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39. The fear of the gods

The planning complete, materials hastily collected, the group and volunteers were on their way to the ambush point.  As The Molly and the old diesel travel away from Omoko, preparations wre being made.


“Hold still.  The train is rocking enough without you adding to the wonkiness of these lines,” Rain complained, pulling Bruce’s head roughly to the front.  Bruce said nothing and continued to sit patiently as Rain first painted his face and neck in Silver Frost paint.  Following Bruce’s angular features, he created the illusion of metal plates outlined and riveted in charcoal. Lastly, he adding smears and drops of red paint like blood from Bruce’s eyes and mouth.  The whole look on Bruce was of a murderous robot, and with everything else they were planning, Rain hoped it would help tip the balance in their favour.

But right now, he had other things on his mind.

“You gave your dad a pretty hard time when we arrived,” Rain said conversationally.


“You didn’t think how that would make us look?”

“You weren’t in the conversation,” 

“My point exactly, it was a private conversation, and you aired it in public.” 

 When Bruce didn’t respond, Rain put down the paintbrush and looked Bruce in the eye, for once on the same physical level.

“He’s the hero of the town, their saviour.  To them, he can do nothing wrong.  And then you show up, an unknown quantity, a possible enemy even, and abuse the hell out of him. Who do you think that looks poorly on?  Him?”

“We shook hands,” Bruce replied, nonplussed.

“Look, I can only do my job when we’re at least neutrally accepted.  Unknown is fine, though I was hoping that the rumours of you and the Dreaming Sable would have preceded us.  But to make us look bad out of spite…”

“Hey, doesn’t it look better if from a tense moment we came together in the end?”

“Don’t go all Shakespearian on me,” Grumbled Rain, picking up his brush and continuing to working on Bruce’s face.  It was obvious he wasn’t convinced, and moments of silence hung heavy between them.

“Ish-Ma-El is going to make an excellent Avenging Angel,” Rain started again, conversationally in tone.

“Wouldn’t have them come into combat with me if they weren’t good.” Added Bruce, pleased at how the scruffy salver they’d found in the old theatre had turned out to be a first-rate fighter, planner and Captain.

“Yeah, really great.” Rain agreed with a bitter edge.  


 “I can’t do that, right?”

“Because you don’t want to,” Bruce replied, and before Rain retorted that Bruce was just making it his fault, he added, “And we like that about you.”

Rain’s self-righteous posturing deflated—all pretence of painting forgotten.

“Really?” He asked doubtfully.

“Yes, really.”

“Then why am I being pushed out?”

Bruce shook his head, unsure he’d heard correctly, “What?”

“At the planning meeting.  It was all you were going to do and then the assumption I wouldn’t be in the fight.”

“You’ve never wanted to fight.”

“No, but when we’ve needed to, have I ever sat on the side-lines?”

“No, but who said you would?”

“You have your new fighting buddy, “ Rain sighed, “It just felt like it.”

Bruce scowled, making his murder robot makeup look even more menacing.  Rain was many things Bruce appreciated, but his emotional outbursts and neediness were not some of them. 

“Do my makeup!” Bruce said, and in silence, Rain complied.

“Your talents are needed and irreplaceable,” Bruce said a few minutes later as he examined Rain’s work in one of two large circular concave mirrors Rain had insisted they bring, “I look like a harbinger of death!”

“You worry me,” Rain replied as he packed up the paints and brushes, “The theatrics, the larger than life Bruce is fine, I can use that…but you give the impression you can do all on your own.”

“No, he can’t do it on his own,” Ish-Ma-El walked in, already painted from head to foot in silver paint, charcoal outlining their eyes and shadowing their features.  The wings, also painted silver, were already strapped to their back with Peggy’s homemade fountain fireworks bound to their leading edges. The twin hilts of Ish-Ma-El’s swords stuck out up above their head.  Even casually walking around the train, Ish-Ma-El looked every inch the terrifying avenging avatar of railway gods they portrayed.

Rain, whose back was to the door when they entered, stiffened, then turned to smile at Ish-ma-el.

“Thank you, my angel, of death,” He turned back to Bruce, who was strapping his armour back in place, “I’m just worried that you may…do a Halloween.”

The cryptic phrasing baffled Ish-Ma-El, but Bruce paused in his dressing.

“I’m worried that your ego will drive so far ahead of us that we won’t be there to help.”

Without looking up or making eye contact with Rain, Bruce shrugged on his coat and walked out the carriage door Ish-Ma-El had just come in.

“Well, he can’t.  Not without me!” Ish-Ma-El smile back maliciously.  Ish-Ma-El was looking forward to murdering the Ironside Roar crew for what they did to their train.  With their natural confidence, Ish-Ma-El exuded an air of righteous malevolence. 

Rain went back to cleaning up the brushes in turpentine and stowing the paints,

“I wanted to ask, what are we doing with the Ironside Roar when this is all over?” Ish-Ma-El asked, changing the subject.

“Nothing.  It can be blown up or given to the resistance.  We certainly have no use for it,” Rain replied, thinking that Railsea was interesting to visit, but it was a little too small to live there.

“Fair enough,” Ish-Ma-El replied, deep in their own thoughts.

“Ish,  as a citizen of this world, I stand behind you in determining what happens to the train and the weapon.  Whatever you and the leaders of Omoko decide,”  Rain suddenly said, seemingly out of the blue.

“I…appreciate that,” They acknowledged and inclined their head back the way Bruce had gone, “What does Bruce think of that?”

Rain went back to cleaning up, now only an exercise in keeping his hands busy, “Ah, you’d have to ask him.”

Busy with the last minute preparations, it wasn’t long before the old diesel from the Omoko and The Molly were at the pinch point and unloading equipment and personnel.  Most of the crews of the Molly and the Almighty Bruce were there, setting up more of Peggy’s detonators (these a little less explosive than the first batch) moving the old diesel and carriages on the tracks as planned. When completed they took to the mesa around the ambush point with the catapult, piles of rocks and concave mirrors.

The switch’s lever was removed, and wedges inserted to force the Ironside Roar from one track to the other.  Once in the trap the Ironside Roar would need to slow down or ram into the back of the old diesel.  As soon as the Ferro-navy were in range, both Ish-Ma-El and Bruce (with Algernon’s help for the later)would swoop down from the mesa and attack.  Rain would come up behind supporting the fighters. Peggy and Algernon would deal with the weapon and disconnect it from the rest of the train.

Bruce derailed the lone carriage with the help of his formidable strength.  The old diesel’s brakes were firmly on.  The ambush was set.

At least that was the plan.

Hiding around the old diesel with Rain and Algernon, Peggy asked the Strange what the Ironside Roar had prepared for them.  Instead of the usual reply made in her own voice, she saw an image of two trains, the larger Ironside Roar and a smaller steam train. Ish-Ma-El’s old engine and remaining carriages.  

“Oh!  They have two trains now,” She told Rain and Algernon, who thought a moment.  It could mean more marines.  But, forced into a single file at the pinch point, the trains could only attack one at a time.  Going around was not an option.

“There’s smoke.  I think the Ironside Roar is here,” Algernon pointed out the tell-tale black oily cloud of diesel smoke floating above the mesa.  He unslung his crossbow and notched a bolt.  Peggy hefted the grappling hook and rope she’d acquired, and Rain checked his pockets for the remainder of Peggy’s fireworks and gently blew on the burning end of a cord in his hand.

On the mesa itself, Bruce and Ish-Ma-El were ready.  From their vantage, they’d seen the Ironside Roar and the smaller steam train coming.  As Bruce turned to tell the others on the ground, a cylindrical silver something floating through the sky caught his attention.  The thing had wings of sorts, but unlike a bird, the stubby wing-like appendages did not flap.  As it moved closer, it was clear the item was made of metal, cigar-shaped and smooth, but unlike an aircraft or missile, the thing moved standing on end, a thin metal slit in the sky.  As Bruce and Ish-Ma-El watched, it descended to the damaged rail switch in the middle of the ambush.

“That’s an Angel…an actual Angel!” Rain cried out as the cigar-shape craft slowed to land near the jammed switch. Spindly metal limbs extended and the Angel settled balancing on one end as other limbs extended to work.  No one saw Peggy run down the length of the carriage behind the old diesel until the grappling hook flew through the air, catching hold of the Angel around its cylindrical body.

“Wha…!” From on top of the coupling between the old diesel and the carriage, Algernon could barely believe what he was seeing as Peggy was pulled out onto the open sand as the Angel fought its bindings.  She quickly wrapped the end of the rope around a railing on the carriage and pulled.  The rope tightened even further around the Angel, it stopped fighting the restraint.  Now its attention was torn away from the repair job to the rope binding its limbs.

“Peggy!  What the hell!” Shrieked Rain, his eyes flicking between the Angel, the oncoming cloud of diesel smoke and Peggy, eyes-wide and gleeful.

“I want…I want to learn about it!” She replied manically, her whole focus on the machine that now withdrew its repair tools and extended a sharp blade.

“In the middle of an ambush!  It’s an Angel! Railsea myths are full of how they run down and destroy the wicked!”

Seeing the Angel cutting itself free , Peggy quickly tied off the rope and ran across the tracks towards the machine.

“Peggy!”  Both boys screamed as the Ironside Roar turned the corner into the ambush, heading straight for the switch.

Shaking his head at Peggy’s lunacy, Rain turns to the crews on the mesa. “Light it up!” He yelled, pointing to the Angel on the tracks.  To himself, he mumbles, “Maybe something can be salvaged out of this,” As he broke cover and ran after Peggy .

Bruce and Ish-Ma-El were waiting their moment to leap as the Ironside Roar turned the corner .  Seeing the old diesel and the Angel on the tracks, the Ironside Roar instead squealed, applying its brakes.  Behind them, a small steam engine also started braking.  The crews on the mesa maneuvered the large mirrors they brought from the mines of Omoko.  Usually used to move sunlight down into the mines as free safe light, the reflections moved across the sand like giant spotlights to find the Angel.  It glowed and sparkled like its namesake in the shadows of the ravine.

Seeing Peggy dash across the ambush, Bruce called down to the old diesel, “Algernon, can you lift her out of there?”

Peggy, a look of sheer joy on her face, dashed up to the Angel just as it broke free its ropes.  

“You are so beautiful…” She said, stretching out a hand to the machine as its cutting blade pulled back and plunged into her shoulder. Blind to everything, including the pain, she mentally grabbed hold of the physical link to create a mental one.  

Awe! She projected, soothing the Angel, Excitement!  Curiosity!

Something like a mind stated its imperatives, FIX RAIL. ALARM!  CALLING ASSISTANCE!

Allowance for repair.  Danger Ahead! She answered physically and mentally, pointing out the Ironside Roar screeching to a halt only metres away. The Angel seemed to accept her response, and the alarm ceased.  Peggy cooed and smiled as you would to a baby, embracing it while still impaled on its blade.

The Ironside Roar was finally in jumping distance.  Bruce went to go first when Ish-Ma-El put out an arm to stop him.

“You may be the harbinger, but I’m the freaking Angel of Death!” They said, lighting the two fireworks attached to their wings and leaping off.  Wings fully extended, silver paint glowing warmly in the late afternoon light, a shower of golden sparks cascading from the end of each wing, Ish-Ma-El descended on the officers of the Ironside Roar.  Caught in a knot on the command deck, the group of officers could do nothing but watch as the Angel hovered overhead and pronounced its judgement.

“Foolish mortals!  Your time is up!  For services rendered, I have come for payment with your souls!” The figure reached up and extracted two wicked blades from behind its back and flourished them, ready for the kill.

Stunned at Peggy’s insanity, Algernon had not moved from his spot on the old diesel.  Bruce’s call snapped him back to the present.

“Which she?” He said to himself, knowing full well there was only one ‘she’ that needed saving at that moment.  He focused his levitate on the real Angel and pushed it back into the Ironside Roar.  The blade in Peggy’s shoulder wrenched free as the Angel was thrown backwards by an invisible force.  Crying in pain and loss, Peggy screamed, “Don’t hurt it!  We’re communicating!” The Angel’s polished metal skin hit the heavy metal body of the Ironside Roar.  The engine buckled in,  but no real damage marked the Angel. With a whimper of concern, Peggy ran to its side once more.

Running along the tracks, Rain pulled out a number of the fireworks and lit them.  Using the canyon’s natural acoustics, he projected in his street performer’s voice to the Ironside Roar crew.

“See the… Angels of Vengence here to collect the souls of those who murdered the crew of the G.V.!  They will take you all to Beeching’s firebox where your souls will stoke his engine forever!

“Repent now, and the Angel may yet spare your lives!  Those forced into this life of pillage and murder, kneel and confess, and the Angel will pass over you!”

Coming after the crash with the Angel, his voice echoing off the ravine walls, gained every crew member’s attention.  Many looked up to see the Avenging Angel swoop down on their officers.  Others saw another figure leap down from the mesa and roar in their direction.

The Angel extracted itself from the damaged engine as Peggy rushed up to soothe the machine.

This is danger! She relayed to the Angel.  As the engine had just crashed into it, the Angel was inclined to agree.  Turning to face the Ironside Roar, the Angel clamped its legs to the sleepers and lifted the train’s front end.  Having come to a complete stop, the engineers were busy trying to put the Ironside Roar in reverse only to find their drive wheels spinning in mid-air. 

With a childish giggle, Peggy started asking questions of the Angel, how it was able to lift such weight and its nature as a mechanical being.

Bruce pulled out his crowbar, “I’m coming, kid!” He yelled down to Algernon before stepping back and running off the mesa.  Algernon caught Bruce part-way through his fall, bounced him off the carriage of the old diesel and sailed him across the sands in a backflip to land squarely in front of the officers, astonished by the angel.

