Thursday, 13 March 2014

Armageddon Express

<< < Chapter Six > >>

As the timeship spun through the Temporal Vortex, inside the Duke was racing around the centre column; occasionally stopping by a section of the console to adjust a lever, press a button, or check a screen.
  "It's a bit rough!" called out Officer Edison from the couch, as he cradled his head. "Can you ease up? It's giving me a headache."
  "That is the perfectly normal, tempo-spatial ebb and flow of the vortex," said the Duke, turning a dial, before striding to the other side of the console. "Your headache is psychosomatic, Inspector."
  "Psychosomatic? You think it's all in my head?"
  "I thought all headaches were in your head," said Anise, as she braced herself in a doorframe to stay upright.
  "It's not real," insisted the Duke, "you're just feeling uneasy because of your recent trauma."
  "How can you say it's not real! I had nanites in my brain," said Edison.
  "You don't have to believe me, Inspector," said the Duke, "it's not like I'm a doctor."
The Duke deactivated the ignition lever, and the ship stopped rumbling with a thud.
  "Oh, thank goodness," said Officer Edison, finally standing up from the couch. "Where are we now?"
  "I decided it was about time that we should travel beyond your homeworld's solar system. This is, after all, a space vessel, so we've travelled to another galaxy."
  "We're in space?" said Anise, sounding excited.
  "No, actually we're on a planet. I'm not sure which, but we are within the Andromeda Constellation."
  "We're on an alien planet?!" squealed Anise.
  "Yes, we are. Would you care to explore an alien world with me, Miss Trevino?" asked the Duke.
  "Absolutely," said Anise. They both headed towards the elevator door, which opened automatically as they approached it. Edison rose to join them as the doors slid open, but Anise and the Duke both stopped and stared through the door, surprised. "What the hell?" muttered Anise.
They were looking into a narrow room, with patterned, lime-green wallpaper. To the left was a line of cabinets along the first part of the wall with a black benchtop; then a heavy iron safe bolted in halfway along the floor and a heavy, oak desk pushed into the far corner. To the right were two cosy, ornate lounge-chairs with chartreuse upholstery, around a small, round pedestal table; a large cabinet built into the middle of the right wall, with an embedded ladder leading to the recess in the ceiling and a hanging seat to look outside. The black wood floors wore a Persian runner rug, also green, leading from the console room door to the door at the end.
There were a couple of windows either side looking out on the landscape. By the way the rocky landscape whipped past the window and the entire room rattled and swayed with a heavy rhythm, the two quickly understood that they were looking at the inside of some kind of train carriage. Anise was the first to step out, and as she did, she felt the momentum and sway of the carriage, and stumbled slightly.
  "Uh . . . Duke? What happened to the Lift lobby?" she asked, turning around.
  "You're standing in it," said the Duke, admiring the carriage. "The chameleon circuit is capable of transforming the plasmic shell into any number of shapes and visages. Marvellous, isn't it?" said the Duke with a smile.  Edison looked out the door, and was intrigued.
  "But, I thought the ship always took the shape of some kind of lift," said Edison.
  "Well, yes . . ." muttered the Duke. "Within the chameleon conversion I selected 'elevator' in preferences, but when that form proves too difficult, or conspicuous, the ship will change into the next best thing."
  "And the next best thing was a train?" asked Edison, as he walked to the end of the carriage.
  "Not a train, this is just a caboose," said the Duke, as he searched his surroundings. "There you are . . ." muttered the Duke, as he popped open the secret panel beside the console room doors, and used his key to shut and lock the doors. The doors slid shut, their exterior taking on the facade of green, wooden, folding doors, then he closed the panel.
  "If this is just a caboose, then what's pulling us?" asked Edison glancing at the dark-green door.
  "I don't really know . . ." said the Duke with a frown, returning the key to its place around his neck, tucked under his shirt. "The ship must have materialized onto the back of this train. If we want to know our location - and destination - we'll have to find out for ourselves."
  "Alright, let's go then," said Edison, opening the door. He stepped out, and the Duke, with Anise behind, walked over to join him. They stood on a platform, surrounded by a cast-iron railing with a ladder on one end, which stepped over a gap straight to the next carriage. It didn't have a platform, it was just a thick, studded iron face, painted pale green, with a single, iron, sliding door embedded in it. There was a round mechanism in the door, with a recess and a bar across it, that looked like the handle. Edison grabbed it and tugged it a few times.
  "Allow me," said the Duke. Edison stepped aside, and the Duke grabbed the handle, pressed the clasp within and twisted it. With a beep, the door unlatched and the Duke slid it open and stepped inside the carriage, only to find himself facing a carriage-load of soldiers. They were benches running along either side of the carriage, filled with soldiers, and upon seeing the Duke they all stood, raised their rifles and pointed them at the intruder.
Anise screamed and raised her hands, and Edison slowly raised his own hands, with a grim expression on his face. The Duke just stood before them.
  "Hands where I can see them!" barked one of the soldiers at the front, jutting his gun towards the Duke. The soldiers were all wearing some kind of forest green uniform, scattered with pockets; a cast-iron breastplate with leather straps; and a bowl-like, metal helmet with goggles. The Duke raised his hands, lamely and to the height of his shoulders.
  "Do you call yourself soldiers?" asked the Duke, coldly.
  "Identify yourself!" said that soldier in the front. The Duke slowly - and making obvious movements so the soldiers wouldn't shoot - grabbed the lapel of his jacket, then pulled it away to give full view of his right side, then reached into his trouser pocket with his other hand and retrieved a small, slightly worn, maroon, pocketbook with a gold emblem on the cover that looked like an octopus. A page was marked with a blue ribbon, so he opened the book to that page and held it before the soldiers. He gave them a moment to read it before he spoke.
  "I'm the Duke of Rathea," said the Duke, then he rose his voice and yelled at the man. "Now, answer my a question, Private! Do you call yourself soldiers?!"
  "Sir, yes sir!" said the soldier at the front, lowering his rifle. He turned to the others and said, "lower your weapons. Commander on deck."
They complied.
 "Only the one of you? When I ask a question, I expect an answer from the lot of you! Do you call yourself soldiers?!" yelled the Duke, his voice sounding slightly sore and hoarse at that volume.
  "SIR! YES, SIR!" responded the carriage, in a chorus of eager, young men.
  "Well, you could have fooled me!" said the Duke, putting the pocketbook into his jacket and crossing his arms behind his back. "I've never seen such a rag-tag sack of spawn in all my years on the frontline! Where I'm from we stand at attention in the presence of a commanding officer, do I make myself clear?!"
  "YES, SIR!" responded the carriage, And all the men slung their rifles over their shoulders and with a rustle of feet stood in front of their respective seats, facing inward with their feet together, in two lines either side of the walkway.
