We interrupt your regularly scheduled chapter to bring you some incredible news!
From the desk of Railroad! author, Tonia Brown:
"I am pleased to announce that JoBe Cerny from Cerny/American Creative has agreed to produce the audio book for Volume One of the Railroad! series. Mr. Cerny is a well known actor and voice actor, and is in fact the current voice for the Pillsbury Doughboy. His company has been at this sort of thing since 1988, and has produced tons of award winning projects, including translating all of the Twilight Zone episodes into audio stories as well as scripting brand new ones. I want to thank Mr. Cerny for his faith in the Railroad! story, and his fondness for Dodger and the Sleipnir. Hopefully this is the beginning of something wonderful."
Congrats to Dodger and the crew for their first full audio treatment! ALL ABOARD!
Now back to the story...
“Here,” White said, dropping the chairs on the earthen floor. “Bind them against the back wall. And dump that monster in the corner.”
“Shouldn’t we take it apart?” the man dragging Torque said. “Just to be sure?”
“Not yet. I want to take a look at it first.”
The man sneered in disgust. “Why?”
White paused to shoot the man a fifthly look. “Just do as I say, or I’ll raise your rent again, Jarvis.”
This threat prompted the scolded man into action. “Yes, sir.” With a grunt he pulled Torque’s body into the corner and released it there.
It came to rest with a sickening thud.
One of the men tied Dodger and Lelanea seated beside one another, then said, “Anything else, sir?”
“No,” White said. “You all get back to it. Leave me alone so I can have a chat with our new friends.
The men obeyed, leaving in silence.
White gnawed on his cigar for a few quiet moments, eyeing the pair of prisoners, before he left them alone and headed back up the stairs himself.
Dodger leaned to one side and whispered, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Lelanea said softly, never taking her eyes off of Torque. “You didn’t do anything.”
“It’s my fault. You were right; I was just chasing a mystery. If I’d just left well enough alone-”
“I said don’t. Things are bad enough without your guilt.”
Dodger went quiet rather than argue the need for his guilt. The sound of footfalls signaled White’s return, as the old man came down the stairs once more carting along a third chair. He placed it across from the other two, blocking their view of their fallen comrade. The older man lowered himself onto the seat, slowly, as if every joint and every boned ached.
Dodger hoped they burned like hell fire.
“Well then,” the mayor said around his now lit cigar. “I am sure you two are just burstin’ with curiosity.”
Lelanea stared at the man in silence, so Dodger followed suit. After all, this was her show, even if he did remember a bit too late.
“Don’t be like that,” White said. “I assure you this is for the best. You’ll find your hearts a sight lighter without that demonic thing draggin’ you-”
“Mr. Torque was our friend,” Lelanea said over him.
White raised an eyebrow. “Mr. Torque, is it?” He pointed to Dodger with his cigar. “And you’re Dodger.” The man shifted his cigar to Lelanea. “So who does that make you?”
Lelanea snorted rather than answer.
“No bother,” White said. “I already know who you are.”
Dodger’s heart fluttered for a panicky moment. Surely Rex hadn’t made his way here, too? Was the mutt everywhere at once? Just how prepared was the beast?
This worry evaporated as White said, “I know who you are because I used to be just like you. Seduced by the easy way. Convinced so called progress was the answer to all of my woes.” He paused to draw on his cigar, blowing carefully formed rings of smoke into the air. “I thought monsters like that could only help.” Mayor White frowned as he added, “But I learned the hard way.”
“Look,” Dodger said. “We don’t want any trouble. We’re sorry if we trespassed where we weren’t wanted. Just let us take our property and get out of your way.”
“Your property?” White chuckled. “I caught that thing snooping around my mines. It belongs to me now.”
Dodger set his jaw. Why was nothing simple? “I’m afraid I can’t let you keep him.”
“And I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do to stop me.” White looked to Lelanea. “Is it just me, or has he forgotten that he’s the one tied up?”
Lelanea grunted. Dodger heard a world of explanation in that grunt.
White, on the other hand, heard little. “Nothing, eh?”