“Fear the Champion of the Angels, the harbinger of death.  Surrender and live!”  Rain preached to the well converted.  He glanced at Peggy as he ran past as she stared lovingly up at the mechanical monster holding up the front end of the engine.  With a shiver he put her out of his mind and started climbing up the Ironside Roar after the fighters.  As he reached the top, he saw Bruce swing his crowbar up. 

“If you hold fast to the Ferro-Navy, Die!” Bruce roared in his  best preacher’s southern accent, bringing the crowbar in a jarring attack that sent the Captain to his knees, “If you were conscripted, made a slave to this foul life, flee and live today!”

The officers fled, leaving their crumpled and wounded Captain behind. The Captain was terrified. He tried scrambling away on all fours, but it was the Angel of Vengence’s turn, and with a precision snicker of twin blades, his head flipped up into the air and over the side.  His body soon followed to be lost to the sand.

Behind Rain, the engineers saw their Captain’s demise and leapt from the cab onto the sand.  Better the molerats and other monsters of the sandy depths than these terrible creatures from faith and myth.  Rain quickly changed direction and climbed down into the cab and shut it down.  The Ironside Roar was theirs!

“Peggy, we’ve got the engine!” 

Power down, less threat,  Peggy praised and soothed the Angel.  Her direct link and clear instructions accepted, the Angel dropped the train back onto its wheels. 

Algernon flew past the spectacle that was the Ironside Roar. The crew were fleeing the train from all carriages, many running for the reversing steam train, the G.V. that had once been Ish-Ma-El’s home.  Others just ran blinding into the sands, ocassionally being snapped up by opportunist predators drawn by the commotion.  He sailed smoothly above the chaos to the coupler behind the first carriage, the one carrying the weapon.  Now, seeing a real-life Angel of the Railsea hold up the engine, he recognised the resemblance to the salvage Ish-Ma-El’s crew had been unlucky enough to find.  This, however, was a weapon of war; something meant to destroy, not repair.  Well, so was he.  Touching the coupler, he forced the Strange between its molecules, and the solid cast metal coupler disintegrated into dust under his fingers.  

A movement in the sky caught his attention.  Two more of the Angels floated above the battle. Disinterested in the quarrels between the flesh-creatures they’d been drawn to the cries of alarm from their friend.  Algernon acknowledged the sentiment. With his job now done, he flew back along the train to where Rain was fussing with the controls.

“The weapon is free. We’re ready to move forward,” He said and headed to the cab of the old diesel.  His job done, he looked back at the Ironside Roar, Peggy now climbing up the Angel, Rain restarting the diesel, Bruce clubbing another defender off the train, and even Ish-Ma-El swooping up and diving on their next prey.  They were fine.  He faced the controls of the old diesel and started it up.

“Stand and face your death, you creatures of the Ferro-Navy, or flee and save your lives!”  Bruce continued his speech as officers and railmen alike fled before him.  Bruce found this a little frustrating.  He’d turned on an armour cypher specifically for the purpose of ploughing through and getting face to face with some Ferro-Navy scrubs.  Revelling in the power of the moment, but with no apparent outlet for his energy, he clambered over the engine and jumped down onto the next carriage where the weapon lay.  

Up close, it looked like a big, thin tin can, nothing as terrifying as the Avenging Angel beside him.  He thought it was something like the two hovering over their heads at that moment. It was something that no one should have.  He swung his crowbar back and forward as he walked the length of the carriage, intent on at least doing some damage to the thing.  But, when he reached the end without touching it, he found more resistance in the form of a big muscled Ferro-Navy man wielding a sword.  Without a second thought for the weapon, a manic grin plastered on his metal-painted face. He lunged for the defender.  The crowbar found the man’s head, and he fell from the train and into the sand.  The moment gone, Bruce continued his climb through the train looking for more opposition.

Ish-Ma-El was also looking for prey.  Most fled before them, some even killing themselves in their panic.  They rose above the Ironside Roar to get a better view and spotted two daring Ferro-Navy crew preparing the ballista.  

“Spare the innocent, Oh Angel!  Strike the wicked!” They heard Rain from behind and felt the tingle of the Strange.  Sliding their blades carefully back in place, Ish-Ma-el pulled out their hand crossbows and shot both.  The bolts hit true but didn’t stop the crew members from firing the ballista in return, straight for the Angel of Vengence.  In a moment’s thought, Ish-Ma-El dropped one of their hand crossbows and caught the shaft of the ballista.  Pirouetting in the air, they sent the bolt flying back.  It bounced off the frame of the ballista and spooked the already terrified railers into running…straight into the crowbar of Bruce.

Permission to climb you?  Respect. Curiosity, Peggy projected to the Angel still at the head of the Ironside Roar.  The Angel gave her the impression that it didn’t know why she would but agreed to her request.  Using its legs as ladder rungs, she clambered onto the body and shimmied up to the top.   There she could see over the engine and into what was left of the battleground.  Ish-Ma-El had just thrown a ballista bolt at a couple of rail crew before she and Bruce descended on them both.  Bruce sent one flying off the carriage in one direction before dropping out of sight. The other’s head and body were both flung back by Ish-Ma-El’s twin blades in two distinct pieces.  She heard Algernon talking to Rain about the weapon being free, and it was time to move.  

Threat nullified!  Good work!  She told the Angel before slipping back down to the rails.  The Angel acknowledged her message and returned to its original purpose, fixing the switch.

Looking for new enemies, Bruce had spotted the two on top of the third carriage, working on the ballista.  Inside the third carriage, he could just see the ladder leading to the roof. Jumping across the gap where the coupler had been, he worked his way through and up the ladder.  As he reached the top, Ish-Ma-El let go of a ballista bolt in his general direction.  The rectangular frame of the ballista caught the bolt before it could reach either of the operators who now took their opportunity to flee…straight into him.  

“The Ferr-navy will no longer be tolerated!” He roared once more, swinging up his crowbar.

In the one-sided struggle that followed, Bruce bashed one off the carriage roof and into the sand while the other had to face Ish-Ma-El and their terrible twin blades.  He left them to it, dropping down to the next carriage still hunting more resistance.  As he did, first a head and then the rest of the body fell on top of him, nearly sending him over the edge into the sand.  

It was the last enemy any of the group were to face. The battle was over and with it the beginning of the end of the Ferro-Navy’s stranglehold on Railsea. With a signal from Algernon, the crews left their posts on the mesa and made their way to the three trains, the hidden Molly, the old diesel and the newly acquired Ironside Roar.  Peggy stayed by the Angel’s side, asking it questions about its design (for which it had no information) to maps of Railsea (supplied as an image in Peggy’s mind) and where it went for repairs (Upsky, the poisonous altitudes above Railsea).  Once the switch was cleared, it left behind the two other cylinders that had watched from above the whole fight.

Later, no could say what had really happened.  Early in the trip back, one of the crew replaced Algernon in the drivers’ cab of the old diesel.  It is supposed he flew back to the Ironside Roar as twilight fell as he was seen later with the group astounded at what had happened.  What is not in dispute is the large chunk of a mesa that went missing in a flash of yellow light.  There was no explosion, no flying rubble or scorched remains.  A plateau that had weathered the winds and sands of Railsea for countless centuries lost a third of its mass in seconds.  Later, people would say that before the gods’ light stuck, a voice was heard calling an unusual cry.


A great victory had been won, and the gods proved to be on the side of the rebels.  Omoko settlement celebrated and lauded the victors, the strangers from the yellow train, the son of Captain Johnson,  the Avenging Angel and their peerless crew.  What was not clear to all,  was that there had been a cultural and political shift in Railsea that would have effects for years to come.  The Angels were on the free-traders’ side, and they had left their weapon to protect the faithful.  

 The signal flags had told the community of the victory as it happened, so when the trains arrived in town, the party was already in full swing. Bruce wound his way through the crowds of miners, railers and civilians, all celebrating their freedom from the Ferro-Navy.    Celebrating, Bruce would do later, but at that moment, he wanted to speak to his father.  He found him talking with his crew from the Almighty Bruce and quietly pulled him aside.  

“You need to know what happened,” Bruce said as Jimmy led both of them to a side room out of the noise and bustle of the celebrations.  He gave a detailed debrief on how the ambush had gone, the Angel’s role in the fight and what it meant to Railsea as a whole.

“Now that you have your freedom, the protection of the gods no less, I want to talk to you about the weapon,” Bruce said, and his father sat back, ready to listen.

“I’m not comfortable giving you this weapon.  It’s a gamechanger. You know that, don’t you?”

“Yes, ” Jimmy acknowledged, not giving anything away.

“Do you have the guts to destroy it?”

Jimmy narrowed his eyes and sipped on a drink someone had handed him earlier, “Are you kidding? I didn’t fight the Ferro-Navy for my amusement.  That thing will keep us safe long after you and your troop of miracle workers are gone.”

“Look, you scored a big win here today.  If you follow this up, get out there and start rallying more trains to the cause, you won’t need this thing of destruction.”

“You said they were planning a big push before you arrived. Your group worked in thwarting those plans, and for that, I am thankful, but who says the Ferro-navy won’t try again?  We can never be sure.”

Bruce leaned over his folded hands.  It would be so easy to beat this man into submission.  Only two things stop Bruce; this was his father, and that when he left Railsea, he wanted the job done.  Jimmy had to believe it was the best way if it was ever to happen.   Bruce took a deep breath and tried again.

“And when the balance shifts and the Ferro-Navy are no longer a threat?”

Jimmy sat back and looked up at the ceiling.  His eyes flicked as his mind moved from scenario to scenario.  Eventually, they came back to settle on Bruce’s. The same eyes as his.

“We will destroy it,” Jimmy replied simply.

Bruce held his father’s gaze daring the man to renege, but Jimmy returned his gaze steady and sure. Bruce had to admit that this was not the same man who had left his mother alone twenty years ago.

Bruce broke the contact first, looking out a nearby window and to the view of the Railsea to the horizon.

“Pa.  Ma’s never stopped loving you,” He said without returning his gaze to the man sitting opposite.

He heard his father’s intake of breath, the sudden reminder of what he’d left behind.

“A fine woman,” He replied, and his voice held a tension, as if holding something back, “I never planned to leave her. I just never knew how to get back.  I guess I can go home.”

“Oh, she’ll slap you in the face,” Bruce qualified as they both envisioned the strong, loving woman who had held her family together and both smiled, “But, then welcome you back with open arms.”

Jimmy nodded, and they sat in silence a moment, thinking over what everyday life would look like after Railsea.

“You know Pa, you’ve manned-up. I think you’re the man she always saw in you,” Bruce said, and Jimmy’s eye’s narrowed again at the backhanded compliment.

“I mean it.  You were in a pickle, but you didn’t just weasel your way out of it and leave someone else to fix things.  You stepped up, led people and kept them safe.  Can you leave it behind?”

“I can find a replacement.  I didn’t do this alone,” Jimmy replied, and the phrase so like Rain’s rebuke from that afternoon made Bruce think for a moment.

“Find people you can trust.” 

Down at the docks, the rest of the group gathered around the weapon.  As Rain fielded questions from the joyous crowds, Peggy was hip-deep inside the cylinder as Algernon looked on anxiously.

“It’s no good. I can’t see the reactor for all the propulsion system in the way.  I’ll have to dismantle it if I’m to have any hope of understanding how this thing is powered.”  Peggy climbed out from under the cylinder and pushed her curls away from her face. 

“Rain, don’t let Peggy pull apart the Pew-Pew,” Algenon called to Rain. Seeing his friend distress, Rain left the crowds to find out what was going on.

“I don’t think you realise how important this is to science… life as we know it.  If I can only understand how the reactor works, I may find that elusive power supply that has been holding back Hertzfeld. It could be a small fusion reaction. Imagine that!  All the power a city would need in a package the size of a suitcase!” Peggy exclaimed, patting the metal skin of the broken Angel.

“Yes, but when you talk about it to Bruce, you may want to refer to the dangerous reactor you don’t understand as a battery,”  Algernon suggested innocently as usual, and Rain smiled.

“Yes, you know Bruce, any thought that it could be dangerous, and he’ll throw that reactor into an antlion pit out in the wastes,” 

“Ohh, so wasteful!” She complained and sulked off find a quiet spot to contemplate humanities loss.

“Now, now, picking on the Angel Speaker,” Ish-Ma-El, still wearing most of the Silver Frost paint, but now back in their regular Captain’s coat and hat, “We should make her a priestess of a new religious sect, not pick on her for her love of their innards.”

Rain let them in on Peggy’s plans as  Algernon went off and found a small pot of paint and brush from inside the Molly. By the time he’d told the story, Algernon had finished writing PEW-PEW on one side of the weapon, and Bruce had just strolled up. 

“Surely, we’re all men and women of science. Can’t we all share in Peggy’s excitement over her discovery?” Ish-Ma-El said and with an impish grin, added, “Besides, what’s a fusion reactor?”

“What…?” Bruce said.

Rain left the others trying to talk themselves out of the hole Ish-Ma-El had purposely drop them in.   As Peggy complained about the whole lot of them being Philistines, a man Rain had been waiting to talk to was waving him over into the crowd.

“Sul-E-Mun, I presume?  So good of you to drop by tonight,” Rain welcomed the man and drew him to one side. 

“They say you want a stone carved, though as far as I know, you and people won the day without loss,” Said the middle-aged miner looking confused.

“Yes, a good day all round.  This is a memorial. There will be no body.  Is that a problem?”

“No, not at all.  I’d dare say that if you wanted to fill a grave with that broken Angel of yours, no one’s likely to say no,” He glanced over Rain’s head back at the weapon.  Peggy had spotted Algernon’s graffiti and added a touch of her own.  It now read:


“I doubt that, sir, “ Rain laughed gently at the man’s joke and pulled out a scrap of paper.  Suddenly his expression was serious, and he was surprised to see his hands shake as he handed the instructions across.

“It…it should read as follows, just as written if you don’t mind. I know it doesn’t follow the usual format for names, but this person lived a long way from here, and they’re customs were not the same as your own.”

