it if you could let the Navy know,”
“Anyone we could get in contact with? Maybe someone we can put in a good word for “…four upstanding officers…” of the Ferro Navy?” Rain asked, and received the name of an Admiral As Lac Grel as well as the calling card for the most talkative of the four officers, Ro Ban Ottmer. Offering their best of luck, Rain and Bruce headed back through the market sure that if they saw those officers again, it would be too soon.
Peggy and Algernon were also busy. Peggy was going from bar to bar talking for train Captains heading to Manihiki and seeing if they were interested in hiring-on. It was true that Peggy was a first-rate engineer and Algernon and Bruce had more than proven their skills as gunners, but Rain’s talents were always harder to define. She offered Rain’s services as a general hand.
Algernon was scanning the stalls for cyphers as usual. Looking carefully through the offerings, he could feel the presence of the Strange on the items that didn’t belong and were hiding in plain sight. He was offered a potion by a stall keeper, didn’t think much of it and moved on. At another stall, he found a handle which he identified quickly as a monoblade, a collar which seemed to change its wearer’s appearance and an odd block that he discovered was a salve with healing properties. The first two, he paid the asking price and was able to get the third for free. Algernon walked away, feeling he’d won the trade game and found the others as Peggy was sharing what she had organised with Bruce and Rain.
“General hand, I’m not a general anything,” Rain grumbled. Peggy ignored his protests and continued.
“The train is the Gliding Vulpine, a diesel heading out tomorrow morning. The captain’s name is Al Ram Kuno and has agreed to take us on as crew in exchange for transport, food and board.”
“We’re not getting paid? You alone are worth more than transport,” Algernon said to Peggy as he stowed his treasures in a hessian haversack referring to her knack at improving engine performance.
“Yes, well I’d do it anyway, but this way I have permission,” She replied looking forward to getting her hands on the inner workings of the Gliding Vulpine.
That night they found lodging at one of the taverns and early the next morning they were down at the dock boarding the Gliding Vulpine. Bruce and Algernon were surprised to discover that though the train was equipt with ballista, they were the only gunners.
“We’re a trading vessel, we usually don’t need heavy defences,” Captain Al Ram Kuno replied smoothly. Knowing the dangers of the Railsea, Algernon wasn’t so sure. A quick investigation of the gunnery deck soon proved his suspicions. Though the deck itself was neatly scrubbed and train-shape, they’d missed dried blood left in the cracks and seams of the carriage roof. The Gliding Lupine had undoubtedly come across some adventure. Algernon and Bruce organised their shifts to ensure they wouldn’t become the next blood smear.
Peggy went straight down to the engine, greeted the current engineering staff with a nodd and got to work even before the train had left the dock. Rain alone slunk around the train, dodging work until the Captain spotted him and put him on as switcher. The speed and timing required to shift the train onto a new track amused Rain as did being at the helm beside the Captain as decisions of navigation were made through the wild tangle of the Railsea.
The group’s first day onboard was uneventful. Getting used to the train layout and its crew idiosyncrasies kept them busy for the most part. Bruce made a point of feeling out the crew and Captain about the Almighty Bruce and the Ferro Navy. The crew, in general, were ambivalent about the Ferro navy and its dealings. Most felt that it was best not to get involved with whatever the Navy considered its duty. The Captain, on the other hand, had nothing but praise for the Ferro-navy.
“They keep the Railsea safe for honest traders such as ourselves,” He boasted, though Rain felt that was more because he paid for protection and had no fear of being attacked by the Navy.
The day slipped passed like the Railsea’s sands, and with the evening, Bruce found himself alone on the gunnery deck. Now without the cumbersome wings, he felt at ease scanning the seemingly empty Railsea for signs of activity on the rails or below. A soft shifting of sand, the appearance of bow wave as something large broke the surface. Silently slipping through the sand beside the train, the velvety grey hide of a massive moldywarpe kept pace with the train. Thirty metres long from nose to harpoon riddled rear the creature turned its eye on Bruce, and a blue spiral glow lit the night. It was the Dreaming Sable!
“Mole Breech!” Bruce roared as he brought the trains Ballista about. The Dreaming Sable rolled, the bolt flew wide of the mark and skittered away into the darkness. With an economy of movement, the talpa swung into the train, shoulder checking the carriage Bruce now rode. Taking the opportunity, Bruce leapt from the train onto the mole itself. His crowbar in hand, he used his forward momentum to smash it down onto the back of the mole.
