Fault and Fury
In which Dodger is ambushed by an ugly truth.
It was the first time Dodger had traveled the length of the train by way of the interior, and it pained him that he couldn’t take his time to enjoy it. Boon sketched a quick narrative of each area’s function as they moved from car to car, but it didn’t do the beauty of the line justice. Dodger vowed that later, when he had a moment to himself, he would go over the line inch by brassy inch, taking the time to appreciate the work of art the Sleipnir really was.
It had also been a long time since Dodger moved through a moving train. He rushed along the cabs with a little disorientation, the sensation of the train going in one direction and he in another washing over him with a familiar and welcome rush. It felt good. It felt right. It felt like coming home after being away for a very long time.
Light on his feet, Dodger crossed the linkage to the second car and ducked inside. The cab was split down the middle, the right side consisting of a long metal locker that ran from floor to roof, while the left was broken into caged units. The cab was also lit by a series of gas lamps, leaving Dodger bathed in a weak light, but glad he didn’t have to fumble with a lantern.
Boon explained, The long bin on the right is coal storage, while to your left is the crew’s cargo. We each have a few feet of space allotted for items that won’t fit in our berths. Mine was that empty square on the end. And now I suppose it will become yours.
The first two units were neatly packed with a variety of boxes, while the third one was a hodgepodge of fabrics and trunks and small bits of gaudy furniture. The fourth unit was stuffed to the ceiling with crates of cheap whiskey. And sure enough, at the end of the cab near the door sat a lonely square, devoid of anything save a layer of coal dust.
The cargo space wasn’t the only thing that was empty. So were Dodger’s ears. In other words, there was a disturbing lack of noise. Despite the car’s proximity to the engine, the roar of the train was but a muffled chuff.
“Why is it so quiet in here?” Dodger asked.
I shall allow the professor to illuminate the inner workings, as I’m afraid I don’t understand all of her functions. Something to do with aural buffering and resonation chambers.
Dodger made a mental note to ask the doc for additional information, his inquisitive nature hungry for more after Boon’s basic details.
The next cab was, of course, the meeting car, with which Dodger was slightly familiar. Except where before it was alive with activity, it now stood empty of life. Shadows danced across the walls, while the furniture creaked with the rhythm of the moving train. Mr. Torque stood in his alcove by the door, silent as the grave.
“What is he doing there?” Dodger whispered.
“He’s asleep? I wouldn’t have thought he had a need for sleep.”
I am unclear if he needs sleep or just likes the idea of not being available.
Dodger repressed the urge to laugh aloud. He could picture the mutinous clockwork butler snaring any excuse to get out of work. What he couldn’t picture was why the Doc put up with so much insubordination. Still, it was eerie to see the mechanical man shut down in that way. Dodger left Mr. Torque to his rest as he slid the door open and followed the linkage into the next cab. There he found a short hallway, which turned sharply to the left then back to the right again. This made for a long closed-off area to the right of the hallway, which sported three doors.
The two larger doors lead to crew berths, while the middle holds a small WC.
“Really?” Dodger asked. The idea of a plumbing on a train wasn’t outrageous, just a pleasant surprise. “Whose quarters are these?”
The first is a guest quarter. We don’t have visitors often, but when we do, they are assigned that space. The second berth is mine. Boon’s spirit groaned with an ethereal sigh. Was mine. I guess it’s yours now too.
“I guess so,” Dodger said. He passed the berth, resisting the urge to fling open the door and peek inside.
The next car is also quarters, so feel free to press through. Quickly.
Dodger caught on to the spirit’s anxiety and picked up his pace. The fifth cab was almost a duplicate of the fourth, another sleeper car. Dodger had almost swept past the first berth when he heard the sound of weeping rising from the closed door. He stopped, stepped a few paces backward and stared at the barred entrance, straining his ears in the unnatural silence of the sleeper cab. No, he hadn’t imagined it. Someone was crying just on the other side of that door. He had a pretty good idea who that someone was.
“Miss Lelanea?” Dodger asked as he tapped softly on the door.
The weeping came to a sudden choking stop.
“Ma’am?” Dodger asked again. “Are you all right?”
Leave her be, Boon whispered. Please. The professor needs you more than she does right now.
Dodger had little choice but to comply. “Who’s got the next berth?”
The Doc, though he rarely sleeps there. Please, we need to hurry.