“Nevermind that. I put on what the family wants and just what the family wants…er they were family, weren’t they?”

Rain paused for a moment, “We were very close once,” He said and smiled weakly at the man, “when can you expect to have it ready?”

“Oh, a few days.  The mines on holidays on account of your victory.”

“We will be in town for at least that long. Please let me know as soon as it’s ready.”

The man tipped his cap and rejoined the crowds of happy villagers, miners and railers.

The next few days were full for the group.  Besides chatting or avoiding well-wishers, each seemed busy with their own tasks.  Ish-Ma-El was getting ready to leave with their crew on the Molly.  They would have left for the open sands sooner, but a promise to Rain held them in port at least a few more days.  Their crew certainly appreciated it, and several had already come to their Captain with reasonable offers from the miners to ship ore to friendly cities.  The wings had yet to be returned to the group, and Bruce took the opportunity one morning over chicory to bring up the subject.

“While I remember… the wings, hand them back,” He said to Ish-Ma-El, who bridled at his rough tone.

“Why should I?  In fact, no!” They retorted, leaning across the table to push their face into his.

“Ah, Ish, I’d appreciate it if we could have the wings back,” Rain asked quietly from beside them, and they sat heavily back in their seat, “  I know it’s a wrench, but we’ll to need them.”

“Oh, okay,” Ish replied sweetly with a smile and drank their drink.

“I will miss you Ish, how can we get in contact if we ever need you?” 

“A red smoke signal over Omoko, I intended to stay local for the time being,” They said.

“Remember, you are not just a clever Railsea Captain and brilliant salver,” Rain leaned in close, “You are a  citizen of the multiverse, and you’re future doesn’t have to be in this desert world.”

“Railing between the stars?” Ish-Ma-El said, the hint of their old cynicism showing, “You talk in dreams, Rain.”

“Well, I, for one, would like to say it’s been a privilege, “Bruce put one of his meaty hands-on Ish-Ma-El’s thin shoulders.

“Don’t touch me!” Ish-Ma-El rounded on Bruce, who was now standing and had the advantage of height and leverage.  Out of spite, Bruce placed the other hand on the remaining shoulder and Ish-Ma-El visibly shrunk away from the touch.  Their eyes went distant as Ish-Ma-El’s mind drifted away from the moment to read Bruce’s.

Don’t make this uncomfortable for both of us. He thought back, and Ish-Ma-El quickly released the link.

“Say, how come I don’t get the wings?” Peggy asked, breaking the tension building between the two scrappers.

“You’d only pull them apart,” Algernon replied, quickly adding another tablespoon of sugar to his already sweetened chicory, “It’s why we can’t have nice things.”

Algernon also has his own ideas about the weapon and its uses.  He sought out Jimmy as their one contact who knew about the mines and Le Pew-Pew’s capabilities.

“Sir, I was wondering if you thought about the weapon as a tool to aid in mining.  In the right circumstances, it could be very beneficial at removing unwanted tailings in a single flash.  If you like me to set up a demonstration…”

“Oh, I want in on that,” Said Peggy interrupting the spiel Algernon had rehearsed, “A Pew-Pew fo science!”

Dusk, their third day in town, Rain gathered the group together and led them out to the small graveyard beside the mine.  There, a white stone neatly engraved and embossed with the Silver Frost paint read:

Amir Ademovich

??? – 11 July 1995

One of the 8,372.

From Allah, you came, and to Allah, you return.

Ish-Ma-El went to ask about the dates on the stone but was quickly hushed by the other. 

Rain had no flowers to place on the grave.  He’d spent the last few days asking everyone in town for white flowers with green centres.  He even asked outgoing trains to keep a lookout. The best the town could do was a stem of plastic daisies, faded and worn.  He’d thanked the villager, offered to pay them for the stem and hid it as soon as possible. 

He now reached up to his neck and broke the leather thong that held the transparent piece of resin containing a small embroidered daisy with eleven petals.  He looked at it for a moment before bending down to bury the piece of resin in the turned earth.   A wave of vertigo hit, and he let himself sink to the ground on one knee.

Hands shaking, he combed his fingers through his hair, catching on the scar well hidden all these years.  He’d always tried to hide his scars, but it hadn’t done him much good.  Hounded by terrors he couldn’t put words to, he had run his whole life. If there was ever to be peace, the dead needed burying.  Taking a shuddering breath, he spoke his eulogy.

“I never knew you.  It seems odd to say.  You lived, grew, learned and explored your world for seven years, and I never existed.  All we have in common is one moment, one morning in a dirty patch of waste ground outside Srebrenica.  At that moment, you ceased to be, and I began, Tobias Cudo.”

“For many years, I wondered, who you were? What had happened? And who I was?  For many more, I tried to forget, decorated it in the colours of a story I told myself.  That changed the moment I heard your name spoken. 

“Goodbye, Amir Ademovich,  return to Allah and find peace.”

Still from the ground, as he didn’t trust his legs to hold him, he turned back to the others.

“Since coming back to Railsea, I’ve been a little confused. Here I was, Havel, but a simple mistake meant I had to reevaluate a certain practice of mine.   I have been many people in my life. Still more since meeting you and travelling the Strange.  But, hiding behind a name doesn’t make any sense when surrounded by people that know me better than I know myself.”

“So, I’m reclaiming the name, Tobias Cudo.  From now on, that’s who I will be.”

Rain looked to Algernon, who he knew wrote down each name as he adopted a new persona, “No need for your list anymore, “ He smiled wistfully, “Though my friends can always call me Rain.”

Bruce was first to move.  His heavy hand resting on the thin man’s shoulder, making his start.

“Proud to know you, Tobias.”

Tobias nodded and, using Bruce’s hand, got shaking to his feet.

“Now, Ish-Ma-El, let’s try out that hangover cure of yours.” Bruce turned to the Railsea Captain with a grin, “And I know just the place, in Seattle.”

“Seattle for the wake?” Peggy added, wiping her face with the back of her oil and grit stained sleeve, “Thank god, I don’t think I could stand another drop of the local moonshine.”

“Seattle?” Ish-Ma-El asked, “I don’t know where that is, but if there’s booze and a story that explains all this, then I’m in.”

“Good,” Bruce replied as they headed down the hill, “Be prepared to have your mind blown!”

38. Vigilantes

Out on the docks of Manihiki, after a clever sabotage plan was successfully staged and completed, the group gathered at The Molly for their next move.  It seemed obvious to most that the Ironside Roar is out on the rail with a deadly new weapon and needed to be stopped.


“Nice goggles,” Bruce said as he saw Rain and Peggy strolled down the dock to The Molly later that evening, “All the better to see you.”

Rain couldn’t resist a little last-minute shopping and had found a pair of leather and brass-framed goggles with glass lenses.  Eating bugs was an occupational risk of flying the wings, but being able to see while speeding fifty metres above the ground was beneficial to sustaining life. 

“Well actually, they’re all the better for me to see you,” Rain acknowledged the compliment, “I agree they do look dashing.”

Just behind Bruce, Algernon and Ish-Ma-el were having what looked like a staring competition.  At the same time, they blinked, turning away simultaneously to frown in confusion and disappointment.

“Don’t look now, but I think our two savants have mind-swapped again.” Rain pointed out the two as the Captain ( now piloted by Algernon), climbed into the engineer’s cabin beside Peggy and the stoker.

“Don’t look now, but I think the Ferro Navy has come to get Peggy back,” Bruce pointed over Rain’s shoulder. Rain turned to see a group of Manihiki Ferro Navy officers marching towards the dock The Molly now stood.

 “All Aboard!” Bruce yelled, and the crew snapped to, taking up mooring-lines and locking carriages for the trip out.  

“All Aboard!” Captain Ish-Ma-El repeated, unlocking the brake and releasing the steam.  The train started reversing from the dock.

Algernon, (with Ish-Ma-el now in control) stormed towards the cab, “Get out of my body!” He roared leaping to the side of the cab and throwing a clenched fist at The Captain’s face.

“Deckhands takes this disreputable young man down to his quarters and lock him in!” The Captain cooly ordered as a deckhand sprang into action. 

“Let go of me, you idiots!” Algernon glowered, as another two crew stepped into help and started dragging him away.

As they passed Rain, he shrugged apologetically, “I’ll make sure he’s not left alone with it.” He said before leaping into the cabin doorway and holding onto a hand rail.

“Goodbye, gentleman! “ He waved to the navy officers that were already running back up the jetty.  On the navy wharves, wreathed in steam, the two engines stood ready to depart.  Rain turned back to his companion, occupying the Captain’s body, “You know I won’t be leaving your side until you give back that body.” 

From the Naval Dockyards, a bullroarer revved up, roaring out over the whole of lower Manihiki.  Crew and engineers swarmed to the two steam engines, the Red Myrmidon and The Slicing Raider.  Slowly they too reversed out of the dock and along tracks after The Molly.

“I’d be more useful in a battle than in my room!” Algernon yelled as he was pulled down into the train.  The Captain shrugged as if they didn’t think much of the young man’s argument.  As they continued to guide The Molly away from Manihiki however, both Peggy and Rain noticed the Captain’s eyes turn glassy and unfocused.  Their body slumped away from the controls, only to catch themselves before falling into the coal-filled tender.  

“What are you doing just standing around, I need you at the head of the train switching lines!” Ish-Ma-El turned to see where they were and barked at Rain.

“Aye Captain!” He smiled, extended the wings and jumped back into open air.  Grabbing a switching lever as he sped along, he flew off to the last carriage, currently the head of the train. Ish-Ma-El was right, as soon as he reached the last carriage, he could see the line they were on was leading them in a slow arc back to Manihiki.  Flying ahead of the reversing train, he found the next point and shifted the track.  

Peggy, working her magic in the engineers’ cab gleaned a little extra steam out of The Molly, and she shot forward onto the new rail, now heading away from town.  The little engine that had only a week before been nose down in a hole was outrunning the Ferro Navy!

“Smoooooke on the wa-ter…” Bruce sang from the top of the train as he watched the two navy train’s trying to keep pace.  The Red Myrmidon steaming up behind The Molly.  A movement along the boiler drew Bruce’s attention.  Two crew were climbing out to the front of the engine with a rope and grappling hook.  Loosening his crowbar in its scabbard, he too started climbing down from the carriage, across the tender to the engine.  Once at the front he held onto the boilerplate with one hand, withdrawing his crowbar with the other.  Looking past the two crew preparing themselves with the grapple, Bruce could just see the engineers in the cab behind frantically stoking the fire.   

“…fire in the sky!” He sang out again, gleefully anticipating the moment of destruction.

The Red Myrmidon crew swung the grappling hook back and forward, until the two engines were within range.  The hook flew across the intervening gap.   Bruce’s crowbar met the hook midair batting it away to fall uselessly into the sand.

“Ha-ha!” He laughed, allowing his reckless side, full expression.  He watched, holding onto The Molly’s rolling wild-eyed face as the Red Myrmidon sped closer and closer.  A flash of fire in the engineer’s cabin and the Myrmidon jutted on the tracks.  Then fire licked along under the engine, sparks and smoke sprayed out of the pistons instead of steam and the whole train shivered. 


The Red Myrmidon leapt from the tracks as steam and fire forced their way through weakened firebox and boiler.  The engine derailed, pulling the rest of the train around with it out into the deadly sands.

“Yeah!” Bruce screamed in triumph as the first of their pursers was left in their steam.  His job done, Bruce started climbing back, keeping his eye on the second engine, The Slicing Raider, coming up on their starboard.

Rain was flying out to switches and back to The Molly on the other end of the train, tacking in a north-easterly direction away from Manihiki.  He looked up scanning the track ahead for the next point when the sound of a foghorn bellowed out of the empty desert like a challenging monster bull. And monster it was, shimmering on the horizon and coming fast was a large diesel engine.  On a flatbed directly after the engine, a shining metal cigar-shaped something was strapped down at an angle, propped up on crates and the boards of carriage siding.

“Ironside Roar!” Rain yelled to a crewmember further down the train for passing back, “Six miles off the port bow!”

The message echoed down The Molly to the Captain.  Ish-Ma-El climbed nimbly up out of the cabin and onto the observation deck.  There, they and Bruce clearly made out the Ironside Roar and its new upgrade.  Ish-Ma-El seethed, pulling out their hand crossbow to fire on the train obviously well out of range.  Bruce pointed out the Slicing Raider coming up alongside, drawing the Captain’s attention back to the more immediate threat.

“What would happen if we shot their switcher?” He said, pointing out the specific crew member on the Slicing Raider.

Ish-Ma-El didn’t reply but sprinted for the ballista sitting empty and turned it around to face the Raider.

“Hard to port!” They cried, and Rain at the bow responded flying out to find the next switch to take them in that direction.  The Molly reversed into port, cutting ahead of the Slicing Raider and bringing the ballista within range.  Ish-Ma-El fired the massive bolt, the recoil rocking the carriage.  The more acute angle brought the target closer, but narrowed the field of fire, and the bolt skittered into the sand missing its mark.

Following a crewmember on the Slicing Raider with another grappling hook, Bruce positioned himself once more to knocked aside the projectile as it was flung across the dividing sand.  Now safe from being grappled for the moment, he pulled out his crossbow and fired on the switcher leaning out from the engineers’ cab.  His shot hit, taking the fast young crew member by surprise.  They fell from the train onto the sand and were soon left behind.

Inside his cabin, Algernon was getting fed up with being left out of the action.  One moment he’d been in control of The Molly, a moment of grey later and he’d found himself pacing the floor of the too tiny space.  Turning on his force shield, Algernon quickly bypassed the lock on the door and joined the others upstairs.  As his head breached the top of the carriage, he saw the Slicing Raider beside them shudder.  Sparks flew from under the engine, from the chimney and out the pistons.  It lept forward on the track, a last sudden burst of speed before…


The boiler finally exploded, sending the engine and the first carriage flying into the air.  With a sigh of satisfaction for a job well done, Algernon climbed the rest of the way onto the carriage. Behind them and gaining quick, he spied the Ironside Roar and it’s deadly cargo.