Anise and Edison lowered their hands, and watched, fascinated, as the Duke began to pace up and down that walkway yelling so the men could hear. The walkway was basically an iron grille, and the metal clanged with his every footfall.
  "Now, through means and for purposes you need not understand, I have boarded this train with two of my associates! You will treat them with the utmost respect!" screamed the Duke. Edison and Anise then stepped inside the troopers' carriage, glancing around nervously. The Duke reached the end of the walkway, turned, and marched back, still yelling.
"You will answer every question, perform every task and accomplish any duty asked by myself or either of my associates, to the best of your ability! Do I make myself clear?!!"
  "YES, SIR!" replied the carriage.
  "Damned right," said the Duke, at a reasonable volume, "we might just make soldiers out of you, yet . . ."
  "What's going on?" asked Edison, walking up to join the Duke in the middle of the walkway.
  "I'm a Grand Duke, I outrank them hundredfold," said the Duke. They turned to the sound of Anise, as she spoke to one of the soldiers.
  "What's your name?" she asked, crossing her arms.
  "Daw, Ma'am," said the soldier, he swiftly and enthusiastically placed his hand on his chest and bowed his head as a form of salute, then returned to standing at attention, staring directly ahead.
  "Woah, easy tiger," said Anise, with a smirk. In response, the soldier named Daw placed his feet further apart and crossed his arms behind his back to stand at ease.
  "Yes, ma'am," he said, mechanically.
  "Now tell me, what planet is this?"
  "This is Lugor, ma'am," said Daw, matter-of-factly.
  "And where is this train goin'?" Anise asked.
  "To war," said the soldier, grimly. The Duke walked over to join the conversation.
  "Soldier, how many more men are aboard this train?" asked the Duke.
  "Sixty more soldiers, sir," said Daw. "Half a dozen or so techs, including train crew."
  "Well, I don't want any more guns pointed in my face," said the Duke, "I want you to run to the front of this train and let them know I'm here, then report back to me, on the double."
  "Yes, sir," said Daw. He placed his hand on his chest, nodded and started jogging his way along the train, squeezing past Edison to disappear through the far door.
  "We'd best continue on," muttered the Duke, then he called to the carriage, "As you were, gentlemen!"
The soldiers started to relax once the Duke moved on to the next carriage. As Edison stepped between the carriages, he noticed that the next carriage was a different model; it was somewhat shorter, and he caught a glimpse of a gun turret on the roof before stepping into the cramped carriage. It was like a submarine, cramped, no windows, lit only by a few ceiling lamps and cramped working stations in each of the four corners, held binders, pencils, paper and sat a wooden stool. From the ceiling, suspended seats, which must have controlled the gun-turrets, were set with periscope visors jutting near the chair's headpiece and attached to a mechanism of crank wheels and levers.
This carriage was empty, so the Duke closed the doors behind Anise and turned to his companions.
  "That went pretty well, considering," said the Duke.
  "Pretty well? You're like an army sergeant!" said Anise, impressed.
  "That's because I am one," said the Duke, "I've fought in wars before, Anise, to defend my people. A long time ago . . ."
  "But what are we doing in here?" asked Edison.
  "I needed to talk to you two in private," said the Duke. "I had to let you know that we are all in danger."
  "Danger? What kind of danger?" asked Edison.
  "Surely you noticed? The soldiers are on edge. When we entered the carriage, they all trained their weapons on us, with but a moment's notice. As I walked down the line, I saw their faces. They're all scared and I can feel it."
  "They're soldiers, they're about to head into war."
  "No, this is greater than that. And I want to find out what is causing it."
  "Then why didn't you ask?" said Edison. "You've got them under your thumb."
  "That's precisely why I didn't ask. If I am to keep us safe, I must stay in command of these men. But if they realize that I don't know what we're facing, I would lose their loyalty, and we would become disposable. I need one of you to ask for me."
  "Alright," said Anise. But there's something I still don't understand. How come they all look human? I thought you said they were aliens."
  "They are human, and they're aliens." explained the Duke, "The Lugosians are human, I'm not sure if they migrated from your solar system, or if this is a genetic anomaly . . . wait a minute. Shh! Listen."
The Duke stopped speaking. The others listened carefully, and they heard a train whistle in the distance. Quiet, but it was unmistakeably a train's whistle blaring.
  "What does that mean?" whispered Anise
  "Battle Stations!" called a muffled voice behind them. "Battle stations!"
Some of the carriages ahead were also yelling. Suddenly, the door behind them slid open and the Duke and his companions had to jump out of the way as six men entered. Four each manned one of the desks and the other two sat in the suspended seat for the gun turret.
  "Look alive, men!" yelled the Duke, "don't act like this is a drill!"
  "Yes sir!" called the men. Just then, the door opened again, and Private Daw stepped in.
  "Duke? I've done as you asked, sir," he reported.
  "Very good. Now, I want you to stay here, and keep Miss Trevino safe," he said, turning for the door.
  "Yes, sir."
  "What? Well, where do you think you're going?" Anise asked.
  "To check on the soldiers and keep them in line."
  "What about me?" called Edison.
  "You should find out everything you can about the enemy!" replied the Duke as he stepped through the front door and exited the carriage.
  "I've got visual," said the soldier in the turret chair, "Rotation, one eighty-four; angle, eighteen. There's a flock on our tail."
  "Distance?" asked the guy at the desk, opening one of the books.
  "Out of range," said the gunner, "but approaching fast . . ."
Edison turns to Anise.
  "I'd better get going. Stay safe, alright?" said the Inspector.
  "You boys all seem to forget, I've saved Duke before, I'm not like some kinda damsel."
  "I know, Anise. Trust me I know, but this is war . . ." said Edison, he stepped closer and whispered, "there are no heroes, only survivors."
Edison turned and headed for the front door, after the Duke. As he slid it open, they could hear gunfure. It didn't sound like they were firing bullets, but rather they seemed to buzz and fizzle, making a loud crackling zap as each shot was fired. Suddenly, Anise jumped at the sound of the gun turret firing, it sounded like a crackling explosion.
  "That's bloody loud!" shouted Anise.
  "It's a big gun, ma'am," said Daw, "big gun means a big noise."
Anise flinched as the gun fired again, clamping her hands over her ears.
  "Why do you need such a big gun, anyway?" grumbled Anise.
  "The wraive fight en masse," explained Daw, "explosive shots, like those of these cannons, makes a hole in their forward line."
  "The 'rave'?"
  "Yes," said Daw, "that's what we're fighting. Civilians don't know, but didn't the duke tell you?" The cannon fired again.
