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.
“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:
??? – 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!”