“Bruce, take this and shoot the engine!” Captain Ish-Ma-El ordered, and Bruce took their place on the ballista.

“I could have done that,” Algernon said as Ish-Ma-El stepped back to take in the new threat.

“You?  You’re nothing but trouble,” They complained, frustrated that their tormentor was back.

“Can I shoot the train then?” 

“Yes!” Ish-Ma-El agreed and Algernon pulled out his heavy crossbow.

Aiming down its length, Algernon lined up his shot.  Even at the distance, on the top of a rocking train, the bolt flew straight and hit a crew member operating the device.  As they fell from the train, two others took their place and the metal contraption stolen from Ish-Ma-El’s train was powered up.

“We need to take out that weapon, could Rain drop me on the Ironside?” Bruce asked joining the others on top

“I think that’s pretty reckless,” Said Algernon readying for another shot, “Can we spread detritus on the tracks?”

“Explosive detritus?” Bruce added before all three called out at the same time,


Leaving her job keeping The Molly steaming ahead to the other engineers, Peggy quickly pulled together an assortment of items leftover from the sabotage plan to create railway detonators.  Usually, coin-sized and meant to alert drivers and rail maintenance workers of each other, Peggy’s pressure-sensitive explosives were enough to take a wheel off a moving train.  At least that was the hope.  Once made, they were passed forward to Rain with instructions to lay them on all tracks following The Molly.  With the amount of crisscrossing tracks, the task would have been impossible for a crew-member on foot.  Flying from one track to another, Rain quickly placed the explosives and flew back to his position now at the train’s end.

Rain watched as the Ironside Roar slowed in anticipation. Sparks flew from the rails into the early morning light.  But no matter how they tried, the massive diesel engine couldn’t stop fast enough and eventually rolled inexorably onto a detonator.  Not as impressive as a Ferro-navy steam trains self-destruction, the flash did light the desert and bring the Ironside Roar to a screeching halt.  Soon the Ironside Roar was left behind in the gloom of the early morning, and The Molly continued her journey into the Railsea.

It was late morning by the time The Molly and her crew found themselves tacking through narrow canyons between steep-sided mesas.  The sand of the Railsea here was a distinctive rusted orange colour and coated everything that passed through it.

At a narrow passage between two monoliths of rock, Bruce, Algernon and Peggy all spotted people aiming a giant catapult in The Molly’s direction.  Algernon ran across the top of the train to get into position.  With a distant twang, the catapult’s payload was released, sailing over the distance from the mesa to The Molly. Once it was within range of his levitate Algernon pushed it aside, deflecting the boulder side projectile.  It bounced once off the mesa’s side before exploding, sending broken pieces of metal and rock raining down onto the sand.

“Get a white sheet or cloth!” Ordered the Captain and crew scrambled, looking for something to use as a flag. 

“What are we afraid of?” Rain asked until someone pointed out the people now working on the catapult again, “Is that all?” And launched himself into the air and over to the mesa.  In the meantime, both The Molly and the defenders found white flags.  When  Rain finally landed it was to a group of nervously curious individuals instead of aggressors.

“Greetings, from Captain Ish-Ma-El of The Molly to the Commander and people of Okamo, and the Captain of the Almighty Bruce,” He announced, as if in a royal court and courtiers rather than on a dusty mesa to a bunch of miners.

“What of the Almighty Bruce?” One defender, unsure what to make of this messenger tried playing dumb.

“Captain Ish-Ma-El wishes to align themselves with their fight,” Rain teased back.  Two could play this game.

“Against who?”

“The Ferro Navy, of course.  We only escaped three of their engines this very morning.  The Red Myrmidon, Slicing Raider, and the Ironside Roar.  Of the later we have vital information our Captain wishes to impart.”

“A message has already been sent of your arrival.  Tell your Captain that they will be given safe passage to Okamo.” The speaker pointed to a signal mast already being strung with a string of colourful flags.

True to their word, The Molly passed several more catapult emplacements.  No more shots were fired and within an hour they were in sight of Okamo.  Bruce, grandstanding on the top of the Molly, was drawing all attention.  Even from a distance, it was clear that people in the crowd were looking from the Mighty Bruce to a middle-aged man waiting for them on the dock.  They had found Jimmy Johnson.

While all attention was on The Molly and its surprise passenger, Ish-Ma-El took a moment to read the older man’s surface thoughts.  A profound sense of surprise dominated a relatively curious mind. It had been ready for anything from this odd little train, but not the fact that his son was aboard.

Before The Molly was properly berthed, Bruce jumped off and walked up to his father, ahead of the party’s Captain.

“Bruce!  Son!  How did you get here?” Jimmy said to his son, stepping forward.  It said something about both men that neither held out their arms to embrace.  Rain watched every moment in silence as Algernon found popcorn and offered it around to the others.

“Hi Pa,” Bruce casually said as if greeting his father for the first time that day, not the first time in more than two decades, “Watch ya doin’ here?”

The older man chuckled self-effacingly, “Leading a revolution, it seems.”

“Not leading a family,” Replied the younger man critically , “What happened?”

Jimmy looked around at the people gathered.  All of his crew were here and much of the mining community’s two hundred residents.  All had come to rely on him, most even trusted him. It was a shame his son was neither.

“A man I knew owed me money, “Jimmy sighed, dredging up a past he’d rather have forgotten, “When I confronted him, he knocked me out.  Next thing I knew I was in this place.  Without anyone to vouch for me, I was press-ganged into the Manihiki Ferro Navy.  I saw how the navy treated the people of Okamo and trains out on the Railsea.  The first chance I got, I decided to do something about it.  I escaped, made my way here and with what little knowledge I had I got an old train and diesel crane working.  Been giving the Ferro Navy a hard time since.”  The older man finished his story squaring up to the stranger that was his son.  The crowd stirred, unsure what was going on and not understanding the tension between their saviour and this young man that happened to look just like him.  

“You know what Pops, you taught me everything I know about duty and obligation.  You taught me by never showing any,” Bruce didn’t even acknowledge that he’d heard his father’s story, just continued as if reciting a long practiced speech.  

The crowd hushed and murmured at the ungrateful stranger before them.  On the train, the speech was like a physical slap, and the group all winced in response.

“Oh!  That’s some damage!” Ish-Ma-Eh exclaimed, grabbing a handful of popcorn from Algernon’s supply.

Each muttered their opinions—some that he deserved it, some that it was to be expected.  Only Rain held silent and still and horrified.

“I never had a chance to leave, to get back,” Jimmy explained as best he could.  Many in the crowd made approving sounds. Some though, could be heard to murmur that for family he should have tried harder.

“So, what’s the mission?” Asked Bruce after letting the murmuring of the crowd settle down once more.

“Stay free.  Help these people stay free.” 

Bruce nodded, “We might help you with that.”

With that one reply, the tension relaxed.  They were allies, of sorts, and had a common enemy.  Captain Ish-Ma-El saw it as their cue and climbed down from The Molly join the conversation.  The rest of the group followed behind, Rain last of all.

“You need to know the Ferro Navy have got themselves a laser cannon, it cuts trains in half,” Bruce informed his father who slumped where he stood.  The crowd looked on concerned but confused. In a world only recently introduced to gunpowder, what was a laser?

“From where?”

“Alt tech?  They stole it from our Captain’s first train. Captain Ish-Ma-El, this is my Father Jimmy.”  Bruce now introduced the group, “Rain…where are you…” He dragged the little man forward, “You are Rain today?”

“Ah…that will do for now,” Rain replied, turning to shake Jimmy Johnson’s hand, “Very pleased to meet you, sir, I heard a great deal.” Their eyes met, and Rain gave an apologetic expression.

“Algernon, our crack shot and master saboteur,” Bruce’s expression became more animated and cheerful now that he was introducing his crew,” He’s only three and a half years old, long story.  And Peggy, our resident genius and The Molly’s engineer.”

A movement at the signal mast as new flags fluttered into position.  The crowd murmured concern. Some cried as rail crew returned to their train,  miners their defendable positions.

“The Ironside Roar is on its way,” Captain Johnson informed the group turning back from the mast, “If you’re offering help, now is the time.”

“Great,” Bruce replied, ready for the battle, “Rain give me the wings.”
“Why?” Rain suddenly defensive clutched the harness to himself.

“I’m going to fly the Ironside Roar and drop bombs on the artefact.”

“Don’t let him break the Pew-Pew!” Algernon exclaimed, adding his thoughts to the argument.

“Do you have another solution?” Bruce retorted displeased that Algernon would want to keep such a deadly weapon.

“Is there a map of the area including the rails through the mesas?” Peggy asked, and Captain Johnson nodded, leading the way.

The group were ushered towards a warehouse on the docks used for strategy meetings.  On the wall a large map of the entire region. The mesas were small islands dotting the desert. The rails were like stitches holding the whole area together.

Rain and Peggy studied the map and found the narrow passage they had to come through that morning.  It was the only way to the mining town without going the long way around and seemed a perfect spot for an ambush.

“Why not set up an ambush at the pinch point, something to slow them down.  We can get in close and decouple the train from the engine, then attack the train with catapults.”

“I could disintegrate the coupling,” Algernon suggested, and more than a few heads turned at the surprising revelation.

“What, like crumble to dust?  How long would it take?” Ish-Ma-El asked incredulously.

“It’s pretty quick, a few seconds,” Algernon nodded, then rethought the idea, “Though I would have to be touching.  Peggy, what would be the vulnerable parts of a diesel engine?”

Peggy went through a few more sensitive areas, including the wheel and the vents where the engine cab metal plating was weakest.

“Do you have a busted up old engine and train we can use to block the tracks, maybe go head-on with the Ironside Roar?” Bruce suggested turning to Ish-Ma-El.

“What?  You want me to play a game of chicken with the Ironside Roar?”

“We have to stop that weapon from getting to town, “ Now he turned to his father, “I don’t think the weapon is safe in anyone’s hands, what do you say?”

The older man listened carefully to the question and nodded, “I understand your concern, but as someone who’s had to defend a town with just scrap metal, force of will and luck I can tell you that if I can get a hold of a decent weapon, I’d keep it.  Every weapon is a deterrent.  It will give them a reason to be afraid to come here.”

Bruce’s expression darkened, and he shook his head. Concerned for Bruce’s intentions for the weapon, Algernon started reading his surface thoughts. A list of Bruce’s inventory, showing Bruce was trying to work out what he had, but not necessarily what he wanted to do.

While Algernon’s attention was drawn to Bruce, Ish-Ma-El took the opportunity to do the same to Rain. Instantly they were plunged into chaos as a churning maelstrom of terror, crying, quietly pleading in a language they didn’t understand assaulted their mind.  Scrambling away from the madness, Ish-Ma-Eh found themselves staring back at Rain who until that moment had been carefully listening to the ideas go back and forward.  Ish-Ma-El stillness caught Rain’s eye, and he glanced in their direction. Tilting his head in an unspoken question, he watched as Ish-Ma-El blinked, shook their head and tried to return their focus on the discussion at hand.  A worried look passing over Rain’s face before he too returned to the planning.

“Rain, you won’t need the wings, why don’t you give them to someone who can make the best use of them,” Bruce asked again.

“Why won’t I need them?”

“Well,” Bruce scoffed, looking around the group for support, “It’s not like you’re going to go in with knives flying or something.”

“I help…” Rain replied defensively, but couldn’t finish the argument. It cut too close to the thought that he’d harboured since the party started finding their powers.

“You’re disregarding…” Peggy started, but Algernon interrupted her coming to Rain’s rescue.

“What about when he inspires and simulates…and then in dreamland he made a real dragon!” 

The defence was so unexpected and at the same time completely undermined itself that Bruce didn’t reply.

“We have to get Bruce out there in front of the train,” Ish-Ma-el offered as if nothing had happened, “He’s a distraction.”

“No, he’s the destruction, I’m the distraction.” Rain replied jokingly and turned to Bruce to see his response.  Bruce was too deep in his thoughts to respond.  Leaning in so only Bruce could hear, Rain said,  “Bruce, you need all of us. You can’t do this alone.” 

Bruce scowled and turned away disregarding Rain’s admonishment.  It wasn’t like Bruce to discount what Rain had to say.  The brush-off so soon after the unsettling moment with Ish-Ma-El, got Rain thinking about what was going on in his friend’s head. Bruce didn’t like the idea of the weapon in anyone’s hands.  Would he do something reckless to make sure it was destroyed once and for all?  Adamant he would have to stay close to Bruce, he vowed to make sure the wings did not go to him. 

“Ish, what if you used the wings.” Rain finally suggested to the group,” You’re fast and agile, you can bring down your two swords on an enemy then zoom off to another part of the battle,” He glanced up at Bruce and saw his expression sour even more, “I’m sorry Bruce, you’re pure melee, you need to stay on the ground, the wings would be wasted with your style of fighting.”

“Bashing away in the centre of the fight?  Sure, I see your point,” Bruce said lightly enough to allow the discussion to go onto other topics.  Rain was deeply agitated.  For the first time before Christmas, he wanted the peace of his puzzlebox.

“How long have we got until the Ironside Roar gets to our pinch point?”  He asked Captain Johnson as Bruce swung the discussion back to the fight.

“We have about two hours.”
“And how long to get back out to that spot from here?  An hour?”

“About forty minutes.” The elder Johnson confirmed.

“Well, whatever we’re going to do, we better get planning.” 

37. The rebellion begins

On their way to Manihiki to find Bruce’s father, the group found a new ally in a quickened native of Railsea, Ish-Ma-El, a Salver of extraordinary abilities.  They returned the Molly to the rails and are now only two days out from their destination, Manihiki.   They are hopeful of meeting up with the Captain of the Almighty Bruce.