  "Duke doesn't tell me everything," said Anise. "So why don't you explain something to me. You said we're going to war. What do you mean by that? Where exactly is this train going?"
  "The Wraive homeworld," said Daw.
  "On a train?" asked Anise.
  "On a spaceship," explained Daw. The cannon fired again, but neither of them flinched. "We're leaving Lugor."

At the front of the train, in the locomotive, the driver's cabin, the Duke swiftly steps onto the rear-calf of the locomotive. It was small, with extinguishers, cooling fans and wires neatly wrapped around the walls, and a large machine that took up most of the floor space. It was roughly a cube shape with segment cut into the front so it somewhat resembled a loungechair. The back half was wires, and radiation vents edged with a colourful glow, but the front was encased in a round-edged, cream-coloured metal cover with stylistic, chrome details. In the front segment was an embedded monitor with two sets of keyboards in front of it, One with forty-two runic letters and some ideographic function keys, the other with thirty-four circular symbols were arranged in the shape of a flower.
The Duke was intrigued by the design, but didn't give it a second glance, as he passed through the next door into the driver's cabin, where two sweaty men in green overalls were panicking as they adjusted the controls. The room was stinking hot and smelt like grease and diesel, and deafening with the sound of the chugging engine. The entire front wall was taken up with monitoring stations and panels covered in square, back-lit switches; black dials; gauges with quivering needles; several palm-sized crank wheels and a collection of long-handled levers, all of which the men seemed to be checking or adjusting gas quickly as they could.
  "How's she doing?!" yelled the Duke, trying to be heard over the sound of the thundering engine. "You're exhausting a lot of black smoke."
  "She's getting hot!" said one of the engineers, the taller one. "We're blacklining!"
  "What does that mean?!" asked the Duke.
  "Off the Meter!" screamed the other engineer in the seat, obviously the driver. He tapped one of the gauges, and sure enough the needle was angled further than the integers on the dial. "We're going uphill, it's overloading the engine!"
  "Can't we slow down?!" said the Duke. Both the engineers glanced back at him, and they looked absolutely horrified.
  "No!" screamed the tall, greasy engineer. "We can't slow down!"
The two of them turned back to their work.
  "Why not?!"
  “We’ll miss the launch!” yelled the engineer.
  "Chough!" screamed the driver, grabbing the scruff of the engineer's overalls, he pulled him to his feet to look out through the horizontal slit that was the front driver's window. "Chough, look! Those bloody turkeys are attacking the engine!"
The Duke stepped behind the two to see, but could only make out something dark grey on the right side of the slat, most likely the engine casing, and a flurry of black shadow wildly flitting about in the restrictive line of vision.
  "Can they cause any damage?!" asked the Duke
  "They've toppled cities, I think they can tear apart one train!" shouted the driver.
  "Do you have any weapons?!" demanded the Duke. Chough shrugged, but he slowly looked around, and his eyes landed on the tool closet. The door was open, and hanging on the rack was a giant wrench, about a metre long.
  "What are you planning on doing?!" he asked.
  "Whatever I can to keep this train going," said the Duke. He walked towards the tool closet.

  "I'm empty!" called out one of the soldiers, stepping back from the row of soldiers at the viewing slat. Edison watched as one of the patrolling soldiers took his place, then the replaced man opened one of the overhead racks and carefully took out a small, metal box. He tried to open the box, but had trouble gripping with his fingers.
  "Let me help, soldier," said Edison, taking the box from him.
  "Thank you, sir, my fingers feel numb," said the man, talking over the bouts of gunfire. He opened up a small cover on the top of his rifle, to reveal a small, orange crystal, about an inch long,
  "It's alright," said Edison, staring at the crystal. He opened the box in his hands to find it filled with identical crystals, except the ones in the box were glowing a bright yellow. He handed one to the soldier.
  "Thanks," he said, loading his gun. The gun hummed softly for a moment as he turned and joined the soldiers patrolling the carriage.
Suddenly, there was a loud clang from the ceiling, and a sound of scraping and scuttling.
  "Wraive, on the roof!" shouted one man. Soldiers instinctively pointed their guns up towards the sound.
  "You can't shoot through the roof!" shouted Edison, "it's armoured, put your guns down!"
The men lowered their weapons, and the firing ceased for a moment, so the only sound was the scraping and scratching above them, like rats on a tin roof. Suddenly it stopped.
  "Alright, calm down," said Edison, "keep your head in the game-"
  "Wraive!" screamed one of the men by a window. Suddenly, four men at the nearest gun-slit jumped back, as claws and beaks burst through the small gap, blocking out the like and scratching like mad cats.
One of the men was caught by a claw, and dropped his rifle. He pulled back, but started screaming as he found he was he was stuck a foot away from the window, with a wrinkled, pale grey limb snagged onto his forearm. it had buried its claws deep into his skin, and he was bleeding freely.
  "Stand back!" yelled Edison. He drew his gun, aimed carefully and fired.
Bang! the creature screeched angrily, but didn't let go, Bang! With the second shot, the creature broke free and its leg disappeared through the slit. The man fell back, with red blood spilling from his forearm. He looked terrified. One of the soldiers, knelt down beside him to try to calm him down. Edison joined him and helped the man to sit down on the floor, in the middle of the other men.
  "It's gonna be alright," said Edison.
  "Is there a medic in here?!" called out the other soldier, looking around.
  "Raise your arm above your head," said Edison. The man tried, but cried out in pain, making one of the other men flinch.
  "It hurts," said the injured soldier, "and I can't feel my fingers."
  "Are you a doctor, sir?" asked one of the soldiers.
  "No, I'm a D.I., a policeman."
  "Policeman? Is that some kind of soldier?"
  "I suppose, yeah . . ."
From the distance, they heard a dull boom then a loud squealing, like brakes.
  "What's that?" asked Edison, and before he could brace himself he was thrown forwards as the carriage collided with the one in front and began slowing down.
The train was stopping.

  "Hold on, Ma'am!" screamed Private Daw, grabbing Anise by the arm to keep her on her feet as he braced against the turret chair with his other hand. The carriage slammed into the next and they began to slow.
  "Thank you," said Anise, regaining her balance. "Why are we stopping?"
  "I have no idea," said Daw. "It must be serious, we can't stop too long."
  "How come?" asked Anise, frowning. "Why are you in such a rush to go to war?"
  "If we don't leave before the launch, we won't leave at all."
The train kept slowing and slowing, the wheels squealing, until they rattled to a stop.
  "Oh . . ." replied Anise.
The train fell silent. Daw let go of Anise’s arm and she stood there for a moment, quietly.
  “What now?” she asked.
Suddenly, the door to the carriage slid back.
