Sharing the News
In which Dodger spreads the awful word
Once they returned to the meeting cab, Dodger took another minute or two in order to catch his breath. Mostly because he had a lot of explaining to do, but partly because he needed a moment to settle his nerves. As well as wash his bloody hands. The further the Sleipnir got from the doomed town of Celina, the easier he breathed, but it did nothing for his worry. Rex was far more dangerous than any of them gave the little mutt credit for. This did not bode well for the next two weeks.
“Well?” the doc asked as they settled into the cab.
“Well,” Dodger said, then paused, gathering his thoughts, his words, his disbelief at what he was about to say.
“Well?” Lelanea asked, the urgency of her voice much more pressing then her uncle’s.
“Come on, Sharge,” Ched said. “Don’t keep ush in shushpenshe.”
As Dodger worked out what to say, there arose a boom in the distance. The train rocked a bit with the aftermath of the explosion.
“There goes Shelina,” Ched said.
“Good riddance,” Boon said from a shadowy corner.
“Agreed, good riddance,” the doc said. “Yet, still, why would he want to blow up a whole town?”
“Becaush he ish crazshy,” Ched said.
“We know that,” Lelanea said.
“Never mind,” the doc said. “You were saying, Mr. Dodger?”
“I …” Dodger started, but paused when an idea struck him. “Wait a minute. Did you just hear Boon speak?”
“Oh yes. I worked up a little gadget while you were out.” The doc removed his spectacles and showed Dodger the two-inch round lumps on either end of the legs of the frame. “I call it the Spirit Auditory Widget. He must speak verbally for it to work. I understand he can’t speak directly when he is in full sunlight, something to do with disappearing or some other nonsense, so it doesn’t work under those circumstances. Granted, I can’t see him with the SAW, but hearing is almost better than seeing.”
“Tell that to a blind man,” Feng said.
Once again, Dodger was amazed at his boss man’s intellectual prowess. “When did you work it up? I was only gone twenty minutes, tops.”
The doc shrugged. “It only took me ten. I spent the other ten inventing a new air-freshening system released from an air-powered container, but I don’t suppose now is the time for such talk. Please, tell us what happened with that wretched Rex.”
“Of course.” Dodger centered his thoughts. “I met with him. Rex, I mean. But … he … Well, he isn’t what we thought.”
“Good,” the doc said, and gave a little excited clap. “Because I thought he was a madman.”
“Hold your applause there, sir. He is mad. He just isn’t a man.”
Everyone shared matching confused looks at that. Everyone except Feng.
“Aw, nuts,” Feng said with a whine. “I should’ve seen that one coming.”
“Seen what?” Boon asked.
“Commander Rex. He is the dog, isn’t he, Dodger?”
The crew gave a collective gasp, save for the Celestial, who smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand.
“The Pack trapped him in the POW machine,” Feng said. “Remember?”
The doc snapped his fingers and pointed at the cook. “They cranked it to full! He must’ve taken too heavy a dose of the melding agents. Too much dog, too little man.”
“Rather than meld with the aspects of a dog,” Leleana said, finishing the idea, “he became a dog.”
“But how does he speak?” Boon asked.
“Rather well, actually,” Dodger said.
“I was being serious,” Boon said.
“So am I,” Dodger said. “He speaks from that tiny little mouth of his like he was a full-grown man. Commander Rex is still a human, just in the body of a dog.”
“Commander Rex?” Ched said. “More like Canush Rex.”
Dodger snorted. “Canus Rex. Wow. Yeah, I don’t think he would appreciate that.”
“Then conshider it a gift.” Ched winked at Dodger.
“Fascinating,” the doc said. “A talking dog, you say? Oh but I would so love to meet with such a thing.”
“I’m glad you feel that way, sir, because you already have. Sort of.”
“How show?” Ched asked.
“Well, you see …” Dodger started, then lost the nerve to explain when he saw the anticipation on the doc’s face. He just couldn’t tell the crew that they were responsible for giving Rex half of his information about the train and themselves. Maybe more than half. Dodger racked his brain for a plausible lie, to keep from telling them the awful truth, when Feng did the dirty deed for him.