A roar from the mole broke the night as the train’s crew also scrambled to their posts. Peggy was flung from her hammock and smashed into the bulkhead winding her as Algernon and Rain grabbed crossbow and the abandoned wings respectively. As they climbed up on deck the mole attacked again, this time rolling into the train. Algernon deftly made it to the gunnery deck, his jawbone crossbow ready as Bruce ran with the rolling mole keeping his footing for a second swing at the creature. Rain leapt as the train jolted, rocketing into the night’s sky on brass wings as he watched Bruce now run along the spine of the beat to its head, the glowing eyes leading the way. Bringing the crowbar down between the creature’s glowing orbs, the mole rolled again and threw Bruce from its back, into the darkness of the sands. This time, the roll derailed the carriage dragging the engine with it.
Rain could only watch as he saw first Bruce and then the Captain and helmsman thrown into the night. It was no contest. Bruce needed to get off the exposed sand and back to the mole. With a thought, he tilted forward, and the wings took him out across the sand to where Bruce was already picking himself up.
“Here, take the wings, why you weren’t wearing them I’ll never know,” He complained already unbuckling as he landed. The sand below their feet shifted and rumbled ominously.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” Bruce acknowledged his friend’s gesture but stayed Rain’s hands on the buckles with his own.
“Well, then…” Through the touch, Rain pushed the Strange to Bruce making the big man gasp, “Hit the thing from me!” Energised, Bruce raced across the tracks towards the mole as Rain shot back into the air and out to where the Captain and helmsman had fallen.
Back on the train, Algernon focused the Strange on the Dreaming Sable’s wedge-shaped head. The powers twisted and shifted the mole’s view of the world, distracting it and slowing it down. Bruce caught up and climbed up the hill of a creature aiming for the head. Through the cracks in the upturned carriage walls, Peggy focused her thoughts on the Dreaming Sable. Understanding its weaknesses and feeling its proximity to the prone engine, she too drew the energies of the Strange to her and bided her time, waiting to make her strike.
Now the train had stopped, the mole took advantage of its fallen prey and rose into the air twenty feet before crashing down, breaking the back of the engine. A cracking blue plasma arc snapped out of the carriage and connected the mole to the diesel engine. Suffused with the blue webbing of energised gasses, creature and machine were bound together to the same fate. The plasma found the fuel tanks. A heavy thud, a flash of light, and the whole world shook with the explosion as the engine blew up under the mole’s massive body. The Dreaming Sable shuddered and moaned, its end was nigh as Algernon and Bruce readied their attacks.
Out on the sand, the Captain and helmsman were running for their lives. Drawn by the activity of the Dreaming Sable, humps in the sand glided in from all quarters. Smaller mole rats, though still the size of Alsations grabbed and nipped at their boots. From the air, Rain dove, snatching up the Captain and dragging him to the relative safety of the rails as the helmsman tripped and fell to the razor teeth of a dozen rodents, tearing him apart. Rain screamed into the night as, at the train, Algernon and Bruce delivered their final blows. Algernon’s bolt sank deep into the flesh of the beast now exposed by the explosion as Bruce, now back at the head of the beast delivered a mightly blow into one of the glowing spiral eyes. A crack of bone, the crowbar sunk deep, breaking the creatures’s skull. The Dreaming Sable shuddered, the blue glow from the eyes dulled and disappeared as the creature fell, the mountain of fur and flesh finally defeated.
“I am Mighty Bruce!” Bruce roared, from the head of the beast. The sound of it echoed across the empty desert to where the Captain and Rain stood. A reply rose from the stricken train, as the crew cheered the hero of the moment. The Captain did not cheer, just scowled and started walking back to his fallen train, the horrified Rain on his heels.
The night was long, dirty and anxious as the crew got to work. Under Peggy’s expert eye, half righting what was left of the train and returned it to the tracks. The other half, overseen by Bruce and Algernon butchered the Dreaming Sable before it, and they, were food for lesser mole rats. Peggy dolefully salvaged what she could from the engine, but it was a wreck only good for scrap. The Captain awarded the kill to Bruce, asking Bruce to refrain from referring to himself as the ‘Mighty Bruce’. It didn’t matter, the crew all knew, and once they made landfall, it would be a moment’s work for the legend of the Mighty Bruce to spread.
As dawn rose over the Railsea, a few of the group spotted a very familiar red rag flapping in the morning breeze.
“Hey, that’s my flag, we’re near the old theatre,” Rain said, and Peggy’s demeanour improved considerably.
“Molly!” She cried and scrambled out of the wreckage that had once been the Gliding Vulpine
“Molly?” Rain asked, sure they’d seen no one in the lost theatre but a couple of giants rats and spiders.
“The engine. I called her Molly.” Peggy replied self-consciously. She looked over the desert to the flapping red rag, “I wonder if we wrap a good heavy chain around the drive wheel if we couldn’t pull her out onto the rails…”
To be continued…