  “Make way, injured man coming through,” said Edison.
  “Watch the gunner-seat!” called a man behind them. Edison lead the way to the middle of the carriage while two men walked side by side, one of them bleeding heavily from his forearm.
  “It’ll be alright,” said the soldier walking beside him. He wore glasses and had a soothing voice.
  “What happened?” asked Anise.
  “One of the creatures got him.”
  “A wraive?”
  “Yeah,” said Edison. The two of them watched as the bespectacled soldier inspected the wound and stood to fetch a medkit.
  “Wow,” said Anise, staring at the man’s arm, she took a step forward. “There’s so much . . . blood. Can I help him?”
  “No, stand back,” said Edison, putting a hand on her shoulder. “First rule of wound safety, don’t touch the victim’s blood. It can spread bloodborne diseases.”
Anise felt something in her throat and swallowed, anxiously.
  “I should go find Duke,” she said, frowning.
  “It’s alright, ma’am,” said Daw, “I'll find the Duke and appraise him of the situation.” He put his hand to his chest, nodded and disappeared out the door of the carriage.
Anise was left standing by Edison, watching the bespectacled soldier try to calm down the injured soldier, before disinfecting the wound with rubbing alcohol. The man screamed in pain.

Daw ran through the length of the train, looking for the Duke, when he passed through the rear-calf and into the driver's cabin of the locomotive.
  "Duke, sir?" he inquired, sounding puffed from running. He found the Duke talking animatedly to the driver. They hadn't noticed him
  "Can you fix it while the train is in motion?" asked the Duke.
  "We can't move!" screamed the driver.
  "I didn't ask that," growled the Duke, "I need to know if you can fix it while aboard the locomotive, with the engine disengaged from the wheels, and without stepping foot on ground."
  "Uh . . . aye, we could."
  "That's what I needed to know. So, you start fixing it, I'll get the train moving!"
  "We can't, we have to abandon this train before they hits us!"
  "There's not enough time for you to question my every order!" roared the Duke, furious. "Just fix the goddamned train!"
The driver frowned, then shook his head, grabbed the large wrench from the floor and headed outside towards the broken engine, swearing under his breath.
  "Duke, sir!" called out Daw.
  "What?!" snapped the Duke.
  "I'm sorry, sir," said Daw, with a Lugosian Salute. "A soldier's been injured, and Miss Trevino wants to know why we've stopped."
  "Oh, right . . . thank you for your report, Private Daw," said the Duke, rubbing his temples with one hand. "Soldier, next I'll I need you to send out a new order to the men on the train. A direct order from me."
  "Yes sir, what is it, sir?"
  "Tell everyone that the cooling system for the engine is broken and it will take half an hour to fix. In the meantime . . . we need to get the train moving."
  "Excuse me, sir?" said Daw.
  "I've just been informed that there's another train behind us, on a collision course, and they're not slowing down. They'll roll right through us. So I need everyone to get off the train." said the Duke.
  "Are we abandoning the train, sir?" asked Daw.
  "No," said the Duke, sternly, "we're going to get out and push."

As the message was passed on down the train, soldiers began to disembark until no one was left except the injured soldier, the soldier that was medicating him, the driver, the engineer and the four technicians. The rest began organizing themselves alongside the train.
To the left side of the tracks, to the direction they were travelling, there was a craggy cliff-face. They were standing on a dusty plateau, artificially carved into the rock, for the train-line, barely ten metres wide; and off to the right, there was a beautiful vista of green and purple, rolling hills. Either the grass was mauve, or this was a valley of violets, dipping and falling like a heavy blanket. The hills were broken up only by a smattering of wide, shallow lakes, that perfectly reflected the soft, yellow sky above, scattered with white, cottony clouds.
The Duke was standing by the right side of the locomotive, a magnificent beast of iron, engineering, stream-lining and raw, diesel-fuelled power; it was still overheated, and heat rippled in an aura around it. Down by the carriages, Anise spotted the Duke and she ran up to join him with Edison walking to catch up from behind her.
  "Duke!" she said, excited "Can you believe this? It's stunning. The sky is yellow, I've never seen anything like it."
  "It is pleasant," said the Duke, he turned to look at Anise, with a brief smile in the corner of his mouth, then he looked up at the sky. "The air's breathable, so it must be a particulate in the upper atmosphere."
  "It's beautiful," said Anise.
  "What's going on? Why did we stop?" asked Edison, as he walked up to the Duke.
  "A wraive attacked the cooling system and the engine overheated, and the expansion caused it to lock up. So, we're preparing to push the train, to get out of the way of the train that's behind us" said the Duke. "The soldiers are already getting into position."
  "But, what good will that do?" asked Edison. "They say there's a train behind us, we can't outrun it."
  "Come here," said the Duke, putting his right arm around Edison's shoulder and pointing down the tracks with his left, "Look there. Can you see that?"
Edison peered down the line and almost two-hundred metres away he could see what looked like a line fencepost.
  "Yeah, what is that?"
  "The track splits up ahead," said the Duke, motioning his hand, as though tracing the lines of the railway, "and there's a lever to switch it manually. We just need to get there."
  "That's an awfully long way to pull a train," said Edison. "Can't we just ask the train behind us to stop?"
  "I already did," said the Duke, grimly. "They refused."
  "What? Why not, that's insane."
  "If you'll excuse me, I think we're ready to begin," said the Duke, turning back to the soldiers. He stepped between some of the soldiers to get to the side-steps which lead into the train. He climbed to the top and leaned out of the railing, so he could see everyone down that side of the train.
  "Alright, soldiers!" screamed the Duke, again, his voice sounding hoarse and ragged at the volume. "Can you hear me!"
  "SIR, YES SIR!" yelled the soldiers in response, as they turned to see him, they saluted in unison, clapping a hand to their chest and nodding their head.
  "Then listen up and pay attention! This train-" he kicked the train for effect, with a dull thunk "- weighs several thousand tonnes! If we are going to move an inch, we have to work together! I need you all to grab ahold of some part of this train! Come on, right now! Grab ahold! But don't push yet!"
The Duke watched as the entire line of men leaned in towards the train, many around the back of carriages, but some were grabbing onto the gaps in the doors, or onto the armour around wheels. The Duke quickly opened the door to the cabin and went straight through to the other side, leaning out to check on the left side of the train. They were also grabbing onto the train.
  "That's it, hold firm!" yelled the Duke. "This first part will be the hardest! So, you need a good grip! But once we get rolling, we just need to keep it moving! Don't stop pushing for a second!"
The Duke returned to the other side and looked alongside the locomotive. He smiled when he saw Edison and Anise grabbing onto the frame.
  "Good work, Inspector; Miss Trevino."