Clear skies and empty sands had made The Molly’s journey smooth railing.  When not entertaining the crew with stories and songs, Rain was spending his downtime revisiting his Spiral Dust mind map excluding all details to do with Bywandine and that end of the drug trade.  The information left was sparse.  In Crow Hollow, two families traded in the raw product. One was initially through Railsea with an agent called Caw Ek Carve and one directly to Earth through Linda Lance.  The only other piece of information was the name Nakarand and this mysterious entity’s connection to the Spiral Dust users.  It seemed the being could see, hear and act through users creating the spiral-eyed zombies the group had encountered in Nederland.

Now it was clear Ish-Ma-El was quickened, Rain informed them of the group’s adventures in The Strange and what brought them to Railsea in the first place. He was also selling the idea of the new Captain joining them on their travels through recursions.

“Your ability to read minds is a sign you can travel The Strange like us,” Rain informed them one morning in the train’s mess, “Recursion mining is a real thing, and some places like Graveyard of the machine god would provide great salvage opportunities.”

“Besides being dangerous and the fact that anything you find translates to fit the world you return to,” Bruce said as he joined the duo at the trestle table.

Ish-Ma-El gave the two men their now-familiar suspicious glance, “Really?  I’m just supposed to believe that powerful beings just showed up out of space and offered me the chance to travel with them?”

“It seems ridiculous to believe it can all be a coincidence, I agree.  We didn’t come here looking for a quickened. We’re supposed to be rare, but here you are.” Rain turned to Bruce who sipped his chicory coffee in contemplation, “I’ve been saying this all along, something is guiding our path, bringing us together, and we don’t know what.”

“And when we find it, we’ll kill it!”  Algernon with a plate of roasted mole meat joined the group at the table.

“Do you think we could ask it a few questions first?” Rain asked with a smile.  

Previous to their latest adventures in Ruk, Algernon’s attitude to the subject of such powerful beings was to find a safer place to hide. The more aggressive attitude was new and proof that Algernon now had full control of his own mind.  Rain couldn’t be happier for his sociopathic friend.

“Smoke, smoke on the horizon!” Came the call from the lookout above their heads.  Captain Ish-Me-El, their black coat flapping, ran from the mess, the others following quickly after.

A thin stream of black smoke rose vertically into the sky on the horizon.  A train would create a long low cloud of white or grey smoke, at least a moving train would. Without a thought, Rain leapt up into the air, wings extended and started for the smoke.

“Not alone!  For God’s sake, how many times!” Bruce called out ready to drop onto the rails and chase after the flyers.

“Just a little look, there and back.” Rain waived and sped off across the sands.

The fire wasn’t a train, but three carriages still smouldering from a fire lit earlier.  The engine was nowhere, and the carriages looked like they’d been picked clean before setting alight.  As Rain swept over the wreck, the flames and smoke cleared from the middle carriage for a moment revealing a deep rectangular wedge cut out of the centre.  It was like someone had tried slicing the boxcar with a giant hot knife.  The cut did not go below the bogies, but all the wood above was still a chard and smoking mess.  As promised, he looped back over the wreck and returned to The Molly and Bruce’s scornful look.

“Do we need to see if we can help survivors?” Bruce asked the Captain and Ish-Ma-el nodded seriously calling for the Switcher to change their course for the wreck.  As The Molly moved in, all could see the damage done to the carriage.  Ish-Ma-El leaned out over the handrail of the lookout as if searching for something.

“I wonder what did that?” Algernon asked, pointing out the long clean slice, “I want one.”

“Pull up alongside,” Peggy ordered as she made her way up to the lookout, ignoring the presence of Captain Ish-Ma-El.  

“Captain?” Bruce said, fallstalling any mutinous movement the Switchers may feel they need to make.   The Switchers dutifully waited for Ish-Ma-El’s for confirmation.  

Ish-Ma-El nodded distractedly, “Tack in alongside.”

On top of the carriage with the ballistae, Rain and Algernon both saw something under the last carriage not burning wood and twisted metal.  A flutter of material and the exposed skin of an unconscious woman.

“Bruce, I’m going there!” Rain called before leaping into the sky and swooping down towards the woman.

“Godammit, Rain! Where?!  Bruce called in reply, leaving the Captain’s side to run across the top of the train.  Algernon pointed out the woman under the carriage to him as he unslung his crossbow.

“You spend so much time chasing after him. You should just tell him how you feel.” Algernon ignored Bruce’s outrage grumblings and looked back to the front carriage where the engine should be.  The coupling was there and in good order, showing no signs of wrenching or violence.  As Bruce dropped off the front of the Molly, Algernon’s attention went to the skies.  Experience taught that at least one giant owl loved snatching up engines and dropping them on unsuspecting theatres.  When nothing showed itself, Algernon busied himself, watching the unconscious form lying on the tracks through the sights of his crossbow.

Ish-Ma-el joined the chase behind Bruce, his three-sleeper-strides eating the ground. Ish-Ma-el moved quickly, long skinny arms and legs pistoning madly like their prized Molly.  A rumble under their feet and the sand below the ties shimmied away to form a 20-metre wide funnel.  Two massive pincers the size of Ish-Ma-El alone reached out of the sand and turned to the vibration of running feet.  The exposed rail sagged as sleepers started falling into the pit to be knocked aside by the eager claws.  Bruce leapt the last few metres to firm ground, but Ish-Ma-el was trapped on the now twisted rail above the hole.  The rail finally snapped with a jarring twang and knocked Ish-ma-el off their feet.  Pinwheeling, they caught the rail, safe for the moment from the jaws, but only while their grip held out.

“Algernon!” Yelled Bruce as Algernon ready with his crossbow let a bolt fly for between the jaws.  There was a squeal, and the antlion revealed its bristly flat head skewered with a bolt.

Peggy sent a plasma bolt at the antlion’s exposed head before hunting the equipment lockers for a rope and grappling hook. The antlion, now pierced and burnt, attempted to grab the hanging prey.  It pulled its bulbous body out of the sand and snapped at Ish-Ma-El’s flailing legs.  The jaws snapped shut on air, and it fell back to the safety of the sand once more.  

Reaching out with his levitate, Algernon lifted Ish-Ma-El, so it looked like the Captain was swinging themselves up onto the rail.  With a flip that would have had Olympic champions standing for an ovation, Ish-Ma-El found themselves balanced on the rail, their hands-free now to attack.  Without thought the hand crossbows were out and firing, one bolt following the other into the exposed folds of skin behind the antlions head.

Bruce’s yell made Rain turned to face him in the air.  By the time he stopped to see what had happened, Ish-Ma-el was back on the rail and shooting the giant antlion from a safe distance with Bruce beside them.  However, the woman was still under a smouldering carriage, and he didn’t spend any more thought on his Captain or friends.  Landing beside the wreck,  he pulled the woman out from under the carriage and onto an empty rail.  She was still breathing but looked to have been left for dead by whoever had destroyed the train.

“Medical aid, Bruce!” He yelled as Ish-Ma-El reloaded and fired once more into the antlion nest.  Once more the antlion tried to reach its prey.

Thock! Thock! Each bolt found it’s target.

It’s wounds now more than it could bear, the antlion slid down to the bottom of its hole and sunk into the sand.

The Molly slowed and stopped alongside the three carriages, and the crew started spilling out to see what they had found.  In the lookout, Peggy tried swinging the grappling hook onto the lead carriage of the wreck.  It landed on the roof but slid off, failing to catch hold.

Chink! Sheeee! Thud!

As Bruce started first aid on his patient, Ish-Ma-El walked up behind him and stopped, recognising the woman.

“Ish?” Rain said, recognising the change in the captain, if not it’s origins. It was like they’d seen a ghost. Ish-Ma-El waved away his concerns as Bruce gave his assessment.

“Dehydrated and suffering exposure. Seems like she may have taken a hit when the carriage was attacked.”

Chink! Sheeee! Thud!

He tended her in silence for twenty minutes until the woman’s eyelids fluttered open and saw her saviours for the first time.

“Ish-Ma-El?” Came a harsh reedy croak from the woman’s lips.  A little water helped soothed the parched throat, and her voice gained a bit of its strength.

“What are you doing here?” Ish-Ma-El asked unsettled by the sight of someone they knew.

“When the navy came, and they started rounding up the crew…well, I hid.  I could still hear the crew as they fed them to the antlion,”  She swallowed a little more water and continued, “I stayed hidden until the screaming stopped and then I stayed where I was.  I had some rations.  But then the navy came back.  They’d been tinkering with what they’d stolen from us.  They turned the things on,  and the carriage…I…I don’t remember anymore.”

Chink! Sheeee! Thud!

“The thing we found?  That’s what they had on their train?” Ish-Ma-El asked coolly, all the time their hands were clenching and unclenching

“Yeah, had it rigged to it somehow?”

“They took it?” 


Chink! Sheeee! Thud!

“A mighty beefy weapon,” Bruce commented, looking back at the smouldering slice out of the middle carriage.

“Ish, maybe you can introduce us?” Rain said to Ish-Ma-El who ignored him, instead of returning to the woman.

“I…I’m pleased to see you again.” They said now with genuine feeling.

“Is the life of a Salver always like this?” The woman asked with a laugh that started a bout of coughing.

“Yeah, usually, maybe not so much of the murdering navy.”

“Hi, my name’s Rain,” Rain interrupted their conversation, frustrated at being ignored,” Can I ask yours?”

“Han, Han Fara Rung,” She replied automatically.

“Well Han, a friend of Ish-Ma-El is a friend of ours,” He assured her, and she relaxed a little.

“It’s nice to be among friends again.”

“Better than being among antlion.” Bruce joked.  No one found it funny.

Chink!  Twang! Peggy grappling line caught a low rail and caught fast. She tied it off to The Molly.

“Oh, did you want me to fly you over?” Algernon now said, and he felt the slap of Peggy’s hand against the back of his head.

“Well, we certainly have room for one more,” Bruce said helping Han Fara Rung carefully onto unsteady feet, “We’re only a day or two out of Manihiki so tight quarters won’t be too much of an issue.  Anyone else left alive, Han?”

“No,” Han Fara Rung replied shakily, “I think I was pretty lucky finding my hiding spot when I did.”

After making sure his patient was comfortable and had plenty of food and water, Bruce scoured what was left of the carriages.  The carriages by now were weak from the attack and fire, and parts were still alight.  Rain called across from the safety of The Molly.

“Bruce, you complain about me!  What are you doing risking your life for a few odds and ends?”

“I’m looking for people,” Bruce replied, doggedly.  If one person could survive this attack, then maybe there were more. He had found a stash of cyphers probably hidden by the Captain, but even he had to admit it, there was no one else left to save and returned to The Molly.  Algernon identified the cyphers Bruce had found:

A permanent bonding glue

Force armour projector

A Nutrition and Hydration kit

A Hangover cure.

The Molly slowly pulled away from what was left of the carriages. Algernon, Peggy and Rain quiz Han Fara Rung about the weapon.

“So, what sort of weapon made the hole?” Rain asked as the patient watched what was left of their first train disappear out of view.

“I don’t know, just something the salver’s found.  It was about a metre to metre and a half long.. Metallic… none of us had seen anything like it before.”

“It was a heat beam of some sort, but with such a strange square profile.  Very odd,” Peggy added her observations.

“Imagine if you could mount it on a ballista,” Algernon thought out loud.

“It cut through the carriage like a bread knife,” Rain shivered as Ish-Ma-El walked into the carriage,” Ish, you had more to do with the weapon that Han, what was it like?”

They stopped and considered their answer before speaking,” A device, we never got a chance to work out what it was.”

“ Certainly doesn’t seem like the type of device we want in the hands of the Ferro Navy,” Rain mulled over seriously, “Especially if they’re after the Almighty Bruce.” 

Almost simultaneouslyAlgernon and Bruce spoke up.

“Could we have it?”

“It should be destroyed.”  They eyed each other across the carriage as the discussion continued without them.

“Han, what direction was the Navy train heading?”

“Tacking around towards Manihiki.”
“And your engine, it was missing, where did it go?”

“The navy took it.”

“What engine did they have?” Peggy asked, now interested in the conversation.

“Deisel, a big one.” Han-Fara-Rung supplied 

“That would make sense,” She mused, “A heat ray would need a lot of energy, and a diesel could provide that if they found a way to connect it to the system.”

“Do you remember its name?”

“Yeah, the Ironside Roar.”

“Captain, would you like to go hunting?” Rain finally turned to look up at the Ish-Ma-El who had been standing, listening the whole time.

“Any monetary gain?” 

“Probably not, but we’d be hunting the Navy, not a bad recompense I’d suggest.”

The Captain pondered the idea a while as the group just watched.

“Knowing the crew’s indifference and my own love of the navy, I don’t think that’s a problem,” They finally said, turning to the group.

For the next two days, the stout-hearted Molly chugged across the wastes of Railsea, hardly stopping the whole way.  Everyone was busy with duties and discussing plans for Manihiki.  On top of that, the group was involved in getting the crew on-side for a push against the most powerful organisation Railsea had seen since the mythological builders.  The Captain took the crew aside and told them in general terms their story and what they had planned.  They said up-to-date letters weren’t even enough to save a train the navy wanted disappeared.  By this time the crew thought they knew the Captain’s story well enough that no one questioned their seemingly outlandish proposal to go against the Manihiki Navy. 

Rain also started telling new stories about the group and their scrapes against impossible odds.  If the crew believed the stories or not, it didn’t seem to matter as the message to perseverance against injustice was quickly picked up by all.  It also helped that he’d changed the wording and added another verse to the Song of Ishmael,

Song of Ish-Ma-El (Revision)

 (To the Tune: Do the “Loco-mo-tion”)

Last of their cr-ew their friends and family

Ish-Ma-El, Wanderer of the Railsea

They were left for dead by wicked Na-vy

Ish-Ma-El, Wanderer of the Railsea

Now Railers everywhere, please take heed

“Never say, die!” Became their creed.

