Game of Thieves
Ezekiel Chanot sat down at the table, a smile across his face as he eyed the young man sitting across from him. He placed down a stack of Ciam coins, catching the eyes of those playing around him. The young man looked up, their eyes meeting just under the brim of his hat. The young man returned his smile.
“Can I... help you?”
“I think you can, friend,” smiled Chanot, twirling his fingers through his jet-black mustache.
The table’s eyes turned to the young man, who shrugged at the glance.
“Do I know you, stranger?”
“You don’t know me, but I have a feeling you know someone I must make as an acquaintance.”
The young man seemed to fight the urge to scowl, keeping his friendly demeanor a little longer as he shuffled some cards in front of him.
“This ain’t the town hen house, sir,” said the young man, “This is a card table.”
“I wasn’t confused,” said Chanot, gesturing to his stack, “I feel I can more than afford to play.”
A chuckle spread around the table. The company of cut throats and thieves looked to each other. A taller man with a turban poked the table, hard.
“Deal him in, boy,” he scoffed, “The toll’s raised, ladies. An entire ciam to play, minimum raise is ten simos.”
“Damn your purse, Scar,” spat a woman with an eyepatch across the table, she tugged at the brim of her bowler hat and glared at the turbaned man, “You thirst for a payout and milk us dry. You’ll have nobody left to play with!”
“If you can’t afford the pot then piss of ya Goblin cow,” replied the man, “Deal us in or fight it out.”
The young man shook his head at this man before turning to the woman, “I think you’re beautiful, if it at all matters.”
“You GIPS filled Dtruva,” spat the woman, “Deal so I can take your money.”
“Always a pleasure with you, Marge,” said the young man, who began to deal out the cards.
“What’s your interest in pretty boy?” asked the Turbaned man.
“I’m looking for a man,” Chanot started, looking over his cards.
“So is twinkle-fingers over h-here,” joked a scrawny man with glasses sitting next to Chanot.
The place was momentarily alight with laughter, even Chanot sharing in it.
“I’m sure a well dressed, dark, handsome individual can find such a man back East without staring at me all day,” said the young man, “I’m taken.”
“By a ship, one would assume,” said Chanot, “A very special ship.”
“Special is a word for it,” said the woman.
“I may have a ship,” said Arnett, “But not one you’d expect.”
“Shame,” said Chanot, casting a ciam into the pot as the buy in wrapped to him, “Because the ship I’m looking for has a special knack of drilling into places it doesn’t belong.”
The young man’s eyes locked with Chanot’s from across the table. He did not share in with the chuckles around the table.
“Hey, boy,” said the Turbaned man, “I think this gentleman wants a man to drill where he doesn’t belong.”
“Not quite,” said Chanot, “If you were to know of such a ship; a job for it might present itself paying handsomely for some… digging expertise.”
Cards began to move across the table. As people drew cards, discarded, and bet, the room was almost silent. The table went through several rounds quickly and effectively, every player knowing the game.
“What job needs a landship like that?” broke the silence from the young man.
Chanot leaned into the table, “If I were to tell you of it, would you see it makes it to the right parties?”
“Who says I know anything,” said the young man.
Chanot nodded, before playing another ciam in the pot, calling a bid, “I work for a rail line. The company is owned by Marcus Tidgeway and myself. I am Ezekiel Chanot.”
“Never heard of you,” spat the skinny man next to him.
“I’m not even sure I can name a rail line,” said the Turbaned man.
“Pick up a newspaper, you luddite,” said the woman under her breath.
“A move is being made currently to change international shipping forever,” said Chanot.
“Airships already happened, get with the times,” said the Turbaned man.
“I’m talking a different shift,” said Chanot, “As we speak, the House of Engineers is preparing to give a contract out for the official Antiford rail line. To the first rail line that can connect the small town of Mistfell, Antiford, with the small town of Green Leaf on the other side of the mountain range. This could bypass some political and financial hurdles in Hjem and reduce the cost of wood and wood products substantially.”
“Wood products?” asked the young man.