  "You said, everyone," said Edison.
  "That I did," said the Duke, jumping off the train, then he turned to continue yelling his orders "Alright, soldiers! I want every single one of you! RIGHT now! To start pushing, with everything you've got! and when I yell "Heave!" you will take one step!"
The Duke watched as people leant forward, pulled, pushed and strained with all their might. Very gradually, he saw the wheels start to move a few centimetres.
  "HEAVE!!" screamed the Duke. Very slowly, every began walking, and the train rolled forward a foot. "HEAVE! That's it, just keep going! Keep it up! We're moving!" screamed the Duke. Then he too ran towards the locomotive, grabbed ahold of the side and started pushing as well.
  "Holy crap this is heavy," said Anise, through gritted teeth. "It's like pushin' a house."
  "A stubborn house," added Edison.
  "Don't speak. Push," grunted the Duke. It was very slow going, they took about three steps every ten seconds, but the train was definitely moving.
It rumbled slowly as the wheels were forced forward, and the wheel-coupling rod creaked and groaned grumpily, stubborn as an old goat. As the wheels turned a full rotation, the engine squealed and the valve chest hissed, but despite how much the iron goliath groaned and complained, it continued to trundle on, pushed by the indomitable force of determined soldiers. The iron titan lumbered forward with the immense gravity and grace of an ancient mammoth, ignorant of what dangers crept up behind it, or the enemy that haunted the sky.
As the soldiers pushed on the outside, within the cabin the engineer and the driver were working hard to get the engine moving under its own power again. The engine may not have been running, but locomotive and crew were moving like a well-oiled machine. They made it more than halfway before there was any sign of trouble.
It started with the sound of squealing. They could barely hear it over the sound of their creaking and groaning locomotive, but they heard occasional the squeaks of screaming metal on metal, off in the distance. Then suddenly, there was a sudden clunk from the carriage behind and the locomotive's steady progress began to slow.
  "Keep pushing! Keep pushing!" screamed the Duke. But the locomotive felt heavier. "I'll handle this, don't you stop pushing!"
Stepping away, the Duke looked back down the line of carriages and saw that the men pushing the carriage two down from the engine car were glancing behind them as they pushed, the Duke ran up alongside their carriage.
  "Eyes front, soldier!" he snapped. The young men jumped and turned around.
  "Sorry, sir," said one of them, turning back to the job at hand.
  "What was that noise, sir?" another asked through gritted teeth.
  "That's the sound of this train coming to a halt, if you don't keep pushing," said the Duke, sternly. "Now, eyes front and keep moving."
The men complied, but then the Duke stepped back and also looked down the line of tracks behind them. The sound was still distant, and infrequent, but he was certain that it was the train behind them. He ran back towards the locomotive and walked alongside the driver's cabin.
  "Chough!" called out the Duke. The door opened and the tall, greasy-handed engineer looked out.
  "Yes, sir?" he said.
  "How soon before this train can run under its own power?"
  "Not yet, there's still some wraive-guts and feathers clogging the radiator."
  "I don't need her in top condition, I just need it moving."
  "Uh . . ." the engineer shrugged, " . . . half an hour?"
  "You need to work faster," said the Duke, frowning.
  "Yes, sir," said Chough, as he closed the door and went back to work.
The Duke clenched his teeth and marched down the line.
  "Am I mistaken, or are we slowing down?!" screamed the Duke. "I must be, because soldiers would have more calibre! More strength! More fortitude! More determination than this! We're going to pick up the pace, because I know we can! Just take another step, men! Don't think about the pain! Don't think about fear! Don't think about anything except taking another step!"
The train was moving slightyly faster, but not very, and that sound was getting louder. The Duke looked behind them and he couldn't see anything on the tracks. However, he could see the smoke. The cliff face beside the tracks curved slightly to the left, and above that he could see thick, black, toxic-looking smoke, and it was much closer than he felt comfortable with.
  "Come on men!" screamed the Duke as he jogged, doing what he could to hide his own apprehension. "We're almost there! Just keep moving!"
The Duke ran to the head of the train again, but this time kept running. Past the train, he ran towards the split in the tracks, now almost ten metres away. from the train. It was a long way, but the Duke had hope for the soldiers yet. So he stood by the railroad switch on the lefthand side. It was a lever in a simple box, and from the box extended a long rod which connected under the rail to the point blades that switched the track. The Duke stood behind the lever, facing the train, clamped the handle and threw the switch with a clack.
  "You're nearly here!" he yelled, "Come on!"
The locomotive rolled slowly through the switch, grunting and creaking around the bend. As it did, the Duke saw it; behind their train, in the distance, the black smoke was rising into the air.
  "You're doing it! Don't stop now! We've got to get off the main line!" yelled the Duke as the first carriage, a gun car, rolled around the bend. That's when he heard it, in the distance, the rhythmic chugging of a diesel engine, but this was deeper and heavier than their own train.
The second carriage, for soldiers, rolled past the bend. The sound was getting louder.
  "Just concentrate on taking each step!" the Duke yelled at the soldiers pushing the third carriage, a tall auto-rack car. The air was suddenly filled with noise, like a heavy, empty honk as the train behind them blew its horn; it sounded just like a foghorn. The men looked scared, "You're halfway done! Don't worry, just keep pushing!"
The fourth car was another soldier car, and it slowly rolled around the corner. As it did, the ground at the Duke's feet started vibrating. small grains of dirt started sifting and quivering, and a stream of dust fell loose from the cliff-face, and fell like a waterfall. The Duke was beginning to worry. If they didn't get off the line in time, he doubted they'd have the time to escape somewhere safe from the collision.
The fifth car, the train's other gun car, rolled around the bend. The train behind was getting louder and louder, they could all hear it now, and could even hear the rumble of the tracks as it drove, and the rails beside the Duke began humming, singing with the vibration of a powerful train barrelling down the tracks. They blew their horn again, this time considerably louder.
  "Don't lose your heads! Don't slow down! You are going to make it to the end, because you are my army of soldiers!" yelled the Duke.
The sixth car, the final passenger carriage, rolled around the bend, and that's when the Duke saw it. Behind their train, he could see the oncoming train. It was a lot taller than their train. The engine itself was almost four-storeys tall, with its front end shaped like a sharply-angled corner, painted red and slicing through the air as it approached, very fast. The ground beneath his feet was shaking, the tracks singing with the ring of metal, the train behind thundering through.
The last car was pushed around the bend. It was the Duke's timeship, the Lift in the shape of a caboose, with the men beside it groaning and straining to keep pushing.
