Truth Will Out
In which Dodger listens to his instinct
By the time Dodger and Lelanea joined the others, the doc and Sarah had disappeared into the train to inspect the boy. Lelanea excused herself to join her uncle, taking Torque/Boon with her. While the Dittmeyer’s ensured the child was well, the others removed Rex’s remains from Carr’s horse. They stood in a circle around the bloody canvas laying on the ground, looking down at it in doubt.
“I can’t believe he’s dead,” Dodger said.
“All things come to an end,” Feng said. “Even fiends and madmen.”
“What exactly happened?” Duncan said.
“Once Crank and I returned with Dodger,” Carr said, “Rex put his troupes on alert. He fully expected your crew to retaliate right away. When no one showed after a week or so, he sent scouts out to find the train. They found it, and the circus, where it was before. It never left.”
“That’s because we ignored Dodger’s instructions,” Duncan said. “As if we would just leave him to that maniac’s lack of mercy.”
“That’s what Rex determined. It didn’t take long for him to understand that you were preparing an attack. When you set Thad and his men free, Crank warned Rex to move out, to fall back and fight another day, but Rex was hungry for blood. He was convinced those monsters of his would wipe out all of you.”
“They nearly did,” Dodger said.
“I still don’t understand how you made it. Those things should’ve torn you apart.”
“The doc was ready for them,” Feng said. The Celestial gave a brief explanation of the battle, which Carr seemed to take in stride.
“Not sure I understood all of that,” Carr said. “It still sounds like a hell of a plan.”
“We have a hell of a team,” Dodger said.
Car nodded. “That you do. When it came time to fight, Rex decided he didn’t want to be so close to the action.”
“You mean he got scared,” Duncan said.
The gathered men laughed.
Carr did not. Instead, he continued, “He and Crank grabbed the kid and forced me to go with them. He left Grinder behind to kill you, Dodger. I can’t believe you managed to escape him.”
“I had some help,” Dodger said, and gave Feng a wink.
“You folks sure lead a charmed life,” Carr said.
“You have no idea,” Feng said.
“You seem a little charmed yourself,” Duncan said. “How did you manage to get away?”
“Just lucky he didn’t kill me, I guess,” Carr said. “Once we got away from the battle, Crank turned on Rex. He demanded his payment, but Rex refused to go back for the equipment. That’s when Crank killed Rex.”
“That’s more than just killed,” Dodger said. “He mutilated the mutt.”
“I know. He went crazy. I think he had been building up to it. All this time he resented the dog, but Grinder was always there to protect Rex. Without his manservant, Crank had an open window and he leapt right through it.”
“Tyler always did have a bit of a vicious streak.”
“Indeed. After he killed the dog, he mounted up and fled. I grabbed the kid and what was left of Rex and came back here. I wasn’t sure if I’d find anyone, but I didn’t know where else to go.”
“You’re more than welcome to stay,” Duncan said.
Carr thanked Duncan, then added, “I’d love to stay, but I can’t. I have to go after him. I think Crank is headed to Washington. I suspect he is going to gather some muscle and come back for the train. He wants those weapons and he will cease at nothing to get them.”
“You think you can stop him?” Dodger said.
“No,” Carr said. He swallowed hard and looked to Dodger. “But I think you can.”
“Yes, you. Come with me. If we take the Rhino we can beat his mechanical horse and get there first. We can warn the right people. You have connections, Dodger. I know you do. Come with me and we can stop this before it starts.”
Dodger narrowed his eyes at the young man. Go back to Washington? That was a mighty big step backward for a man who spent so long running away from the place.
“Dodger?” Duncan said. “Can you help?”
“I think I can,” Dodger said. “But it’s not going to be that simple. I know folks back in DC, true, but they might not be too happy to see the likes of me after all this time.”
“Maybe they can put aside their differences?” Duncan said.
“Feng?” Dodger said. “What do you think?”
Feng raised an eyebrow. “If you can stop Crank you should. Shouldn’t you?”
“Of course,” Dodger said. “You’re right. I’ll go. I need to gather a few things first.”
“Hurry,” Carr said. “There isn’t much time.”