“Paper, mostly,” said Chanot, “Although, in all honesty, I doubt heavily consumers will see prices change. I forsee big discounts to the government and big profits for the mills of Mistfell.”
“So you want to get a train line over the mountains?” smiled the young man.
“I don’t see how that would be cheaper,” spat the turbaned man.
“It can be,” said Chanot, “You see, many of the largest rail line companies are up for the bid, currently designing trains that can climb mountains and making ridiculously massive bridges and pulley systems.”
“Sounds l-like an airship w-w-would be cheaper,” said the scrawny man with glasses.
“Could very well be,” said Chanot, “Unless there was a simple way to get tons and tons of product quickly. Going up and down a mountain is no way to go about it, but if there was a way to, say, go through a mountain. Now that would be worth its weight.”
“You’re trying to dig through the mountain?” said the young man, placing his cards down and looking serious, “Are you mad? There’s no way you have a budget for the amount of mining equipment you need. That’s crazy.”
“You know what the difference between tunneling and mining is? The end result,” said Chanot, “We can tunnel and build tracks for the fraction of a cost of excavating and mining the same space. We simply need to make our way through the mountain. We also need less equipment. A simple ship and some minor equipment could be more than enough.”
The young man started chuckling. He looked around the table.
“What would the pay for something like this be?”
“Not your usual fee, I assure you, but I’m sure the regular, guaranteed pay would be its weight in gems,” Chanot smiled, “No gunfights. No danger. No cargo. True, honest work for good money.”
The young man shook his head again. The turbaned man started chuckling.
Another man stumbled over from the bar. He nudged the young man and frowned at his cards.
“Aw, sweet. Great hand. Final bets in?”
With a groan, cards flew down around the table. The young man’s smile disappeared as he rolled his eyes.
“Damn you, Abbott.”
“So, what do you say, Joel Arnett?” asked Chanot, tossing down his own cards, “Want to continue to gamble for your payday? Or will you take a chance on a solid job?”
The young man leaned back, “Who said anything about being Joel Arnett?”
The new man named Abbott looked down at the young man, “Wait, are you not?”
Arnett’s eyes closed. Chanot began to chuckle, holding his hands out in front of him.
Warming Up the Machine
“So I don’t get how we’re going to help,” said Abbott.
“It’s real easy, actually,” said Arnett, who put the controls into place and locked the legs in place, “We’re just using the drills and the internal vacuum tubing and we’re turning the Landship into a mining machine. That’s all. It’s already built to do most of it. The guy even gave us an advance to buy a couple of extra drills.”
“I didn’t even know they made mining drills in that size anymore,” commented Abbott, “But leave it to you to find them.”
“It’ll be easy money.”
Arnett crawled out of the pilot seat and made his way into the hold of the ship where Abbott was working on a drill roughly the size of him. He was trying to match the modifications on the Scorpios II drills in case they needed a replacement or two. Arnett stretched out, touching the ceiling of the Scorpios II and moving his aching body from the long journey up.
The road, if you can call it that, to Mistfell was treacherous and winding. The Scorpios II might have actually made it safer and more direct by smashing and digging (in one spot) to get up here. Along the way they saw the train line. It was just one line, and they had teams attempting to expand it along the whole way from Gearford. Four or Five railway companies each sharing a single rail line to get their building supplies in and out. It did not look fun to Arnett.
Now they had arrived at a small base camp outside of Mistfell a a couple of Bobbies were trying to direct workers and newcomers to their respected camps. Arnett had to head outside to ensure he met them before they got angry.
Arnett struggled with the door to the deck of the ship. When he opened it, a brisk, freezing wind flew inside, and Arnett shuddered in the cold. He quickly slammed the door shut again. The door was cracked for only a moment, but even Abbott looked up from his project and his eyes widened at the chill.
Arnett rubbed his hands and walked over to the gun cabinet. Next to the cabinet was a steamer trunk that he kicked open. Inside a series of clothing sat, and he began digging through it.
“So do you think we can trust this guy? The job is straightforward enough but the specifics were a little vague.”
