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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!

A first Christmas

December 1995 – Morris House, Slough – 7 years old

The Morrises had bought a dead tree and put it in their living room.  It took up the entire corner Tobias liked to sit in when no one was around.  Even now he tried hiding behind the tree, crushing piney needles, making his palms sticky.

The rest of the children of the Morris’ foster house were excited about the visitors from the local church.  Tobias wasn’t sure why the fuss. They saw the same people every Sunday and barely ever spoke to them unless told to by the Morrises.  Of course, it was Christmas, but in Tobias’ short life and even shorter memory, that didn’t warrant all this excitement

He remembered classmates being excited for Djeda Mraz’s visitation New Years day, but the bearded man never made an appearance at his home…

Don’t go there. Danger ! Danger!.


Britain also had Djeda Mraz but without his grand-daughter Sneguochka. He wore red and seemed to arrive at Christmas instead of New Years.  It made sense, there were a lot of places to visit and he couldn’t be everywhere on one day.

“Mrs Morris, Toby’s hiding in the tree again.”  Christine chorused as she spotted him shift uncomfortably. A branch was poking into his side, he broke it off.

“Toby.  Get out from under the tree.  I don’t want you full of pine needles for the guests.”  Mrs Morris called from the kitchen where she was busy making tasty treats with the bigger boys and girls.

“He hasn’t moved, Mrs Morris.”  Christine called again a few moments later.  She was too busy rummaging through boxes of colourful balls and strings of lights to pay much attention to him other than to get him in trouble.

A deep murmured voice and a heavy footfall signaled the arrival of Mr Morris.  Tobias shrank back against the wall. Through the branches he could see Mr Morris’s huge frame taking up the entire doorway.  With the same heavy gait his foster father marched across the lounge and knelt in front of the tree.

“I don’t know Toby,” he said quietly enough so only Tobias could hear, “There’s a lot of crazy goings on out here.  Do you think there’s room for me behind the tree?”

Tobias grinned.  It was ridiculous, there was barely room for him behind the tree, how would a huge man like Mr Morris fit.  He shook his head shyly.

“Shame.  I could really do with a break from all their Christmas shenanigans.  I guess your family didn’t celebrate Christmas did they?”

Tobias thought.  It that why I don’t remember….

No!  Leave those alone!

He shook his head.

“No. Still, lots of people do in your country.  The Catholics like us and the Orthodox. What do you remember of that time of year?”

Again he though.  Careful to steer clear of the dangerous memories. He remembered late at night hearing singing coming through his bedroom window.  From his bed he couldn’t hear the words, but he remembered very well the sound of all those voices singing together as one.

“I like…” and he started humming the tune as best as he could remember it.

“That’s a lovely Christmas carol. I’m fond of them too.”  And in response Mr Morris started singing in his rich baritone a song Tobias hadn’t heard before.

O come, o come Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel.

That mourn in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appears.

Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmauel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

It was  very sad, sweet tune that seemed to cry as well as celebrate.  When he stopped there wasn’t a sound in the house. Slowly the kitchen chatter started again and Christine went back to rummaging through the boxes.

“That is a very old song, do you know it?”  Mr Morris asked the tree. The tree shook its head.


“Oh yes.  It is about the people of Israel, stolen from their home and made slaves. But they were promised a mighty king would bring them altogether one day and he would be called Emmanuel.  So even in their captivity they celebrated.”

Tobias nodded, picking up one word in three.  He was pretty smart, and though English wasn’t even his second language he could tell this was a story meant for him.

“See, being happy is about how you feel. But joy is you saying ‘No, this bad time will not last and I will live like I am living in the good times until they come for real.’  Does that make sense?”

Tobias nodded slowly.  He thought he understood.

“You teach…Em-man-uel?”

Mr Morris beamed and held a hand out to the tree.  A small delicate hand took his and Tobias climbed out.

“It would be my pleasure.  If you like we could sing it for the guests coming today.”