  "You've nearly made it, men! Don't keep-" the Duke's voice was drowned out by the sound of the foghorn. The caboose finally left the main line, the men pushed it out of the way, but the train was approaching fast. The Duke threw the switch the other way. Less than five seconds later, the great, red train behind them sliced past, missing the soldiers' train by a few metres and sending the Duke's leather coat flailing in the resulting wind, as he was separated from the soldier's train. The Duke stepped back from the tracks and looked up at the massive train and he was shocked. Each carriage was at least three storeys tall, with sleek angles, dark, silver plating and several strips of thick windows, through which the Duke could see glances of some of the passengers as it whipped by, some of them walking around, talking or looking out at him. After a few moments of the train thundering past, squealing and rumbling down the tracks, the Duke lost count of the number of carriages, but it was over thirty; then the tail end of it sped past, another red engine, facing backwards, pushing the great line along from behind. Then the soldier's diesel train and the other fork of the track came into view. The soldiers were all collapsed to their knees, kneeling down or sitting on the dirt.
  "Good work, men," said the Duke, before finding his voice again. "Good work! You've made me proud!"
  "Yes, sir!" said the men, sounding a little haggard, and only about half of them saluted, the rest were so tired. But the Duke then turned and walked towards the engine car. He needed some answers.

The locomotive roared as it flared to life, groaning and growling, and began puffing smoke cheerily. Then the driver blew the train whistle and leaned out the side door.
  "All aboard!" he called, and the soldiers slowly picked themselves up and climbed into their cabins. Anise and Edison had also collapsed to catch their breath beside the locomotive, but now picked themselves up and dusted themselves off.
  "Hey, where's Duke?" Anise asked, turning to the driver.
  "Don't know. He stormed off in a huff, he must be onboard, somewhere."
He closed the door, so Anise headed for the nearest passenger car.
  "Wait up for me," said Edison, stretching his muscles and groaning.
  "I have to find Duke!" she called back, and she climbed aboard. Inside the carriage, she had to squeeze past the soldiers that were making their way to their seats. "Is Duke here? Duke?"
  "Here's not here, Miss, he went straight on through" said one of the soldiers. Anise nodded and headed to the end, slipping through to the next carriage. This was the auto-rack, a carriage filled with army cars and trucks, that were stacked vertical, pointed down. Anise had to kneel down slightly to walk through the small space in between, where the vehicles faced bonnet to bonnet, and she had to carefully step over the hydraulics which lowered the side doors down. As she slipped between the cars, she heard the engine whistle squeal again, and then they began moving, the engine slowly chugging. She held onto one of the pistons as the carriage rattled into motion, then crept her way to the rear end of the carriage. They were picking up the pace as she stepped through to the next carriage.
  "Duke!" she called out. All the soldiers were sitting in their seats, so she could see clearly down to the end, and the Duke wasn't there. She marched to the end again.
By the time she passed through the gun carriage and into the last passenger car, the train was starting to pick up the pace. She looked around the soldiers and didn't see the Duke, so she knew he had to be aboard the Lift, in its caboose-form. Anise opened the door. She did and found herself face to face with the Duke.
  "Duke! I've been looking all over for you," said Anise.
  "Oh . . ." said the Duke.
  "What are you doing?" she asked.
  "I've got some business to take care of," said the Duke. He knelt down to the gap between the carriages. There were two large buffers, and the caboose was clasped with a knuckle coupling. The Duke unclasped the safety latches on the knuckle. "I'm afraid you'll have to stay here, just for a short moment. I promise, I'll come back."
  "Come back? from where?" asked Anise, then she realized what he was doing. The Duke stood and kicked a lever and the two knuckles released.
  "Duke! What are you doing?!" Anise screamed. She tried to step onto the train, but the Duke put a hand to her shoulder, holding her back and stood blocking her way. "Let me come with you."
  "No, Anise. This is too dangerous."
  "Then don't go!" screamed Anise, as the gap between them grew wider.
  "I have to . . ." said the Duke. "I need answers."
Anise shook her head, tears welling in the corner of her eyes.
  "Oh no you don't!" she screamed. Anise turned and walked quickly away from the carriage door. As she reached the other end of the carriage, she took off her pink, sheepskin boots and handed them to a soldier.
  "Hold these!" she said, "and don't lose them!"
Then she turned around, sighed heavily, and sprinted. He feet thudded against the metal, grille floor as she ran and as she came to the gap, she leapt. By that time, the gap was more than two metres wide, but she went speeding out the door.
  "Anise!" screamed the Duke, as she came flying towards him. The Duke caught her in his arms, and they both fell back through the caboose door, onto the Persian runner on the floor inside the carriage. "Anise, what the hell is wrong with you?!"
Anise sat up, straddling his chest.
  "You're not going anywhere without me! I am sick of you boys treating me like an invalid!"
  "You just jumped from a moving train!" yelled the Duke.
  "Because you were trying to leave me behind!" screamed Anise, even angrier. "I'm not a child! I'm a part of this, the same as you, and I won't have you running off on some suicide mission on your own!"
The two glared at one another for a moment as the caboose started to lose momentum.
  "Get off me . . ." growled the Duke. Anise waited a few belligerent seconds before complying. "I can't believe you did that."
  "I can't believe you," said Anise, "I didn't want to come with you across the universe so I could stand on the sidelines while you try to kill yourself."
  "I was going to come back," said the Duke, "I just don't want you to get hurt."
  "That's what I'm talking about!"
  "But this is dangerous," said the Duke, "you could die."
  "All the more reason you shouldn't go alone!"
  "Anise, you don't understand, I'm not human. It matters if you die, but it doesn't matter if I die."
  "It matters to me," she said. The Duke just sighed.
  "Anise, I'm sorry . . . I just-"
Anise silenced him by grabbing him in a hug. He hugged her back.
  "Just don't leave without me," she whispered.
  "I won't," he said, in that quiet, rumbling, almost-purring whisper, that spoke only to her.
  "Then, apology accepted." They embraced for a while, as the caboose finally rolled to a stop, then the Duke let go.
  "Alright, now we wait," said the Duke.
  "Wait for what?" asked Anise.
  "For the wraive," said the Duke. The Duke turned and walked out of the caboose, then jumped off to stand on the tracks.
  "I thought the wraive were the enemy. Won't they kill you?" asked Anise, as the Duke helped her to step down.
  "They're the enemy of the Lugosians, but we're not on anyone's side, Anise, we're just helping those in need," said the Duke, walking around beside the caboose and staring down the line behind them. "When the wraive attacked the train I could hear them, they sounded terrified."
  "They didn't sound very terrified to me," said Anise.
  "I meant in my mind," said the Duke, tapping the side of his temple with a finger, "I thought they were just birds, but they communicate with some form of telepathy and I could hear it and see flashes of images. They were attacking us because they're scared of us. But if I can show them that there's nothing to fear, then maybe we could talk with them."