“Well,” said Arnett, yanking out of the pile of clothes a leather coat that he observed, “It needs to be vague. He doesn’t know what the Scorpios II can do and the Scorpios II have never really taken on a job like this.”
“I just find it weird,” said Abbott, “He was even willing to pay upkeep and get us extra parts for the ship. Wouldn’t buying or hiring out some mining equipment be easier?”
“From who?” asked Arnett, digging further in the pile and pulling out a pair of riding gloves, “Anything big enough to be more efficient would need to be custom made. He wouldn’t be able to scab a drill that size off of a real mining company. They buy and build them because they are needed. Besides, can you imagine getting something like that up here? In the mountains?”
Arnett threw on the leather coat and pulled on the gloves. He had few reasons to wear such things in his normal work day, so he was excited to try them out. He had bought them forever ago for a trip he was taking on an Airship, but since he was mostly resting, sleeping, or inside the ship at night he had little use for it.
Arnett nodded to Abbott again as he clasped two metal clasps together to close the coat and he made his way to the door, opening it and stepping out quickly.
Arnett instantly knew he had made a mistake. The leather seamed to do nothing against the biting cold or the howling breeze. The cold seemed to find every opening and cut right through his very skin. The gloves seemed to stiffen and he found himself having trouble pumping his fingers into fists to stay warm.
In the distance, Arnett could hear the sound of train whistles and small pops of explosions. A slight murmur of talking also made its way through the wind. Looking around, Arnett could see the mountains around him, some of the peaks towering above. Not far away was a camp, and a bundled up Police Officer was making his way to the Landship Scorpios II. Although signs of snow could be seen around, Arnett saw mostly dirt and rocks as well as a spattering of plants and stumps where trees had once stood.
In the distance, men walked to and from camps. They held tools like sledge hammers and pickaxes. They wore dirtied overalls and ratty winter coats. A few airships flew in the distance.
Arnett had to be careful, climbing down the side of the ship. He had almost made it completely down when he caught the sight behind him. From here, he could see the great expanse of Antiford. The Istoki desert in its full glory stretched for miles. The harsh oranges, reds, and browns stood out to the greys and greens of the Hoganmar.
“Hey, you there,” shouted up the Bobbie from below.
Arnett looked down, watching as the man struggled to tear away a face respirator he appeared to be using to keep warm. It appeared to lack any of the mechanics of one used for flight. The bobbie looked up again.
“What company are you with?”
“We’re the Landship Scorpios II,” said Arnett.
“I don’t care,” said the bobbie, “You can’t dock it here. You’ll need to move along, so what company are you with?”
“A guy named Chanot,” shouted Arnett, “I didn’t really get his company-”
“Ezekiel Chanot? No kidding,” said the bobbie, before pointing off towards the mountains, “You’ll be set up down that way. They’ll be waiting for you. Follow the explosions.”
Without another word the bobbie turned and walked away, fumbling with his respirator once more. Arnett shot him an annoyed glance before hauling himself back upward.
Poking his head into the Scorpios II, Arnett shouted, “Joe, take the wheel.”
Arnett made his way to the stern of the landship after firmly shutting the bulkhead door. As he walked, the cabin part slowly sank next to him, until he was standing over reinforced glass of the windshield. Abbott was just settling down into the pilot’s seat and he grabbed the controls. Arnett stood where he could see him and listened. After a quick glance, Arnett leaned down and grabbed Abbott’s attention before jabbing in the direction of the mountains. Abbott gave a thumbs up and lightly thrust the controls forward.
Arnett watched to ensure no one got trampled, but for the most part people were not eager to get in the landship’s way. They made their way carefully around the small camp and the groups of men and women heading off. In the distance Arnett could spot a few structures being constructed. One appeared to be a train track, but it just climbed the mountain. Another was a series of tracks that rose using pulleys and lead to small sections of track (which lead to another pullied platform). Smoke belched into the sky from all over.