Tobias didn’t know about that.  He liked to sing but was forever in trouble for getting the words wrong.  

Mr Morris however, quickly rounded up Christine and a few other children and taught them all, O Come, O Come, as a small choir. Some were not interested at first and others couldn’t hold a tune, but slowly the voices built.  

What Tobias lacked in pronounciation he made up for in having a decent singing voice and a love of music. Mr Morris gave him a small harmony in verses so he didn’t stumble over unknown words.

When the guests arrived all bundled with parcels and silly hats, the choir of 5 children and Mr Morris welcomed them.

“If I’d known we’d be welcomed with music I would have brought my singing hat.”  Joked a very elderly stranger who was introduced as Mr Samuels, and friend to several of the church members.

Tobias wasn’t sure about a singing hat, but he was sure he like this man.  For one thing he was short for an adult, and thin but he had a bright spark of mischief in his eyes and was always ready with a joke or a laugh.

Throughout the day, Tobias felt drawn to Mr Samuels side, making excuses to bring him snacks or sit closer to listen to him talk. He spoke perfect English, but his accent was not English and reminded him of…

Don’t think of them!

He shrunk down beside Mr Samuel’s chair and allowed the excitement to flow around him.  The older foster children knew that after the meal they would be given the presents brought by the guests from the church congregation as a whole.  The others tried to guess what they would be given when Tobias noticed Mr Samuels watching him.

“I’d say this is an unusual scene for you, Tobias.”  Mr Samuels said surprising Tobias. He’d not realised the old man had noticed him or for that matter even knew his name.  “Mr Morris told me your name after the carol. You have a fine voice.”

“I have…little English….”  He wanted to explain. He needed the old man to know it wasn’t that he was stupid or mean that he didn’t speak for himself, but that right now he had no words.

“But you make yourself heard eloquently regardless.”  Mr Samuels replied with a smile, “That means, I understand you.”

Tobias laughed with relief and he felt warmed by the old man’s attention.

“Now, I don’t know if anyone has got around to asking you, but what would you like for Christmas?”

Tobias wasn’t sure.  He hadn’t thought he would get anything.  Toys and books were all well and good, but after you’ve found out all they do or read to the last page, then what?  He remembered watching a television Christmas special with a famous magician who had put swords all through his assistant in a box, and the assistant had come out untouched.

“For Christmas please…I want …magic.” he said haltingly to Mr Samuel, whose eyebrows disappeared into his silly Christmas hat.

“Magic.  Tell me, how did you come to think of that?”

Slowly with gestures and  a quick run to find pen and paper, Tobias told, signed and drew what he had seen.  It took sometime and Mrs Morris came with plates of food for both of them before they had finished.

“You know what Tobias, that is some very powerful magic.  It would take years of training and a good assistant to pull off magic like that.”

Tobias sighed, of course it would.  How could such amazing feats be compared to dolls and construction sets.

“That’s not to say you can’t start learning magic.”  Mr Samuels slowly stood groaning from his chair. “I’ll have a word with your foster parents and then…well…we’ll see.  Will you be patient and wait for me to come back?”

Tobias wasn’t sure what was happening, but there was a light in Mr Samuels’ eyes and a feeling that something important was about to happen.  He nodded with eager agreement.

Mr Samuels went to find the Morrises and then he left and Tobias was alone again.

“Why don’t you join the rest of us, “  Mr Morris called from the hall. Tobias didn’t want to, he wanted to hide behind the tree again and think about Mr Samuels.  But then, he remembered the song and what it meant. He took a deep breath.

“Yes, Mr Morris…I come.”

The others had all gathered in the newly cleared dining room.  A large stack of parcels all colourfully wrapped now stood on the table.  As each child’s name was called, they would excitedly step up and be given a parcel that they would either open on the spot for everyone to see, or take away to open in private.  The adults laughed at the antics of each of the children as they exclaimed over their gifts.