“What do you plan to do with us?” Lelanea said. “You can’t just keep us tied up here forever.”
“Yes, I could, but I won’t because I ain’t got time to deal with the likes of you. I have more important things to do than handle my nephew’s mistake.”
“That.” White looked over his shoulder at the unmoving form of Torque. “That was a stupid, stupid mistake. He shouldn’t have shot it like that.”
“I thought you wanted it dead?” Dodger said.
“I wanted it gone!” White snapped as he got to his feet with a speed that belied his earlier aches and pains. “I wanted you gone. And if you’d done what I told ya, if you’d have just left us and our little town be, then none of this would’ve happened. But now … now I’m stuck with that thing and you two and a whole heap of trouble.”
Silence crept into the basement, filling the empty spaces carved out by the echo of the mayor’s anger. White paced the room, wringing his hands and smoking like a chimney. Dodger glanced to Lelanea, surprised to find she had lost her tough look, and was instead watching the mayor with a soft pity.
“Why,” Lelanea said, “you’re just a bunch of Luddites.”
“Luddites?” The mayor laughed out loud. “Now there’s something I haven’t heard in a long time. You have no idea, young lady.”
“I do because I know what you’re going through.”
White scoffed at her. “What would you know about it?”
“I know that progress can seem frightening. I know that machinery can cause more trouble than it’s worth. I know that lots of times, the old fashioned ways are the best.” Lelanea smiled at the man. “But you have to understand, the world is going to change whether you want it to or not. It is better to be ready for it, rather than let it roll over you. You don’t have to welcome those machines into your home, but you have to be willing to welcome them into your life, because you can’t stop the inevitable. Things will change. Things always change.”
The mayor spent the length of her speech staring quietly at Lelanea. Once she was done, he stepped closer to her, lowered himself to her seated height, almost nose to nose, and snarled in her face, “Nothing will bring her back. No amount of acceptance or tolerance. Change or no change, she will always be gone.”
“Who?” Dodger said.
“Jubilee,” Lelanea said.
The name forced the mayor into a wince of pain. He stood again, turning his back on the pair of prisoners.
“His granddaughter,” Lelanea said. “She died in the same collapse that buried PAUL.”
“The collapse caused by that accursed machine!” White shouted. He dropped the cigar on the floor and ran his hands through his hair, seething with rage. “That thing wasn’t supposed to be in the mines. Neither was she. It was too big. She was so young. Then she was gone. And that … thing, that monster … it tried to dig its way out. It wanted to escape while little Jubilee lay crushed under … dear God in Heaven, it wanted to live. Wanted.” White spat the last word out in total disgust as he stood over Torque’s broken body. “Don’t you comprehend how unnatural that is? For a machine to want to live? They shouldn’t want anything. They shouldn’t desire, or think or speak! They shouldn’t even exist! The only thing they should do is die!”
The mayor braced his hands on the wall before him and kicked Torque a few, strong times, muttering obscenities and filling the room with a hollow, empty rap with each kick. Much like beating on the side of an empty keg, or an empty coal bin. Every blow struck Dodger to the soul, wounding him deeper than if the man had just kicked Dodger instead. Once the mayor wore himself out, he smoothed his hair back once more, brushed his clothes down and picked up his fallen cigar. He took a few puffs, bringing the smoldering embers back to life, then grinned at Dodger and Lelanea.
“You’ll have to pardon me,” he said. “I get a bit worked up about the topic.”
“Mayor White?” someone shouted down the staircase.
“What is it? I told you not to bother me.”
“We found your nephew. He said he’d like a word with you.”
“Good. Have Sheriff Gordon loan him a cell.”
The voice at the top of the stairs hesitated. “Uh, yeah, sir. He says he wants to talk to you right now.”
The mayor groaned. “Good gravy. Do I have to do everything around here?” White nodded to Lelanea and Dodger, in turn. “Excuse me, folks. This won’t take long.” And with that, he headed back up the steps, grumbling about the uselessness of everyone else around him.
The basement went silent once more.
Dodger glared at the broken metal body, daring it to move, but knowing it wouldn’t.
And his heart sank with that knowledge.