Not far off Arnett could see the smoke stacks of Mistfell. It appeared several mills were still going full force and they added to the trail of black leading into the sky. With the changing winds, Arnett got a face full of the most horrid smell he could imagine. With a cough and a wave of his hand, Arnett cursed the factories. Paper Mills. Mistfell was almost single-handedly responsible for Antiford’s paper. They processed more paper than anything else, and it showed. Arnett had heard stories of how the river ran so polluted a fast Vibranni might be able to run across the surface. He hadn’t seen it himself, but after catching a whiff he was not interested.
As they rounded the bend the Scorpios came into view of a small camp on the outskirts of the others. It already had a train with a few cars lined up beside it. Men and Vibranni worked side by side, slamming hammers down into the mountain as they secured tracks. While they approached, another explosion sounded, and a small cloud of dust shot into the air of this camp. Shouting and whistles could be heard clearly, even from this distance.
Arnett was watchful as they brought the landship close. They avoided tents and campfires and approached as much as they could to this camp.
On the side of the engine sitting on the tracks were the words “Tidgeway & Chanot” in Gold leaf. The same logo could be seen on some boxes and signs further into the camp. Two large wooden structures had been hastily erected not far off, both belching smoke from chimneys. One even had a sign saying “Mess Hall”. Not far off, Arnett caught the glimpse of a rather large cavern in the mountain side here. It didn’t go far in, Arnett could already see a sheer rock face that appeared to have been blasted out. From the bottom, smoke and dust still made its way out from it, but teams of diggers with picks and sledges were already making their way in. A steam tractor hauling a rather large trailer also followed them in. Its large wheels have multiple feet lining them, allowing it to experly walk over the rubble and drag the cart behind it. Immediately teams bega shoveling debris into the cart.
Arnett was almost distracted. Slapping the windshield, Abbott barely had time to stop the Landship in its tracks before it hit a rather large tent. Upon inspection, Arnett thought he could see a doctor and some nurses walking around, it must’ve been a medical tent.
Out of the door of the closest wooden structure, the unmarked one, sprang a dark figure wearing a rather elegant navy coat lined with fur. He wielded a cane that reflected the sunlight even from this distance. He lifted his top hat in an exaggerated tilt to Arnett. Arnett returned it in kind himself.
The man was quick to strut towards the landship, the smile not leaving his face.
“Well, well, I’m so glad you have arrived, Lieutenant.”
“Chanot,” said Arnett, “You didn’t say it was going to be so cold.”
“I did tell you the mountains,” shouted Chanot, “Come on down, boys. I need to introduce you to someone and then we got to clock you right in. No time like the present.”
On Arnett’s way down the bulkhead door opened again and Abbott’s head popped out, followed by profanities as he ducked back in.
Arnett poked his head in on his way by “Coat and gloves mandatory or you’ll stick to the rungs. Meet us down there as quickly as you can.”
“Maybe we’ll have to order us some clothes,” said Abbott, “Is Dimitrius even out?”
Arnett made his way down and walked over to greet Chanot. They clasped hands and greeted one another.
“She’s a fine ship,” said Chanot, “Look at the size of those drills.”
“I hope this’ll work,” said Arnett, “We’ve never done anything quite like this.”
“No one has,” said Chanot, “That’s the point of being an innovator! Now let’s get your friend and head inside. There’s somebody I want you to meet.”
Chanot led the pair into the structure he had come out of. He informed Arnett as they entered this was the ‘offices’ and the quarters for the businessmen. Inside, there seemed to be two rooms beyond the one they were in closed off by doors. It was a warm room, with a fireplace roaring against one of the walls. A few chairs were idly sitting around the room but the focal point were three desks. A small wooden desk holding nothing but a stack of papers and an inkwell sat next to the door. Two larger desks, one appeared to be made of stone and one of metal and wood, sat not far away.
At one, an older gentlemen leaned over a ledger. He peered through his glasses and frowned to himself, not even taking notice of the new group who walked in.
“Lieutenant Arnett, and Mr. Abbott,” said Chanot, his voice filling the room, “I present to you my partner, Marcus Tidgeway.”
The man finally shot a glance up at the sound of his name, but quickly returned his gaze downward. Arnett shot Chanot a glance. Abbott still shivered to himself, taking steps closer to the fireplace and tugging his denim jacket closer to himself as he did so.