  "Why would you want to?" asked Anise.
  "Because something isn't right here. The Lugosians want to go to war with them wraive, yet the wraive are behind them and they're running away; when the wraive flew off, after the attack, they also flew in that direction; the civilian train was headed down the same track, despite the fact that they're heading towards that same danger & when I used the radio in the cabin to ask them to stop they refused, even if it meant running through our train."
  "I don't get it," said Anise. "What does that all mean?"
  "As best I can devise from what I've seen, they're all running away from something," said the Duke, pointing down the line. "Something behind us, that's scaring wraive, soldier, and Lugosian citizen alike."
  "Somethin' like what?"
  "I don't know and I don't think all of them know either, but I'm going to ask the wraive."
  "How do you know they’ll listen?" asked Anise.
  "I don’t,” said the Duke, solemnly. "That’s why this is dangerous."
  “Right," said Anise, nodding, " . . . perhaps I should wear my cocktail dress, then?"
  “What?” asked the Duke, frowning.
  “You know? A tight little red dress?” said Anise, with a cheeky smile. “Might get the wraive to warm up to us; 'n' If not, at least I’ll die lookin’ stunning.”
  “I don’t think you understand how serious this is,” said the Duke.
  “You’re right . . . a bikini makes more sense.”
The Duke raised an eyebrow, but couldn’t stop himself from smirking.

A black swarm began to develop on the horizon. It didn't take long, perhaps only five minutes of waiting, before they saw them, peeking in from the distance like pinpricks piercing through the yellow sky or  slipping through the clouds. But as the specks of black started to darken the sky, and the few became many, they started to hear the sound. All of the birds were cawing as they flew, but there were so many that their chattering sounded like a rumble, punctuated by the heavy whooping of a million, flapping wings. Slowly, they came into view, and the dissolute masses cohered into a cloud of crowing black, flowing together like a floating wave that churned and swooped around itself with incredible weight and strength.
  "Come on," said the Duke. He headed for the end of the caboose, where the ladder was attached to the iron railing. The Duke climbed up swiftly, onto the roof of the carriage. Anise followed after. On the roof, there was only one railing, and the windowed projection in the middle of the roof meant they had to stand on a very short platform, with little room to move. But Anise stood firm beside the Duke, as they watched the birds fly closer. The wraive grew larger and seemed to fly faster, as they moved closer and closer. Underneath their masses, a great shadow crossed the land, as though they were consuming the very earth itself.
  "There's billions of them . . ." said Anise, sounding very small.
  "Then they'll have less to fear from us," said the Duke. "I hope that means they'll be willing to listen.
As they came towards the disguised timeship, the forward line of the giant flock dipped low, aiming down towards them. The Duke raised both of his arms.
  "Do not be afraid!" yelled the Duke. "We wish to talk!"
As the birds came closer, and they could see the light glinting off their eyes and the sleek outline of their wings, they birds swooped around the right side of the carriage, in a wall of feathers and wind, circling the carriage entirely until they enclosed Duke, Anise and the timeship in a fast-whirling, counter-clockwise tornado of wraive.
  "What's going on?!" Anise screamed, over the squawking and flapping of wings.
  "They're seeing if we're dangerous!" yelled the Duke.
After a few intense moments of scrutiny, the whirling wall of wings began to slow, and some of the wraive flew towards them. One of Two of them landed on the railing beside Anise, making her jump, and another landed on the raised portion of the caboose's roof. Each bird was enormous, easily a metre long from beak to tail with a wingspan of up to four metres. They looked like giant crows, and they seemed to flit nervously as they settled.
  "Why are you attacking the Lugosians?" asked the Duke.
The three birds all cawed in unison, and the Duke closed his eyes.
  "What's going on?" asked Anise. The Duke didn't speak, instead he touched Anise's shoulder and placed his head next to hers, having to lean down to her height. Her mind's eye was suddenly flooded with flashes of images:
An explosion of rushing water becoming a still pool; screaming soldiers firing bursts of yellow lightA million black feathers falling through a blue skyblood, spilling from a wraive's punctured eye; a pink flower rapidly withering down to nothingA million birds taking fleeing from a forest and into the sky . . .
  "What the hell?!" squealed Anise, jumping back.
  "Hush . . ." said the Duke, quietly, he was concentrating. "That is how they communicate."
  "Oh," muttered Anise. The Duke opened his eyes.
  "Would you like to see more?" he asked. Anise hesitated a moment.
  " . . . yes," and he leant down to touch foreheads once again.
At first all she could see were images from the wraives' eyes, flashes of the Duke and herself standing atop the caboose. But then the Duke spoke. As he did, the words echoed in his mind:
  "What are you running from?" asked the Duke.
A huge city of iron, being evacuated by dozens of trains; A flood of wraive, flying from a single point and spreading into the sky like a storm; An explosion in the middle of the city, creating a ball of fire that expands to engulf the city; burning feathers, falling through yellow sky; a wraive evaporating into smoke; a world being engulfed by fire-
The Duke stood up, opened his eyes and looked up at the spiralling wraive.
  "No . . ." he stammered. "No, they can't!"
The wraive seemed to stir as he yelled.
  "Explosion?" muttered Anise. "They blew up the city?"
  "Not just the city," said the Duke. "They're blowing up the planet."
  "It's the end of the world, Anise. They're destroying everything!" said the Duke. He held onto her shoulders and held her as they turned, so he could pass her on the narrow platform. "We need to move."
  "Why are they blowing up the planet?" asked Anise.
  "To kill the wraive," said the Duke, climbing down the ladder. Anise followed behind as he continued talking. "They went to the wraive homeworld and shot at the wildlife, not understanding how intelligent they were. As a result, the wraive defended themselves. That's when the Lugosians declared war."
said the Duke, as he opened the secret panel by the console room doors. "Then the wraive started winning, so now they're setting off this . . . endgame."
The Duke unlocks, opens and enters the console room.
  "But Duke?" said Anise, as she stepped into the console room. "If they set off an explosion, why aren't we dead?"
  "It's a planet, Anise," said the Duke, "it will take some time to engulf it entirely. Perhaps a whole day."
  "This is insane," said Anise.
  "That's why we're leaving," said the Duke, flipping and switching the controls. "Right after we collect the Inspector . . ."

The Inspector was standing at the rear of the train, looking through the open door with a look of awe on his face.
  "They left without me . . ." muttered Edison, looking completely shocked. He stared out into the yellow sky, and could see the beginnings of black specks, as the billions of wraive were flying towards him. Edison sighed, "Dad was right . . ."