Tobias sat watching as one child after another got a gift.  He clapped and even laughed with them in their happiness knowing that Mr Samuels had promised to come back.  The thought didn’t make him happy, but he was content to wait, knowing he was bringing magic!

When all the gifts were given and commented on, and the other children had wandered off to play with their new items, the adults settled into discussions about leaving.

“But Mr Samuels come back.”  Tobias protested and the adults accepted his rebuke with good humour and chatted a while longer.  As time went on, however, there was more glances at watches and concerns for what needed to be done at home.  One by one the guests left until it was only Tobias and the Morrises left.  

Outside the winter day fled quickly leaving nothing but a blustery wind that fitfully buffeted the garden outside the lounge windows.

“Tobias, go to bed.  Mr Samuels is an old man and can’t be expected to come out in the dark and cold for you.”  Mrs Morris bustled around, much like the breeze outside. Everywhere she went she moved, sorted and picked up things leaving everything much as she had found them.  Mr Morris sat nearby in silence and watching much like the moon, changing nothing but providing a guiding light. Tobias fidgetted. He didn’t want to go against the authority of Mrs Morris but Mr Samuels had promised and had asked for patience.  He didn’t want to disappoint the old man by being asleep when he did come back.

The story of the captive Israelites came to him a second time and without explanation, Tobias opened his  mouth and started singing the song he had learnt only that morning.

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel

Who mourn in lonely exile here…”

“I think he’s made his decision, love.”  Mr Morris said to Mrs Morris trying to hide a smile.

“Don’t smirk at me…”  She chided her husband,  “Oh, I guess it’s okay as long as he doesn’t wake the others.”

“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee O Israel.”

Tobias stumbled through all seven verses with the help of Mr Morris until they got to the end  and he started again. By the fourth time he was singing it alone when car lights lit the front garden.  Mrs Morris went to get the door.

“Mr Samuels!  Get in here out of the cold before you catch your death!”  She exclaimed from the front door.

“I had to come, I could hear the joyful song calling me.”  said Mr Samuels jubilant voice over the wind.

Tobias’ song stumbled and died as in limped Mr Samuels handing his coat and scarf to a waiting Mrs Morris.  In one hand a plastic bag, on his head a little white hat was pinned to his thin grey hair.

“And see, I have brought my singing hat.”  he pointed to the yarmulke and laughed.

“You didn’t need to come out on a night like this…”  Mrs Morris started but when Mr Morris got up and offered his seat to Mr Samuels he said quietly, 

“Tobias never gave up waiting.”

Tears started in the old man’s eyes and he brushed them away deftly, checking his yarmulke was still in place.

“Well then I hope it was worth the wait.”  He sat down and now turned his attention to the little boy standing near the window.  

“Come here, this is something that demands close attention.”  He beckoned Tobias over as he pulled a small wooden box and a worn paperback book from his plastic bag.

“I’m afraid it took me longer to find than I’d thought.  Fifty years in a place you tend to collect a lot of junk.”

He put the box in Tobias’ yielding hand and placed the book beside him.

“This is old.  Older than me and I don’t doubt that there’s magic in it as I’ve only ever opened one compartment.  It is called a puzzle box and it’s meant to test and delight bright minds.”

He then picked up the book.  Tobias could see on its creased and yellow cover the title, Bobo’s modern coin magic.

“This also tests and delights a bright mind.  These are tricks you can learn that look like magic and to those who don’t know the secret they will be.”  He handed the book to the boy as well. “Would you like me to show you how they work?”

Tobias nodded, wide eyed with awe and pleasure as Mr Samuels rolled up his sleeves and got to work.  On the inside of Mr Samuel’s arm, Tobias noticed a set off numbers smudged and dull blue on his tissue paper skin.

“Never mind those.”  Mr Samuels said when he saw Tobias looking, “They are a reminder to me to always live in hope, no matter how bad things get.”

“Just like…Emmanuel!”  Tobias replied touching the tattoo.

“Just like your song.”

And the two of them worked deep into the night practising magic tricks and learning the secrets of the magic puzzle box.