So, come on and follow.

Ish-Ma-El, Wand’er of the Railsea!

Three lonely we-eks, Alone but not lonely

Ish-Ma-El, Wanderer of the Railsea

Followed by the dead crying, “Vengence only!”

Ish-Ma-El, Wanderer of the Railsea

A tiny flag of red, against the sand

Leads to ancient riches lost under land

So, come on and fol-low

Ish-Ma-El, wand’er of the Railsea!

Captain Ish-Ma-El!

Fears no one!

Not mole!

Not man!

Not even Ferro-Navy Grand!

Wow oh wow oh!

Four days and nights, they worked on Molly.

Ish-Ma-El, wanderer of the Railsea!

Reclaimed her from the dust, the moles and the vermin

Ish-Ma-El, wanderer of the Railsea!

A hoard of giant rats came to cause havoc.

Crossbow and twin swo-rds

Flashed through the dark

So, come on and fol-low

Ish-Ma-El, wand’er of the Railsea!

Following the sm-o-ke, they found their old train.

Ish-Ma-El, wanderer of the Railsea!

The crew fed to an antlion, the navy to blame.

Ish-Ma-El, wanderer of the Railsea!

Now the Ferro Navy is their phil-oso-phy

And they won’t stop un-til all Railsea’s free!

So, come on and fol-low

Ish-Ma-El, wand’er of the Railsea!


The largest city-state in all of Railsea was a smudge of the horizon. As quietly as a yellow steam train can, The Molly pulled up at a pier, paid its dock duties and started unloading.  Besides the original cargo, the Gliding Vulpine had been transporting, there was three or four tons of molemeat, and a massive quantity of silver-grey hide from the Dreaming Sable.  From the proceeds, The Molly resupplied and paid her crew handsomely, boosting their spirits even further. Once the business of running a train was sorted out, the group went out into town to hear the latest gossip and spread a little of their own.

“I feel like a target is painted on my back, “Bruce complained as they walked up through the city proper. Rain turned and looked at the group as a whole.  Though Bruce did stand taller than all of them and was twice as wide, Algernon walked around with a giant crossbow across his back, same too for Ish-Ma-El and their double blades.  Rain himself wouldn’t be part from the wings, and Peggy’s suspicious stares were enough to give anyone passing by a second glance.  In comparison, Bruce was almost invisible.

They listened to what the rumourmongers had to say about the Ironside Roar (sent to hunt the Almighty Bruce), the Almighty Bruce and the Onoka mining community.   In return, they shared their rumour of the Captain’s son searching for his father.

Rain made a discovery when he stumbled across a group of Ferro Navy Officers well into their cups in an inn he had inquired.  After a few more rounds of drinks and an appreciative audience, the officers started telling their new best friend, all they knew about events out of the Railsea.

“Of course the Ironside Roar is part of the hunt to find that Almighty Bruce, as is half the navy.  The big push is clear for a few days from now, that is if the Dread Baron doesn’t get it first.”

“The Dread Baron?”

“One of the most powerful trains in the whole Ferro navy.  Not the flagship by any means, but big!  They’re expected back any day, and then ….the hunt is on!”

“I think we need to sabotage some trains!” Algernon said as soon as Rain had informed the group what he’d learned.

“And I for one, think you should have the chance to do just that.” Rain beamed, “So how are we going to do it?”

“What?  Walk into the navy dockyards and demand to see the engines?” Ish-Ma-El said, their usual sarcastic nature getting the better of them.

“I was thinking more distraction and sabotage.  We still have a good supply of mole steaks and a Captain to mourn, a man who was a paid-up supporter of the Ferro Navy…” Rain suggested merrily.

“We have a BBQ…” Bruce added, “No engineer is going to pass up a free meal.”

“A free steak meal,” Algernon finished with pleasure, “ So, you guys put on a BBQ and distract everyone while Rain and I sneak in and disable the engines.” 

“Rain’s going to be needed at the BBQ to stir up the interest,” Bruce burst Algernon’s vision of the events.

“I’m afraid so,” Rain agreed, “I’d love to go with you, we can run our technician and boss routine, but I wouldn’t be much use to you if something technical came up.”  

Rain looked at Ish-Ma-El noting how well they dealt with the crew, and even with him and Bruce that first day at the theatre.  

Bruce was thinking the same thing it seemed, “Ish-Ma-El should go with Algernon. They’ve proven their quick on their feet and if things aren’t what you expect can probably jury-rig something on the spot.”

“Er…sure, I can do it.” Ish-Ma-El agreed reluctantly as Algernon pulled Rain aside.

“But I don’t want to do this with Ish-Ma-el. I don’t trust them,” 

Algernon’s suspicion of strangers had been a hindrance in the past, but usually, Rain saw it as the balance to his own more than generous acceptance.  Not everyone could be an ally, as hard as he worked at it.  Still, Ish-Ma-el was an exception. They’d prove their worth and had more than a few stakes in the game.

“I can’t see how we have much choice, “ Rain said in the end, “You know how to destroy things, and they can get you in, I’d only be in your way.”

“We could at least fly out if we needed to,” He brooded on the subject, “If I have to, I’ll just leave them behind.”

“It won’t come to that.  Look, I’ll give you a boost before you leave the gate, that will make the first engine easy.  If you have to, you can come back for another shot.”

“It feels a bit like cheating,” Algernon confessed, the first time the most power of Rain’s abilities had been discussed between them.  

“Now whose being silly,” Rain laughed, ”You know better than I do that it’s not cheating if you don’t get caught and I don’t intend for any of us to be caught.”

“Yeah,” Algernon agreed, as reluctantly as Ish-Ma-el had, “I guess.”

“So, tell me.” Rain asked with a mischievous grin, “How are you going to wreck these trains?”  

The rest of the day was spent acquiring and preparing materials.  Clothes, similar enough to the Ferro Navy greys, were purchased. Quantities of powdered aluminium and the worst of the rusty iron that could be found with salvers.  Several barrels of cheap naval rum were bought, and recently acquired supplies for The Molly were dipped into.  That evening in front of the iron gates to the naval shipyards, they set up and started their BBQ.  

Bruce was the cook and looked at home over the hot coals and sizzling fat of the meat. Peggy was in charge of the drinks and kept them flowing for as long as the rum lasted.  Rain gathered the crowds, at first talking to individuals and groups to encourage them to let others know.  He quickly found a stack of crates to stand on and excited the forming crowd for the feast about to begin.  Algernon and Ish-Ma-El stayed back until the mass of engineers vying for a free meal was thick at the entrance.  

“Engineers and brave heroes of the Manihiki Ferro Navy, “Rain started his ringmaster routine with the crowd, “We mourn the loss and celebrate the life of Captain Al-Ram-Kuno, late of the Gliding Vulpine.  As a loyal and fully paid supporter of the Ferro Navy, it is only fitting that we note his life and passing with this small tribute to you, courageous crews!”  The crowd cheered, some already into their cups.  The noise attracted more engineers from the docks, and a constant stream of rail crew now trickled out to the party at the gates.

Soon the steaks served on slabs of fresh bread, and a cup of rum quickly started moving through the crowd.  Two figures, seemingly ignoring the spectacle, walked calmly up to the gates. As they walked past his perch above the crowd, Rain clapped each on the shoulder verbally encouraging them to enjoy the meal as he sent them jolts of The Strange.  

“State your business?” Said the marine on duty more than a little harassed and put-out by the impromptu BBQ.

“Engineering specialist sent down to oversee the overalls for the…uh…big push,” Ish-Ma-El said the last just low enough for only the guard to hear.  

“Oh…er…right!” This was someone in the know, and he didn’t stand in their way a moment longer.

There were currently two steam trains in the docks, and the saboteurs had come prepared.  While Ish-Ma-El scattered handfuls of thermite pellets made to look like lumps of coal throughout the tender, Algernon set to work on the machinery itself.  Steam trains are brutally simple, especially compared to what Algernon was used to tinkering.  A few pins in pressure gauges to stop the needle from rising too far, wadding stuffed down the safety release valves, and they were good to go.  The idea was that the trains would leave, as usual, all systems working normally.  Then they would hit one of the thermite lumps taking the firebox temperatures from 1,300 degrees centigrade to 2,200 degrees.  It was hot enough to melt out the firebox and any other steel in the vicinity.  In the meantime the pressure in the boiler would rise to dangerous levels, but the engineers’ gauges and safety valves wouldn’t register a problem.  Enough pressure and the boiler could explode, possibly derailing the whole train. 

As Peggy has said during the planning session, “A pressurised explosion is nothing to sneeze at.”

Halfway through their sabotage and  Ish-Ma-El and Algernon were feeling pretty pleased with themselves.  Looking like they belonged, they left the first train and started for the second.

That’s when chaos descended onto the dockyards.

It had been limping in for a while, a dark smudge on the darker night sky. It wasn’t until the Dread Barron’s hulking wreck rolled into dock billowing black smoke from various locations that the naval dockyards burst into action.  Engineers ran from the BBQ, food and drinks still in hands sprinted for the dock where the engine released the last of its boiler pressure in a huge gout of steam, obscuring even the Barons’s massive bulk.

“Oi, you!” Came a call, and Algernon and Ish-Mae-El were confronted with the gate guard, “You said you were some specialist engineers, they need you at the Baron!”

“Unfortunately, my companion has hit his head in all the excitement of the Baron’s arrival,” Ish-Mae-El  lied convincingly as Algernon looked vaguely out to the distance with a strained look on his face, “I need to take him to the hospital.”

“Right, but hurry back,” The guard replied, clearing their path, his expression grim.

At the gates, Peggy was putting down the last of the cups she’d been pouring and pulled off her apron.

“I want a closer look at that thing,” She said as she stepped by Bruce and Rain.

“No, Peggy you’ll get shanghaied!” Rain moaned knowing as soon as they saw her talent she’d been taken.

“They can try,” She replied simply, slipping away amongst the crowds of other engineers swarming through the gates, just as Ish-Ma-El and Algernon appeared back at the BBQ.

“Going well?” Rain asked, handing Algernon a sandwich and zapping him once more.

“Yeah, all engineers are being called to help out of the Baron though, and we’ve only done one train.” Explained Algernon as Rain did the same for Ish-Ma-El.

“This is the perfect timing if you can swing it.  Peggy’s just gone to look at the Baron herself on the back of all this chaos.”

“We’re on it,” Ish-Ma-El nodded, and they headed back in amongst the crowd.

This time when guards tried to direct them to the Dread Baron, Ish-Ma-El rounded on them, ”I know better than you the state of the Dread Baron and don’t you think headquarters do too?  Now more than ever we need those two trains in top condition now that they’re all that’s left to protect us.”

“ Very well, “ The marine stepped aside, sure they had met another know-it-all with headquarters backing.  The second train sabotaged, they were soon walking out past the BBQ and out into the city streets to be lost in the crowds.

Peggy was another story.  The Dread Baron was a mess. Whole chunks had been smashed out of the engine and train.  Peggy stepped inside the diesel compartment to see the largest engine she’d had seen, certainly the largest she’d been able to work on and must have, at some time, come out of a ship. She already noted that a massive timing belt, many times longer than herself had been damaged in the fight and been jury-rigged to get the train back to port.  She helped pull off the old belt but didn’t give suggestions on improvement as she would normally.  These were the enemy.

“What caused all this?” Peggy asked conversationally of one of the navy engineers working alongside her.

“A fight with the Almighty Bruce, ” She replied, taking the opportunity of the chat to have a moment’s rest, “They have a cannon and a huge catapult that throws bombs.”

“The Almighty Bruce?  I thought that was a legend.”

“We don’t like to admit it, but it’s real, alright.”

Peggy estimated that the work required to get the Dread Baron back on the rail would take two or more weeks.  With any luck, the Baron would have to sit out the rest of the fight.  Having found out all she thought she could, Peggy climbed off the Dread Baron and started for the gates. 

“Where do you think you’re going?” As a marine watching over the engineers crawling all over the stricken train blocked her way.

“Food, I hear someones giving away steak sandwiches,” She replied, continuing to walk by only to be stopped by a spear across the body.

“The navy will supply you with all your needs now,” He replied and pointed out a barracks where a camp mess and rows of beds had been set up.

As feared, Peggy had been conscripted into the Manihiki Ferro Navy.

At the gates, Bruce and Rain were getting worried. Algernon and Ish-Ma-El were out and long gone, their task done.  The crowds of engineers were thinning, but Peggy was nowhere to be seen.  Taking the last of the sandwiches on a vast platter, Rain walked straight through the gates as if he belonged there and down the docks to the Dread Baron.  There he handed out sandwiches to the engineers who had come in on the stricken vessel and kept an eye out for Peggy.  It didn’t take long to spot her arguing with a marine.  

“Good food for a hero of Manihiki? “ He said, handing her a sandwich.  She took it, touching his hand in return and creating a mental link.

What’s up? He asked, continuing to hand out the food.

I can’t leave


Watch, Peggy said through the mind link and tried walking past the marine again.

“Come now. You belong to the Navy now, hop-it’” The marine said with no malice and shoved her back.

Just get ready to run, Rain said before turning to the guard himself and offering him a sandwich.

“I suggest this one is needed at the gate,” He pushed, gesturing to Peggy. 

The marine’s eyes glazed over for a moment before he realised Peggy was standing in front of him.

“You’re needed at the gate, better get moving.”

Peggy did just that, stepping past him she marched towards the gate, the marine guard in tow.  She made it to the gates as Bruce was packing up the BBQ.  Peggy made a gesture, pointing out her escort to Bruce as she inspected the well-oiled and maintained gate.  When Peggy felt the distance was enough, she bolted through the gate and down the dock.  The guard, surprised by the sudden movement, gave chase, only to collide into Bruce carrying crates of BBQ supplies.