“I’ll be right out, just give me a minute to say goodbye to the crew.”
Dodger slipped into the meeting cab with Feng on his heels. He found the doc finishing up his examination of the kid, with Lelanea and a now mechanical Torque helping out. Sarah sat on the floor beside the couch, holding her brother’s little hand. The shadowy form of Boon waited in a darkened corner, watching, with little else to do.
“Well?” Lelanea said when they entered the cab. “Are you going with him or are you just going to hang around here all day and gawk at us?”
“How did you…” Dodger started, then stopped as his eyes landed on the speaking tube. One of the metal flowers stood open in the corner. The hushed noises of the circus beyond poured through the tube. “So you heard the whole thing, huh?”
“Most of it,” she said.
“Enough to understand that you need to go,” the doc said. “Torque, close that channel, please.”
Mr. Torque did as asked, closing the speaking tube so no one outside could hear their conversation.
“You really gonna go with him?” Boon said.
“I’m not sure,” Dodger said. “I should, but I need to stay here and-”
“Go,” Lelanea said over him. She took a few steps closer to Dodger, reached out and brushed his cheek with the tips of her fingers. “You have more important things to do. We can take care of ourselves.”
Which was what Dodger was afraid she would say. What Dodger had feared this entire time. The fact that they didn’t need him anymore. They had proven they could take care of themselves while Dodger walked into an obvious trap. Besides, they had Boon as their security man again. They didn’t need Rodger Dodger hanging around with nothing to do.
“You’ll be back,” Sarah said. “Won’t you?”
“I’ll bring him back as soon as I can,” Carr said. The man stepped into the cab from the cargo umbilical.
Duncan followed him. “Sorry, he wouldn’t wait outside.”
“Don’t sweat it,” Dodger said. “I guess he needs to meet the crew considering y’all are the same folks he’s gonna tell the US government all about.”
Dodger pointed out each crew member, introducing them by name. The crew nodded in return. Except for Boon, who Dodger thought it best to leave out. Things were already fairly complicated without throwing a ghost on top of it.
“That just leaves Ched,” Dodger said.
“And me,” Boon said.
Lelanea glared at him.
“He must be at the helm,” Dodger said.
“I hate I missed him,” Carr said.
“You’ll be glad you did,” the doc said.
“And Feng,” Dodger said, scratching his still wiry chin. “Where is that man?”
Just as he asked, Feng’s voice boomed out of the speaking tube system.
“Dodger!” Feng shouted. “I need you in here.”
“Where is here?” Dodger said, wondering how he missed the Celestial slipping away like that.
“My cab. I need a strong hand. Bring your new partner too. He needs to see this.”
Boon gave a soft huff from the corner and crossed his arms.
“I can help,” Duncan said.
“No,” Dodger said. “Get back to Bigby and let him and the dog soldiers know what is going on with Crank. They need to be prepared for some attention in case Crank spills about them too.” Dodger motioned to Carr. “Come on then. Let’s give Feng a hand.”
“Yes, sir,” Carr said and fell in line behind Dodger.
Dodger led the agent down the line, from meeting cab to quarters’ cabs to the lab car. He wondered if Kitty was in one of the rooms, or if Ched still had guard duty and she was forced to remain the engine cab with the not-dead driver. He chuckled to himself at this thought as he pushed into the lab car.
The doc’s cab was the usual jumble of half finished projects and unorganized supplies, save for a new tenant. Boon’s body lay spread out on the doc’s work table, looking considerably less blue than the last time Dodger saw it. Boon’s corporeal form was still smiling, like the body knew something the spirit had forgotten.
“Wow,” Carr said from behind Dodger.
Dodger turned to find him admiring the laboratory. Not the full grown man asleep on the work table. Carr was eyeing the equipment and nearly completed projects.
“It’s almost like Rex’s lab,” Carr said.
“You mean Rex’s lab is like the doc’s lab,” Dodger said.
“Sure.” Carr shrugged. “Like the doc’s lab, only better.”
“Dodger!” Feng said from his doorway. “Come on then. We haven’t got much time.”
Dodger rushed to the umbilical and ducked into Feng’s room with Carr trailing behind.