“He’s talking about Jo-Jo,” the cook said with a sigh.
Dodger gave the Celestial a curt frown.
“Rex was that damned mutt we kept aboard for a month,” Feng said.
“No,” the doc whispered. “Not my little Jo-Jo.”
“I’m afraid so,” Dodger said.
“I can’t believe it.”
“I can,” Lelanea said, and crossed her arms.
“You hush,” the doc said. “You never did like that dog.”
“He hated me.”
“Hates you,” the doc hissed. “You speak of him as if he is dead.”
“We wish,” Boon said.
“Stop it!” the doc shouted. “I refuse to believe this is true. Jo-Jo was a sweet doggy. Not like that … that … animal!”
“He had a message for you,” Dodger said. “He said your little cuddly wuddly misses your special time.”
The doc gasped.
“And something about sausage balls?” Dodger added.
The doc gasped again and began wringing his hands. “Then it’s true? Oh dear, oh dear. What a wretched turn of events.”
“Go on, Dodger,” Lelanea said. “Finish telling us what happened. We can worry about Rex later.”
Dodger was never much for tale telling, but he pressed on, spurred by their excitement. The moment he reached the death of Bottle, the enthusiasm waned to remorse. Upon revelation of the contraptions, the crew became enraptured. At the sharing of the riddle, everyone was on the edge of their seat, including Dodger. He got as caught up in the telling of the tale as they were in the listening. He almost didn’t want to end. Yet the ending arrived, the tension of the moment snapped, and the crew sat back to digest it all.
“My, that was thrilling,” the doc said.
“Certainly,” Feng said.
“Poor Bottle,” Lelanea said. “I would love to get my claws on that Kitty.”
Dodger looked away, shamed by his inability to stop Bottle’s suffering. “I did what I could, but I wasn’t fast enough.”
“You handled yourself admirably,” Boon said. “And with amazing restraint.”
“Yes,” the doc said. “Krishna knows what would’ve happened had you attacked that woman right away. We might still be back at Celina. Well, bits of us would be, at least.”
Dodger knew they were just trying to make him feel better about it. And he appreciated the effort, but it didn’t bring the man back.
“What about thish map?” Ched asked.
“Oh, yes,” the doc said, rubbing his hands together. “Show us.”
Dodger produced the section of map from his back pocket and spread it across the doc’s desk, showing almost half of the United States, from the east coast to the Kansas territories.
“That don’t help much,” Boon said.
“I thought he wash on the wesht coasht?” Ched asked.
“Yes, where is the rest of it?” the doc asked.
“I have an unpleasant idea,” Dodger said.
“What ish that?” Ched asked, pointing to the name scrawled across the page.
“That is the name of who might have the other half,” Dodger said.
“I shouldn’t think so,” the doc said.
Dodger furrowed his brow. “Why not?”
“Because he’s been dead for years.”
“Aloysius Enfield,” the doc said, pointing to the name. “He used to work for me years and years ago. He exploded. Not on purpose, of course, but as an unfortunate side effect.”
Dodger didn’t want to get into how one could explode as a side effect. Instead, he focused on the name. “I don’t think Rex meant your Aloysius.”
“Yeah,” Ched said. “It’ll shure be hard to make a two-week deadline if we have to shtop and dig up a grave.”
“We might have to do that after all,” Dodger mumbled.
“Dodger?” Lelanea asked. “What does the name mean to you?”
Dodger took a long look at her, at all of them, then said with a sigh, “Once upon a time, it meant everything.”
“Ish thish why we are headed easht inshtead of wesht?” Ched asked.
“Yes. If he is still around, that’s where we will find him.”
“Who?” Boon asked.
“My old mentor,” Dodger said.
“The man who taught you how to fight,” Feng clarified, though Dodger was fairly sure the mystic already knew the answer.
“And how to handle a gun.” Dodger didn’t mention the other things Aloysius Jackson had taught him. If he had his druthers, he never would. “I haven’t seen Al in years, but I assume he’s still living in Kansas.”
“Then to Kansas we shall go,” the doc said.
“What if we can’t find him?” Boon asked.