In the distance, something caught his eye. it wasn't one of the growing number of wraive. It was closer to the ground, moving much faster, and was vaguely square or rectangular in shape. As it flew, rocking and weaving just a few feet above the railroad tracks, the dirt below was billowing up into the air, leaving a trail of dust in its wake. It was the Duke's caboose, the disguised Lift, flying towards him, and Anise was standing on the front end, holding on tight. It slowed down as it came within range of the train. It was quite unsteady, rocking, leaning and tilting as it went, but then it started to shift and turn to align itself with the tracks. Quite lightly, it lowered down, and sparks flew as the still wheels hit the tracks and began spinning. Then the caboose pushed forward until the knuckles locked with a clunk!
  "Alright, you got it!" screamed Anise, then she bent down and attached the safety chains.
  "Where the hell were you?!" asked Edison
  "The wraive," whispered Anise, "we were talking to them."
  "Right," said Edison. "That sounds . . . insane. I thought you left without me."
  "We wouldn't do that to you, Chess" said Anise, smiling.
  "Chess?" said the Duke, raising an eyebrow.
  "Yeah," said Anise, "his name's Chester, but that's kinda weird - no offence -"
  "None taken," said Edison with a shrug.
  "- so, I call him Chess."
  "Right . . . well, come aboard, Inspector, we have to go," said the Duke. Edison boarded the caboose.
  "You're leaving, sir?" said one of the voices aboard the trooper's carriage. The Duke stepped up to the door to look inside. Many of the soldiers looked tired and crestfallen.
  "Yes," said the Duke. But this time, he didn't raise his voice or stand tall, now he was speaking softly to the soldiers. "You've done well, and you've almost arrived at the launchsite. There are rockets on the horizon, gentlemen, awaiting you . . ."
  "Aren't you coming, sir?" asked one of the soldiers, looking most confused.
  "No. I have other matters to attend to," said the Duke, stepping into the carriage. "And although recent events have caused me to question the wisdom of this conflict; I will never regret meeting such fine young men as yourselves . . ."
The Duke placed a hand to his chest, and nodded. All of the soldiers in the carriage returned the salute. Then the Duke left the carriage, closing the door behind him and headed into the console room.
  "Where are we going now?" asked Edison.
  "We'll be on our way, soon," said the Duke. "But first, I have something I need to do."

After travelling through the vortex, the ship rematerialized inside a small room, with beige, stone tiles and sandstone walls. There were several tall, doorways leading out of the room, and the forward wall was a series of closely-spaced archways leading out to a wide terrace  The ceiling was over five storeys high, and it was covered entirely with a skylight of slanted glass, that revealed a pale, blue sky, with wisps of grey cloud.
As the ship became whole, it was in the form of a cylindrical, glass elevator, with metal bands around the top and base, both laced with delicately detailed etchings into the metal. It had some detached machinery on the roof, and the floor was stone tile identical to the room.
The Duke exited the console room door and pressed a button which opened the outer doors with a ding.
  "Come outside," said the Duke. Anise and Edison stepped out of the hidden depths of the timeship and  into the sandstone room, as the Duke remained in the Lift lobby, fiddling with the controls. The doors closed and the inside lift 'moved' until a mechanical voice said 'Cargo Hold' and the doors open.
  "Come out! It's safe here!" yelled the Duke, then he ran to join the other two. "Make sure you're out of the way."
Suddenly, with the sound of flapping wings and whooshing air, thousands and thousands of large, black birds, come flying out of the doors of the timeship, swooping through the archways, out the terrace and into the pale, blue sky.
  "You took the wraive with you?" said Edison, sounding incredulous.
  "I couldn't leave them there to die," said the Duke, "it would have been genocide."
  "I thought they were the enemy,"
  "As did the Lugosians. That was their first mistake."
  "How many did you bring?" asked Edison.
  "As many as I could accommodate," said the Duke. They watched as the stream of wraive continued to fly out.
  "What is this place?" asked Anise, looking around.
  "If you must know," said the Duke, quietly, "this, is the Glass Palace."
  "But where are we?" Edison asked. "What planet?
  " . . . Rathea," replied the Duke. It took a moment before Anise could react.
  "Wait, the Rathea? As in I'm the Duke of . . ."
  "Indeed," said the Duke, emotionlessly, "I couldn't release the wraive just anywhere, it had to be somewhere I could guarantee they'd be safe."
  "This is your home planet?" said Anise, sounding excited.
  "Obviously," said the Duke. After a few seconds, the last of the wraive flew out of the timeship's doors and the sound of wingbeats suddenly stopped. The Duke then walked back into the Lift lobby and pushes a button on the hidden panel. The door closes and the elevator 'moves' again.
  "What are you doing?" asked Anise.
  "We're leaving," said the Duke.
  "But we're here, I want to see Rathea."
  "No," said the Duke gravely, "we're leaving."
  "Why?" asked Edison. "What difference does it make being here or anywhere else? Do you have a schedule to keep?! Why would you leave your own planet?"
  "Because I said we're leaving!" yelled the Duke, his voice echoing through the tall room. 'Console room' says a mechanical voice, as the doors to the ship open, that's when the Duke turned and entered the console room; Anise started to follow, but Edison turned towards the terrace.
  "Edison?" called out the Duke. When he saw him heading towards the terrace he ran after him. "Wait! Edison, please!"
With one hand on his gun, Edison walked out of the room, and stood on a terrace. Left and right, there were similar terraces and behind him he'd come out of an enormous palace of sandstone and glass. But he walked to the hewn stone banister, and looked out onto the city below, and gasped.
  "Oh my god . . ." muttered Edison.
Below, was a mess of broken stone, and spilled sand. It was a city, but every single building was a cracked, empty husk; the ancient ruin of a desert metropolis, died centuries ago. There were mountains alongside the city wall and to the horizon stretched a sea of sand dunes and jagged rock. After a few moments, Edison turned around, to see the Duke standing in the middle of the terrace.
  "What happened here?" asked Edison.
  "Time happened here," said the Duke as he walked over to join him. "I'm an alien, Inspector; I live much longer than anyone else. I even outlived my own civilization. These people all died, ages ago."
  "But you're the Duke. How can you be a duke without any people?"
  "That is why I left my planet, Inspector," said the Duke. "A duke is a leader, a guide; he helps those in need; finds solutions to the problems of the people; provides strength when it is expected of him . . . and provides hope to those that need it the most. I travel because I am a duke."
  "What's going on?" asked Anise. The Duke turned to see her at the archways.
  "We were just leaving," said the Duke, walking over to her. "Are you coming, Inspector? Or will I leave you behind?"
After glancing at the ruins of Rathea one last time, Edison followed the Duke into the console room of the timeship. Then the ship slowly vanished, like sand in the wind.