“Dodger!” the professor’s tinny voice shouted from some hidden bloom in the car. “Get your behind down the line right now!” Just under his screaming came the shouting of Thad and his men.
Dodger rushed to his destination, the sixth cab, the professor’s personal quarters and laboratory. Shouting and fussing roared from the cab as Dodger slid the door open, filling the umbilical linkage with a raucous din. Once he set eyes on the inside of the cab, he realized it was a mistake to leave the men in the hands of the professor. He should have stayed with them to temper the situation, to put the men at ease.
The sixth car was the epitome of every rumored laboratory of every legendary mad scientist across the globe. Host to a collection of frightening equipment and odd apparatuses, it was bound to spook even the most levelheaded of men. Glowing tubes and smoking pipes. Flashing lights and smoldering coals. Boiling beakers and bubbling goop. Around the upper half of the room, running in an uninterrupted ledge, there rested racks of vials with labels that ranged from ‘angel feathers’ to ‘zebra droppings.’
Mary’s precocious Victor had nothing on Professor Hieronymus J. Dittmeyer.
Speaking of the doc, Dodger found him cowering in one corner under the shadow of some unfinished mechanical project. Thad and his kin towered over the professor, raising their voices and well on the route to raising their fists. With the mix of curses and angry shouting, Dodger couldn’t make out a blasted thing the men were screaming about.
“Mr. Dodger!” the professor yelled. “Will you tell these men to calm down? They seem taken with the notion that I intend them harm.”
Dodger wedged himself between the men and the professor, pushing the angry men as far back as they would allow. “Calm down. Come on guys, calm down.”
But the men were stalwart. They pressed against him, shouting and swinging fists and ready to tear the doc apart limb by limb.
Dodger shoved harder and hollered, “For Pete’s sake, put a sock in it already!”
The men stumbled away from the doc, lowering their shouts to grumbles, but continuing to look peeved as all get out.
“What is the problem here?” Dodger asked.
“That man is the problem,” Thad spat in anger. Dodger recognized the tone in which Thad said the word ‘man.’ It was the same way Butch pronounced the word, as if all men were diseased. Or rather, a disease.
“What are you talking about? He’s a bit troublesome, but I wouldn’t call him a problem.” Dodger grinned.
Thad, however, wasn’t in the mood for levity. “He’s been our problem this whole time. You said we could trust him. I thought we could trust you!”
“You can trust him. You have my word.”
Thad sneered, the curl of his canine lip over his fangs leaving Dodger most impressed. “Your word? Then it’s your word against this.” Thad shoved something in Dodger’s direction.
Dodger fumbled for the unexpected item, catching it just before it fell from Thad’s hand to the floor. The weight of it surprised him, and he raised the heavy thing—some warped scrap of metal—to the light, trying to discern why it was so damned important. He turned it about and caught a gleam of an imprint on its backside.
A capital letter D surrounded by a frame of intricate scrollwork.
“What is this?” Dodger asked, running his finger over the embossed edges.
Everyone spoke at the same time, filling the room with a cacophony of voices once more. Dodger raised his hand and shouted for silence. Again, with some measure of obvious distaste from Thad and his men, they fell into growling grumbles.
“I see an imprint on a piece of scrap metal,” Dodger said. “Now, it means nothing to me, but it must mean something to all of you. I’m gonna guess it isn’t the same meaning, else you wouldn’t be arguing about it. So, Doc, since this is your house, why don’t you go first? What is this?” Dodger held up the metal again.
Still cowering, as if he expected to be struck down for his answer, the professor said in a very small voice, “My mark.”
“Your mark?” dodger asked, unsure what the man meant at first. But in seconds, he understood. The stamp was a signature for his creations. His way of saying to all the world, I made this. “Mark, as in your work signature?”
“If this is your work signature, then why haven’t I seen it on anything else?”
“I only place it upon things I sell. It’s a stamp to identify my products to the consumer. Nothing more, I swear it.”
“You don’t got to swear, sir. I believe you. All right, Thad, let’s hear what you think it is.”
“That is the sign of death and destruction,” Thad said as he raised an accusing finger at the metal imprint. “It is an evil mark.”
Worry roiled in Dodger’s stomach as he dreaded the next question, and the answer he was fairly sure it would bring. “Where have you seen this mark before?”
“On the machine that did this to us,” Thad growled.
And that’s just about what Dodger thought the man was going to say.