By the time the marine stood up to looked after Peggy, she had melted into the crowds. He swore, probably having lost a commission for bringing in a new engineer.  He turned on Bruce.

“Didn’t see you there, sorry about that.  Here have a steak,” Bruce handed a sandwich to the marine who snatched it up belligerently.  Behind them, Rain walked nonchalantly through the gates and joined Bruce in the cleanup.

Where are you? He asked Peggy hidden somewhere in the city.

I don’t know, safe. 

Stay where you are and stay connected. Algernon and Ish-Ma-el are out, and Bruce and I are nearly finished here.  We’ll come and find you.

36. The raising of The Molly

Looking for information on Bruce’s father, the group are in Railsea chasing a train called ‘Almighty Bruce’. On their trip across the Railsea, Bruce himself has proven to be just as Mighty when taking down of the giant molerat, ‘The Dreaming Sable’. Unfortunately, the Gliding Vulpine, the train they were riding, was destroyed in the battle.


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…”

“Only one way to find out,” Launching himself into the air on the wings he’d not managed to part with, he circled the stricken engine and Peggy, “ I’ll go out and see if she’s still there.”  Anything to get out of the menial work he’d been dodging all night.

The movement over the train caught Bruce’s attention who had been busy overseeing the rendering and breaking down of the molerat carcass.

“Hey!  Where are you off it?”

“The theatre, Peggy thinks she can use the old engine,” Rain pointed in the direction of the flag.

“Don’t go alone,” Said Bruce, “What if there’s someone with a crossbow?”

“Then I’ll say, hello!” Rain flipped in the air for the sheer joy of it.

“Don’t make me come and save you!” Bruce yelled after the little man who had turned the wings towards the fluttering red streak.

“Ha! Since when!” He could just hear over the woosh of the steam-powered wings.

Forgetting the work on the mole, Bruce hefted his crowbar onto his back and raced along the tracks in Rain’s wake.  His training at the Estate had improved Bruce’s both strength and speed.  He bounded over three sleepers at a time keeping pace with the flying man though he tacked back and forwards keeping to the safety of the rails.  Rain landed lightly at the lip of the large hole where a steam engine had crashed down into the theatre.  Bruce could see  Rain scan the ground around the hole before calling.


“Too late for caution then,” Bruce came up behind Rain who did a double-take looking back over the rail Bruce had crossed to get there.

“What do you mean, I am being cautious,” Rain replied, pointing to the footprints, “There’s someone down there, and I don’t want to surprise them.”

“Hello down there, we don’t mean any harm.”

A figure stepped out of the shadows, clearly holding a hand crossbow up at Rain and Bruce silhouetted against the grey-green sky.

“Don’t come any closer or I’ll shoot!” Said the figure stepping into the light so the boys could get a clearer view.  The person was slim dressed in working clothes of heavy cotton and wool.  Their scruffy blonde hair was pulled back roughly from an androgenous face that didn’t identify the person as either male or female.  What was clear was the person was well-armed.  Besides the hand crossbow now pointed at them, both Bruce and Rain could see two swords strapped to their backpack, another crossbow in a holster on their hip.

Ish-Ma-El the Salver

“I wouldn’t shoot if I were you,” Bruce said coolly, “You’ll just make me mad.”

“You don’t intimidate me!” The salver replied just as confidently with a gritty determination, “I saw all my friends and family die, what are you two to an entire train of murderers?”

Rain and Bruce glanced at each other.

“We’re sorry to hear that,” Bruce said seriously.

“Our sympathises,” Rain kneeling to see the person better.  

The figure in the hole slowly lowered their crossbow, “Thanks.”

“Look, do you think we could come down and have a chat?” Rain called, tiring of the yelling conversation so far.

“I supose, if you’re alone,”

“Ur…full transparency we are with a train, but at the moment it’s just us two,’ 

The figure shrugged giving up the fight for now as, first Bruce dropped the twenty feet to the stage and rolled to a stop, and Rain glided down and landed beside him.

The train looked a little different from the last time they’d seen it.  It now had a good coat of yellow paint, and many working parts shone in the dim light of the underground theatre.  

“How long have you been down here?” Rain asked, admiring the work already put into The Molly.

“Four days and four nights,” The salver replied matter of factly with an air that claimed ownership without actually stating it.  They were right too. They had the rights of salvage.  If the group were to use the engine to get to Manihiki, they would have to negotiate.

“Well, we came for The Molly, but we can see that you have a claim,” Said Rain.


“The engine,”

“It’s mine, what do you want it for?”

“A talpa destroyed out engine last night,” He pointed to the surface, “We need The Molly to get our train to Manihiki.”
“You fought a talpa?” They replied doubtfully.  Bruce brandished his bloodied crowbar.

“Well, he did anyway,” Rain replied, very aware of the tensions building between them and the lone figure.

So was the salver, as they shifted the conversation back to The Molly, “Strange name for a train.”

“Yes. Peggy, our engineer, named it. Though come to think of it she usually isn’t one to get sentimental and name things…” He trailed off realising they hadn’t introduced themselves, “Speaking of which, what’s your name?”

“Ish-Ma-El,” They replied.

“Bruce,” Said Bruce introducing himself.

“And I’m…” It was now that Rain remembered he was Havel Maximillian in Railsea, though he had signed on to the Gliding Vulpine as Rain.  The thought of trying to reestablish the Havel persona seemed a waste of time, and he stalled in his introduction.

“Rain?” Bruce asked, not sure what was going on with his friend.

“Yes, go with that for now,” Rain sighed, “I’m Rain.  Look, you’re going to need help getting The Molly out of this hole, and we need transport. If we respect your right to the engine, can we work together to get her to Manihiki?”

Ish-Ma-El stepped back and looked at the engine.  Nose down in the splintered wood of the stage. It would be a lot of work alone to get the engine out, maybe even impossible. They looked with distrust at the two strangers who literally flew in over the sand.  In the end, more pressing needs took precedent as their stomach rumbled and reminded them they hadn’t eaten in a few days.

“Do you have food?” Ish-Ma-El asked tentatively.

“We have a whole moldywarpe of food!” Rain exclaimed, “Thanks to our Mighty Bruce!”

“You’re the Almighty Bruce?” Ish-Ma-El  turned to Bruce who seemed to grow a few more inches on his already lofty height, “But, I thought it was a train.”

“Ah, what do you know about the Almighty Bruce?” Rain asked, still keen to find out all they could about the renegade train and its captain.

“Ur…it’s a legend.  Supposedly it’s defending a mining town somewhere north of Manihiki.”

“Hmmm, “ Rain replied, disappointed, “Well, the food’s on the surface. Unless you’d like me to bring you down something?”

“Err, no its alright, but don’t try anything or you’ll see that these swords aren’t just stylish,” Ish-Ma-El agreed grudgingly. 

“ I assure you that I would never do anything to make you draw your swords,” Rain replied with such honesty that Ish-Ma-El finally put away their hand crossbow.

The rope the group had placed months ago still hung from the rail above, and Bruce now grabbed it, holding it steady for Ish-Ma-El.

“Want a leg up?” Bruce asked the diminutive character and gained nothing by a scathing look.


“I’m sorry I can’t fly you up,” Rain admitted and gained the same defensive look in reply.

“I can get there myself.”

With the proposition of seeing the theatre and the engine again, Algernon and Peggy had also started travelling towards the flag.  Algernon taking the faster route levitated himself above the sand at speed.  When Ish-Ma-El made their appearance, Algernon came to a screeching halt, creating the sounds of skidding rubber himself, and quickly flipped his crossbow off his back.  Just as fast, Ish-Ma-El had their crossbow out and trained on Algernon.

“Who the hell are you!” Ish-Ma-El yelled.

Rain popped up over the lip of the hole to see his friend and Ish-Ma-El aiming very deadly weapons at each other.  Landing heavily between the two he turned to Algernon.

“No, no!  This is a friend.  Algernon, this is Ish-Ma-El.  Ish-Ma-El, my very dear friend Algernon.”

Distrustful of Rain’s latest find, Algernon reached out to listen to the new person’s surface thoughts and found himself…looking back up at himself down the jawbone crossbow.  He watched as his body wobbled uncertainly in the air before crashing to the ground with a heavy thud.  A streak of electrical pain shot straight up his back, and for a moment he could do nothing by stand there, a hand crossbow held loose in a numbed hand.  He watched as Rain ran and crouched beside his body.

“What the hell!” Algernon heard his body say, and Rain started.



Rain turned to look him in the eyes and groaned, “Uh, we’ve seen this before.”

“Did we Lang? Algernon asked, his voice sounding odd and shrill.  Bruce climbed to the surface behind him and tried to make sense of the scene.  

“Yeah, you Langed,” Rain replied, turning back to help Ish-Ma-El in his body up off the sand, “You’ve mind-swapped with our very talented Algernon.  It seems you have a gift in common.”

Algernon’s free hand started exploring the new body just as Bruce realised what all the shouting was about and grabbed Algernon, in Ish-Ma-El’s body, by the collar.

“What’s going on, who are you and why are you pointing a crossbow at Algernon?” Peggy stormed up, having walked the rails and got to the hole last of all.

“Let them go,” Bruce said low and quiet in a tone that allowed no argument, “Let them go, Algernon.”

“I can’t, it’s stuck,” He said in that odd little squeaky voice that wasn’t his.

“Well then try doing it again, maybe that will clear it,” Bruce suggested and lowered Ish-Ma-El’s body, so the feet touched the ground again.

“Yeah, but not yet…” Algernon murmured, but Bruce was having none of it. 

“Before Peggy shoots you,” Algernon flicked his eyes to Peggy, her hand crossbow pointed directly at his chest…Ish-Ma-El’s chest.

“Ok-ay…” He looked at his body slouched and defensive beside Rain and projected back.

It worked, his view resolved to behind Rain, looking back at Ish-Ma-El who was intently watching him.  Algernon gave the newcomer a grim little smile and started singing in his head.

“This is the song that doesn’t end….”

“Oh, gods!” Ish-Ma-El cried and lunged to strike him with their fist.  Rain was in between again, spoiling the fun.

“No, no!  Friends.” He said now to Ish-Ma-El who huffed a frustrated breath out and put down their hand, “Speaking of friends, Peggy, our illustrious Engineer and of course you’ve met Algernon.”

“Oh, supposedly the engineer,” Ish-Ma-El turned to look at Peggy, taller, dark with curly hair, Peggy was everything they weren’t.  

Except for the attitude.

“Supposedly?  I am the Engineer, and as I don’t know you, you don’t count.” Peggy bit back showing that she no longer saw Ish-Ma-El as a threat by putting away her hand crossbow.

“And we don’t take kindly to threatening violence,” Bruce added, threatening violence with every muscle twitch.

Ish-Ma-El stared up at Bruce, making him turn and examine the newcomer.  They impressed him with their courage, and he felt that it wasn’t misplaced foolhardiness. 

“Bruce!  Friend!” Rain exclaimed, and Bruce broke eye contact, “I’m sorry, It’s so hard to make friends these days.”

“Yeah, don’t I know it.,” Ish-Ma-El replied sullenly.

“Er…look I’m going to make up for everything with that food I promised, maybe a picnic while you and Peggy discuss how to get The Molly out of the hole?” Rain said as the metal wings on his back open themselves, “Please try not to kill each other while I’m gone, okay?” 

Ish-Ma-El quickly outlined what they’d done to the engine including replacing a cracked cylinder, straightening out boiler tubes bent in the fall and testing the boiler’s seals ready for use. All that and the natty yellow paint job.

“And you did all that just with salvage?” Peggy asked in her most matter of fact way that to the group meant she was impressed.

“That’s what I do.  That’s why I’m out of the rails,” Ish-Ma-El replied defensively, “Besides, the theatre was full of supplies for building and repairing the stage and scenery.”

Peggy, who’d had more time to think over the problem, outlined her plan for getting the engine out of the hole and back on the tracks. Using a heavy A-frame above the hole, the engine would winch itself out of the theatre.  From there, elbow grease from the ship’s crew would maneuver the engine onto the tracks.  Simple in theory, but it took the two of them, Peggy’s knowledge of engineering and Ish-Ma-El’s uncanny ability with salvage, to make it work.

Peggy and Bruce stayed on the surface, organising the A-frame construction with several crew members.  Ish-Ma-El and two others scavenged for parts and attached The Molly to the frame using heavy chains and ropes.  Algernon kept himself busy being the group’s elevator, lifting people and supplies up and down the hole.  Rain found himself doing the job he’d been avoiding all night, shuttling back and forward on menial tasks.  At least he got to fly. 

Even Captain Al-Ram-Kuno came over to provide…support in the way of unhelpful advice and yelling at the crew, which was his ways of boosting morale. It wasn’t required.  Under the competent eyes of both Peggy and Ish-Ma-El backed by a firm word from Bruce, the crew snapped too.  They knew raising The Molly was their best chance of escaping the Railsea alive.

And it was working.  The engine lifted from the stage in a groan of metal, a cloud of falling sand and broken floorboards and was soon ten foot off the ground and halfway to the top.  The stack and the engineer’s cabin were above the surface, and things were going well until a squeak from deep in the theatre caught Ish-Ma-El’s attention. 

“Oh, rats!” They growled, leaving what they were doing and pulling out both hand crossbows.

 Peggy, on the lip of the hole, heard it too and pulled out her crossbow.

“Incoming, rats in the hole, we need covering fire!”

Rain and the two crew members down in the hole ran to  Ish-Ma-El.  Each crew member had armed themselves, one with a sturdy crowbar, the other with a heavy club made from a points lever.  Rain’s hand’s were empty, the wings extended.