“Marcus, this is the guy,” said Chanot, “With the ship. Lieutenant Joel Arnett.”
“Where’s the Captain?” said Tidgeway, not looking up.
“Well… he is the Captain.” said Chanot, looking to Arnett for guidance, “He’s just attached to that.”
Tridgeway looked up, almost annoyed, “Military man or weirdo?”
Chanot looked to Arnett, who sighed and rolled his eyes.
“Weirdo,” said Abbott, “And friend. Hi, Joseph Abbott.”
Tridgeway rolled his own eyes before standing up from his seat and looking the two men over. He shot a glare at Chanot before continuing.
“You’ll catch death itself dressed like that. You need to go into town, there’s a tailor there making his year’s salary off all the desert rats making their way here. Can’t afford another death.”
“Death?” asked Arnett.
“We need to start as soon as possible,” said Tridgeway, “Run to town, get dressed, and get to work. Every second we’re not boring into that mountain Ezekiel is boring our company into the ground.”
“Into the… hey,” Arnett pointed to Chanot, “Is our fee-”
“Your money is fine for the work you’ll do,” said Tridgeway, “I’m just not as thrilled about gambling our business away as Ezekiel here.”
“Ah, you’re more of the thinker?” asked Abbott.
“More like I’m the one that makes this all work.”
“If you don’t believe in this why are you here?” asked Arnett.
Tridgeway raised an eyebrow at Arnett, “You’re here. You’ve met him. Ezekiel has a way with words and people I can only dream of. No matter how exact my plans are, no matter how intricate and fool proof my calculations are we would never have seen a simo of a loan without him.”
Chanot smiled, even puffing out his chest. Arnett nodded.
“Alright, which way to the warm clothes and then we’ll get to work before the sun goes down.”
“I’ll show you, need to go into town anyway,” said Chanot, “We’ll take my carriage.”
Tridgeway nodded his agreement and sat back down, continuing with his work.
Arnett sat in his pilot’s chair. Heavier clothes and a nice jacket on, it was now warmer, even as the Scorpios II had time to cool with the air around it. Abbott sat behind him, also sporting a new wool coat and a hat with floppy ear flaps that covered his ears. Abbott was holding the main gun’s controls steady.
The Scorpios II was walked up to the construction zone. Behind them the steam tractor had backed up with two empty trailers. The large main gun of the Scorpios II was turned completely around and was pointing directly behind them. Already the nodes along the dual rails began to heat and cool rapidly, and the fluctuation of temperatures began to move the air in a current. A strong vortex formed in the middle, and the wind began to push outward.
All the digging teams had stood back, waiting for the Scorpios II. The ship now faced a shear wall that had been blasted and picked from the mountain. It was barely a dent, but it stood out against the surrounding area.
Arnett grabbed the drill controls, and squeezed their triggers. A surge of steam power went through the ship, coursing through the Scorpios II’s arms and into the drills. They began to spin, and in only a few moments they were spinning, ready to go.
“I hope this works,” said Abbott.
“There is nothing in our history together that says this won’t work,” said Arnett.
“There is nothing in our history together that suggests this will work,” said Abbott.
“This is a normal day for us.”
“We do this all the time, Abbott!”
“In Sand, Joel. In sand! This is way different.”
“You have a chance to voice this opinion,” said Arnett.
“I was drunk,” said Abbott, “Doesn’t count.”
Arnett took a breath, before slowly pushing his hands forward on the controls. Mirroring his movements, the drills moved forward, and plunged into the battered rock.
There was a screech of metal on rock. Arnett felt some resistance in the controls. A shattering crack could be heard. The right drill dug in and then sank into the stone. Almost as quickly the left followed example. Rock shards were ripped from the rock face and tossed around. A small amount of dust debris began to lift.
And in a minute, it was over. Arnett felt the drills had gone far enough, and with a tug on the controls the drills were yanked from the rock wall, with debris following. Almost as if on instinct, Arnett plunger the drills further down, and this time they more easily sand in. The rocks above the drill entry cracked and met the vacant holes of the drilled out space above. This caused a large section of the mountain face to fall, and Arnett drawn back sooner. Expertly he plunged the drills into a spot above.