The cook’s cab was much the same as the last time Dodger saw it. A tidy little space with a distinct air of the Orient. Silken tapestries, bamboo accents and dark mahogany furniture filled the car, leaving it feeling more like a sitting room than a kitchen. The Celestial closed the door to his cab, softly turned the lock, then slipped the key into his robe, all in one swift natural motion. A motion that wasn’t lost on Dodger, but perhaps he wasn’t the one Feng was hiding the action from.
“What can I do?” Dodger said.
Feng went to the large archway at the back of the cab. “The TAP is still empty.”
“What?” Dodger said.
“I didn’t want the others to know. I didn’t want to worry them.”
Feng opened the wooden door beneath the TAP, once more revealing the black, endless deep beyond.
Dodger grimaced at the sight. “Nothing has changed?”
“Not as far as I can tell,” Feng said. “I’m still feeding off of the kid’s time box. You know what this means, don’t you?”
Dodger knew exactly what it meant. Regardless of the fact that they had Rex’s corpse laying right outside of the train, the man would still somehow destroy the fabric of time.
“This isn’t over,” Dodger said.
“Not by a long shot,” Feng said.
“Do you think Crank has something to do with-”
“What in the hell is that?” Carr said over Dodger.
Feng glanced to Dodger, as if asking permission to explain.
“Go ahead,” Dodger said. “He needs to know everything.”
“I know this will be hard to believe,” Feng said, “But this is a time machine.”
When Dodger first learned about the TAP, he remembered feeling quite astounded. Even considering his time spent with the doc, and all of the fascinating things he had seen in his service to the man, Dodger still found the idea of time travel not only mesmerizing but pretty God damned amazing. Agent Carr, on the other hand, didn’t seem impressed with the revelation that he was standing in the presence of an actual Time Ascension Portal. Instead of an expression of shock or amazement, Carr said something completely different.
“I know it’s a time machine, you idiot.”
That wasn’t the reaction Dodger expected from a man who had never heard of the TAP before. All at once Dodger heard Feng’s words echoing in his head.
Ancient Chinese wisdom say why need three when two will do.
And Dodger saw the three tables in the lab. Three tables but two helmets. Why did Rex need three tables if there was only the dog and Dodger? Because there was a third subject. While Feng and Carr argued about the TAP, Dodger slowly drew both of the girls from their holsters and lifted them to the agent.
“I meant what is that black stuff inside of it?” Carr said.
Feng blinked a few times. “Did you just all me an idiot?”
“Yes. Because only an idiot would allow this to happen to such a beautiful piece of equipment.” Carr stepped to the TAP and placed his hands on his hips as he eyed the machine up and down. “Now, what is wrong with it? What’s that black stuff?”
“The real question is,” Dodger said as he cocked the hammers on his guns, “what did you do with Crank?”
Carr turned to Dodger, and lifted his hands in defense. “What are you doing?”
“I asked you a question,” Dodger said. “What did you do with Tyler?”
“I don’t understand,” Carr said. The words sounded as practiced as a politician’s speech.
“I think you do,” Feng said. “The man asked you a question. Answer it, mutt.”
Dodger chuckled. “Of course Feng knows. He knows everything. It took me a bit longer. Ya see, I’m not quite as fast as Feng, but I get there in the end.”
“Mr. Dodger,” Carr said. “I think you’re confused.”
“Not confused. If anything, I understand more now than I have in a long time. You almost had me. You almost made me believe you were really Agent William Carr. And why wouldn’t you be able to mimic him? You had the kid around you long enough to know his speech patterns, his movements, his ticks. Even that forlorn look of fear he can’t seem to shake.”
Carr stared at Dodger, but said nothing.
“Trouble is,” Dodger said, “you missed the little touches. Like the fact that Carr calls me Agent Dodger, out of respect I don’t deserve. He doesn’t call me Mister. He also had no idea what the TAP was or did. I know this for a fact, because I already talked to him about it. But you didn’t know that, did you, Commander Rex?”
Carr, or rather Rex, continued to stare at Dodger, that trademark fear fading to a smug, confident grin.