“What are you going to do, dance them to death?” Ish-Ma-El got out before four giant rat bodies leapt off the broken balcony’s above and down towards them.

Bruce threw down a pick he was using to enlarge the hole and leaped down to join the battle in melee as one rat caught a crew member by the leg and started pulling them away. Another missed his chance at easy meat, the crew member stepping out of range of the creature’s teeth.  One rat ran towards Ish-Ma-El, but Rain flared out the wings before it could reach them and did indeed seem to dance in front of the rat.  Keeping the rat’s attention, he flicked the wings back and forward so the rat was never sure where the next attack was coming from.  The third rat ran for Bruce as he landed amongst the thick of battle. He dodged around it and sprinted towards the crewman a rat had caught.  A firm crack across the head and the rat let go. The crew member crawled away flailing their club giving the rat a glancing blow. The crew member with the crowbar lashed out, but the rat caught the crowbar and wrenched it from their grip.  The fourth rat dove for Ish-Ma-el. They shot it twice with the hand crossbows before throwing the weapons aside and pulling out their duel swords with a snicker of sharpened steel.

The crew tied off the train on the surface and started grabbing rocks to cast down on the rats twenty feet below.  One was knocked in the head by a stone. It bounced away as if hitting concrete, the rocks did nothing to stop the rats’ advances. Seeing the battle joined, the Captain bravely stepped away from the hole, letting others do the fighting.  Peggy launched a plasma bolt at the rat Bruce had just smashed.  The rats sizzled and snapped, and the smell of burning fur filled the theatre.  When the smoke cleared, the rat was still, its brains boiled in its skull.

Rain continued to distract his rat, getting into the rhythm of the taunting moves.

“Rescuing?  I don’t need rescuing.” He laughed as the rat seemed completely confused about where to attack.

The rat Bruce dodged had better luck snagging itself a crew member.  The man screamed, drawing Bruce’s attention to that quarter.

On the surface, Peggy and the crew turned to a movement in the sand as two more rats breached and attacked.  One leapt at a crew member’s face sending them both back over the hole and down into the theatre.

There was no time for thinking about those in the hole as another two rats followed the first.  Peggy kicked one away as another rat missed their target, but a third caught a prized morsel. Before anyone knew what was going on, the Captain was screaming already knee-deep in the sand and disappearing fast.  The crew ran for the hole and pulled weapons, billhooks and long pieces of wood to poke down the rat hole after the Captain’s assailant.  Algernon picked up a rat from the surface and threw it down the hole, hoping to hit another fighting in the theatre.  Though the captured rat made a satisfying thud when it fell, it missed the one on Ish-Ma-El by inches and landed near Bruce.  Peggy sent a plasma arch to the rat dragging the Captain away.  It singed its head, forcing it to duck under the sand, the Captain sank in up to his waist.

In the hole, Bruce brought his crowbar down on the rat dragging the crew member away.  A crack and brain splattered across the dusty broken seating of the theatre.  

Splat Rat!

“NEXT!” Bruce yelled as the crew member and the rat fell from above onto Rain.

Focused on his rat, Rain was oblivious to the falling couple until they landed on squarely on him.  The injured crew member crawled off and found a piece of wood as their chosen weapon, leaving a stunned rat and Rain desperate to get up off the ground.

Another rat fell near Bruce, and he looked up, gave his thanks and went to work.

Ish-Ma-el prepared their stance and waited for the rat she’d shot previously to attack.  As it lunged, terrifying teeth extended, they brought the two swords down in a double attack, slashing through the thick hide of the beast to the bone. Muscle no longer propelling bones, the heart’s blood pumping on the sand, the rat died.  Ish-Ma-El swung her swords wide, clearing her weapons of the beast’s blood and readied for the next attack.

Rain rolled smartly away from the stunned rat.  The movement caught its attention, and it lunged without thought.  Almost as long as he was tall, the rat pinned Rain to the ground, its teeth snapping at his face.

“Okay, really need that rescuing now,” Rain called across the theatre to Bruce.

“Coming Rain!  Little busy!” Bruce replied, his crowbar finding the head of the rat dropped to him by Algernon. 

Splat Rat!

“Are you looking at teeth the size of your face?!”

The injured crewman who fell with the rat smashed it with his piece of stage. Another hit it with his crowbar.

Upstairs, the Captain’s screams suddenly silenced as he sunk beneath the sand. Peggy knocked another rat aside in an attempt to get to the Captain, but everywhere she and the crew dug, there was nothing but more sand.  Algernon, seeing Rain in trouble, went to levitate the rat off his friend.  Feeling the sensation, the rat dug its claws into the stage’s wood, and Algernon couldn’t lift it away.  The moment’s interaction did give Rain a chance.  Now the claws were busy, Rain flicked a knife into his hand.  When the rat opened it’s mouth he jammed the dagger in behind the giant incisors.  The point stuck into the roof of the mouth, the pommel pressing down on the tongue and held fast. The rat could not close its mouth to bite. Instead, it thrashed its head from side to side, trying to dislodge the knife.

Fighting beside him, Ish-Ma-El found a second rat.  Their first sword swing missed the fast-moving rodent, but the second found its mark and cut deep.  The rat stumbled as messages from its head no longer seemed to be followed by the limbs and it fell into a twitching heap.

“Someone drop a rat on me!” Ish-Ma-El yelled, and from high above, Algernon responded.

“Aye, Aye, Captain!”

A rat launched itself at Peggy but bounced off her shielding, sliding to the sand.  Algernon deftly picked it up with his levitate and dropped it down the hole to Ish-Ma-El.  The crew tried their billhooks in the hole, and Algernon even sent a crossbow bolt into the sand, but a bloodied epaulette off the Captain’s uniform was all they found.

The falling rat met sharpened steel down the hole as Ish-Ma-El sliced it in two before it had even hit the sand.  Bruce finally made it across to Rain and brought his crowbar down on the rat’s head.  The dagger lodged against the roof of its mouth shot straight through its skull, splattering Rain below with blood and brains.  

“You alright there, Rain?” Bruce asked, but no reply came.  He pushed the beast off his friend and found Rain frozen in place, his dagger still in his hand, his eyes wide and staring. “Come on, get up, you’re alright.”

Mutely Rain complied, the hand with the dagger still shaking.

“T-t-hanks!” the little man finally said, closing his eyes to the horror around him and cleaning his blade on a silk handkerchief. 

“See now,” Bruce said gently as if speaking to a child, “In the future, you’ll go with your friends.”

“I-In my d-defence,” Rain replied, glancing at Ish-Ma-El, as they swept the area for more enemies to slay,  “I didn’t need rescuing f-from people.”

Bruce shook his head and held Rain’s steady as he too turned to Ish-Ma-El.

“Nice moves, good work!” He said, “You managed to kill a couple.”

“Now do you believe me when I say I can kill anyone of you?” They panted in reply, cleaning off their swords before carefully returning them to sheaths.  The hand crossbows, too, were retrieved from the dusty ground and returned to their holsters.

Once the injured were treated, and the loss of the Captain noted, the work of raising The Molly continued.  The crew did as they were told as before, but there was no energy to their work. They were afraid. They’d lost their first mate and Captain all within twenty-four hours. From their perspective, there was no one now left in charge that could get them back to safety.  The mood got so bad that even Peggy noted it and called all the crew to her and Ish-Ma-El.

“This is Ish-Ma-El.  By right of salvage and by right of the work of their own hands they have claimed The Molly.  They are the Captain.  They have promised to get us to Manihiki.  From there you can decide what to do with your lives, but not before!” She barked in a way the crew were very familiar.  They looked at the slip of a creature that was Ish-Ma-El, doft their caps in respect and went back to work.

“Me, Captain?  But, I don’t know anything about being a Captain!” Ish-Ma-El said, starting to panic after the crew had gone back to their duties.

“Do you think that fool we had before did?” Replied Peggy and turned back to work herself.

“If it’s any consolation, “ Algernon said, the sweetest expression on his youthful face, “Captain’s don’t have a long life expectancy aboard our trains.”  He handed her the bloodied epaulette and walked away.

“If you want to be a Captain, you may want to think about a philosophy,” Rain suggested and was surprised at the violence of Ish-Ma-El’s response.

“Philosophies suck!  Love songs to mindless killing beasts! Idiots!” They spat, making them forget their panic, if only for a moment.

“I wouldn’t say that too loudly around the crew, they think highly of Captains with a passion,” He said quietly so only they could hear, “But there are other ways to win hearts and minds.” He winked and went off to ignore the pleas for food and water a while.

Several hundred tons of metal lifted vertically from the theatre and delicately placed on the rails was achieved over the next few hours.  The Molly was a vision in the dying light of the day, bright sunflower yellow with two giant eyes taken from stage props affixed to the boilerplate.  These so amused Peggy set to work creating a small geared motor to roll the irises back and forth. The Molly looked the part, but could not leave the track just in front of the hole.

“We’ve used all the water supplies we had to get The Molly up, “ Peggy said that afternoon, “How are we going to fill the tanks for the trip across the desert?”

“Wasn’t there water in the men’s toilets?” Bruce remembered from his fall into the washroom that had initiated their discovery of the theatre.

“A sluggish, muddy trickle,” Peggy agreed, “We’ll need pumps and a decent filtration system to make it clean enough to put through the boiler.

“Now if only we had someone good at salvaging useful parts and jury-rigging a pump and filtration system…” Bruce mused looking directly at Ish-Ma-El.

“Yes, yes not need to nag,” They replied prickly before happily scrounging through the theatre for the necessary parts.  A hand-cranked wind machine, several hundred metres of artificial rain pipes and an assortment of materials lining a giant megaphone cone and Ish-Ma-El had a working system for moving and filtering water.  The water supply gave out just as The Molly’s water tank gauge hit full. It was the best they could do.

“Which way to Manihiki?” Asked Rain whose knowledge of the town’s and cities of the Railsea didn’t extend to navigation. 

“I have a map,” Ish-Ma-El replied, pulling out a worn calfskin imprinted with the only pieces of hard land in the known world.

“Well, you tell us where to go, and I’ll switch the tracks,” Rain said, cheerily now that they were finally on their way.

Once The Molly and her new carriages were attached, and the course laid, Algernon slunk down below decks and made his way into the Captain’s quarters.  He didn’t find much there.  Captain Al-Ram-Kuno hadn’t had much to his name:  the Gliding Vulpine’s log including its manifest, a second uniform, a few coins, registration paper for the Ferro Navy (only for the Gliding Vulpine) and a large portrait of himself.  Algernon took a few coins, not all of them, he didn’t want it to look like a thief had been through, and scrawled a short note on the back of the painting.


When not on duty as a switcher, Rain spent his time below decks telling tales of Is-Ma-El.  The last survivor of their train, who’d trudged alone across the Railsea wastes on foot for weeks until they found the theatre and the final resting place of The Molly.  Four days and four nights they worked to get The Molly working, fighting off vermin with hand crossbow and sword.  They raised The Molly saving the crew from a long hard death on the open sands.  His most appreciated creation was the ‘Song of Ish-Ma-El’ which quickly caught on with the crew because of its catchy tune. The stories were mostly true. The crew were there to see some of it, some was gathered by Rain from the snippets that Ish-Ma-el themselves mentioned, other parts he wholly embellished.  It didn’t matter. It gave Captain Ish-Ma-El character and presence that the crew could understand and put their faith.  Slowly they began to rally behind their Savler Captain and heart was restored to the train.

“Peggy, if someone was to harness a steam-powered piston to propel a harpoon, how would they go about it?” Algernon asked one lazy afternoon only a few days out from Manihiki.

“I’d need parts, and it would have to be mounted to the engine for easy access to steam…”  Peggy mused, pulling her pencil from her hair and drawing a brief sketch on the roof of the carriage they sat on.

“Did someone say salvage?” Ish-Ma-El asked, striding by, now resplendent the Captain’s uniform.

“I’ll have a set of plans and a list of required parts ready for you tonight, Captain,” Peggy said, a small quirk to the side of her mouth showing how pleased she was.

“Could be useful where we’re going,” Rain said thoughtfully, “Captain, could I ask you your view on the Manihiki Ferro Navy?”

As usual, Ish-Ma-El’s dislike was violent and unambiguous.  Between the expletives and curses, Ish-Ma-El gave a ten-minute colourful tirade on the Navy and their devilry. It was enough to make a railman’s beard curl if any nearby had had a beard.

“Sure you’re not a spy for them?” Bruce laughed, as Ish-Ma-Ek had exhausted their collection of foul language, “Well, you’ve certainly found the right crew.”

“I think we can work with that.” Rain agreed with a nod.

Song of Ish-Ma-El

 (To the Tune: Do the “Loco-mo-tion”)

Last of their cr-ew their friends and family

Ish-Ma-El, Wanderer of Railsea

They were left for dead by wicked ban’try

Ish-Ma-El,Wanderer of Railsea

Now Railers everywhere, please take heed

“Never say die!” Became their creed.

So, come on and follow.

Ish-Ma-El, wanderer of Railsea!

Thr-ee lonely we-eks, Alone but not lone-ly

Ish-Ma-El, Wanderer of Railsea

Followed by the dead crying, “Vengence only!”

Ish-Ma-El, Wanderer of Railsea

A tiny flag of red, against the sand

Leads to ancient riches lost under land

So, come on and fol-low

Ish-Ma-El, wanderer of Railsea!

Captain Ish-Ma-El!

Fears no one!

Not mole!

Not ma-n!

Not even Ferro-Navy Grand!

Wow oh wow oh!

F-our days and ni-ghts, they worked on Molly.

Ish-Ma-El, wanderer of Railsea!

Reclaimed her from the dust, the moles and the vermin

Ish-Ma-El, wanderer of Railsea!

A hoard of giant rats came to cause havoc.

Crossbow and twin swo-rds

Flashed through the dark

So, come on and fol-low

Ish-Ma-El, wanderer of Railsea!