“I’m fairly sure he’s still there,” Dodger said. He pointed to the man’s name written in blood. “See that ‘O’? The way it’s thicker than the other letters? Well, it’s right about where Al’s ranch was. Or hopefully is. At least last time I was there.”
“Shtill,” Ched said, “we’re talkin’ a tight shpin to Kanshash and back to California in two little weeksh. ‘Shpeshially if we shtop to shpeak with shome old flame of Sharge’sh.”
“What I don’t understand is why that dog wants the entire line,” Lelanea said. “I thought he just wanted Boon.”
“It’s not just the line or Boon,” Dodger said. “He wants all of it, including all of us.”
“Us?” the doc asked. “But why on earth would anyone want this bedraggled crew of miscreants?”
It took everything Dodger had not to laugh aloud at the professor’s naivety.
He wasn’t the only one.
“Seriously?” Feng asked with a laugh. “Are you kidding me? Look around, Hieronymus.” Feng pointed at each crew member as he called them out, save for the clockwork man still at the helm. “You’re a certifiable genius, your driver defies death on a regular basis, your niece is a shape-shifter, your cook is an ageless mystic, your manservant is made of clockworks and attitude, one of your security men is a specter and the other … well, you’ve seen what he can do. This train alone is worth a king’s ransom, and the combined talents of her crew doubly so.”
Rather than conceit or vanity or any other permutation of pride taking the doc at the declaration that he had gathered one hell of a crew aboard one hell of a machine, he slumped in his chair and sighed. “And it’s all my fault.”
“No,” Lelanea said, flying to his side to comfort him, as she always did. “No, no, no. We all willingly joined this crew.”
“Shure thing,” Ched said. “We shought you out, shir. Not the other way around.”
The doc raised his long face to the others. “I don’t mean that. I love you all dearly and would be nothing without you. But it is my fault you are in peril, all because I let that wretched dog aboard.”
“Don’t take it too hard,” Feng said as he patted the doc on the back. “We all told that dog things we shouldn’t have.”
“We sure did,” Boon said.
“I didn’t,” Lelanea said.
“No wonder he knowsh everything about ush,” Ched said.
Lelanea practically beamed with satisfaction. “That will teach you to talk about things better left unsaid.”
“Yes, but I … um …” the doc started. He lowered his eyes as he picked at the hem of his vest. “I didn’t just tell him things. I may have shown him things.”
Feng tilted his head to the doc. “What you talkin’ ‘bout, Hieronymus?”
“You have to appreciate that I didn’t think he could understand me. I thought he was just humoring me by feigning interest. He was a very curious dog, so I gave him access to everything. And I do mean everything.” He dropped his voice to a low growl at the last word.
“Even the-” Lelanea started, then caught herself as she glanced at Dodger. She finished in a low whisper with, “You know what?”
The doc looked up again with a sheepish grin. “Yes?”
“You’re kidding me,” Feng said. “Hieronymus. Really. What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking that dog was just a dog,” the doc said.
“Did you show him your undiesh too?” Ched asked.
“Chester!” the doc shouted. “That was totally uncalled for.”
“Show wash showin’ him shuch a big shecret.”
“Excuse me,” Dodger said.
The four stopped arguing and looked to him.
“I hate to impose like this,” Dodger said. “But would someone mind telling me what a ‘you know what’ is?”
“Yes,” Boon said. “What is a ‘you know what’?”
Saints be praised! Dodger wasn’t the only one in the dark this time. He joined Boon in a long, hard stare at the others. After all of the speeches about sharing information and the importance of full disclosure, Dodger couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with the crew. Though, to be fair, there hadn’t been much time for sharing here lately. For the last few weeks, everything seemed to be rushing headlong toward certain doom.
The four grew visibly uncomfortable at the question.
“I should go shee how that bucket of boltsh ish doin’,” Ched said.
“I’ll go with you,” Lelanea said.
The pair scurried to the engine cab without another word.
The doc spun in his seat, turning his attention to some random paperwork.
“You both need to come with me,” Feng said, then took off for the back of the train.
Dodger looked to the shadowy form of Boon, who shrugged and followed the Celestial.
With little choice, Dodger fell in line.