In moments, a large gaping hole and been torn from the rock, and Arnett began to crawl the Landship over some debris into the mountain. Pulling back, Arnett released the trigger of the drills and opened his hands, pulling apart to clasped on either drill control. The drills, still spinning as they slowed down, cracked down the middle and opened like the pincers of a real scorpion.
Without direction Abbott had already leaned forward and flipped the vacuum controls on Arnett’s controls. Steam was sent in that direction and a rumble filled the floor of the cockpit. The vacuum generators were spinning as steam filled them, and a suction connected the opening of the drills to the back of the landship, where the primed ‘railgun’ sat read.
Arnett trust the drill controls down, and they began to suck up the debris. Quickly, the small rocks, dust, gravel, and even smaller chunks of mountain began to disappear inside the drills. Arnett and Abbott could hear them clatter and rattle through the entirety of the ship as they made their way out back.
They exited the ship, being carried by the torrent of wind the main gun generated. With a slight arch, the debris slammed, hard, into the trailer of the steam tractor. The operator leapt off, taking cover from stray bits of debris. A few works also had to stumble backwards as chunks of debris missed their mark and scattered around the area.
After several moments of this, the debris began to spill from the now full trailers and pile on the ground. A braver worked lunged onto the steam tractor and engaged the engine. With great, sturdy force the tractor began to pull the trailers free and rescue them from being buried in a mound.
As the steam tractor chugged off the flinging of debris continued, piling up now in the vacant space. Workers now took steady steps back to take care to not be hit by debris.
With a flick of his wrists, Arnett rose and closed the drills, deciding they had cleared enough rubble to continue. The drills continued spinning as Arnett moved the landship a little deeper in the cavern he was beginning to form.
With swift movements they began again. This time Arnett was well practiced, and the drills were more effortlessly being plunged into the mountain. Entire chunks were now being broken away, and sooner then last, they had to take a break to move more of the debris.
Chanot smiled, even as the debris piled up behind the Scorpios II.
The sun had set. Arnett and Abbott climbed down from the Scorpios II to a foreman and Chanot waiting for them. In the Hoganmar in front of them was now a cavern. It slowly sloped upward, and managed to disappear past view. Crews still worked to clear the debris in piles the whole way up.
“So, we’ve learned a lot today,” said Chanot.
“Did we?” asked Arnett.
“Oh, yes,” smiled Chanot, “We made a fantastic decision in hiring you guys and we need to change how we do things.”
“You guys are clearing more mountain then we can secure,” said the foreman, “If we can’t secure that tonight we’ll suffer a cave in before morning.”
“We’re working too well?” said Arnett.
“Sort of,” said Chanot, “We have a plan, however.”
“We’ll be building up the railroad as close as we can to the back of the landship,” said the foreman, “So that the debris can be funneled into a train car or two. This will speed up cleanup. While you are digging, teams of men will hurry to secure the walls and shaft ceiling while making minor alterations to ensure we can fit even the biggest train loads safely.”
“Sounds good so far,” said Arnett.
“We also have some ideas about the proposed route,” said Chanot, “I’m actually glad you’ve naturally started a small incline, that’ll make later on more easy.”
“For now, we’ve had to implement major changes,” said the foreman, “I want to talk to you about getting some engineers onboard this tub and making the process a little smoother.”
“Why don’t we do that over dinner,” said Arnett, uneasily.
“Too good of an idea,” smiled Chanot, “To my office at once.”
Deep in the Hoganmar
The drill was screeching pretty heavily as it dug into the hard rock. Arnett squinted with the noise. He turned to Abbott was was heading out to the bulkhead.
“ABBOTT!” yelled Arnett, “Does that sound bad to you?”
“What?” yelled back Abbott.
A horrifying ruckus answered him. Jerking his head back around Arnett was able to witness fire begin to burst from the drill and smoke belches right after it. With a curse, Arnett yanked back the controls, wrenching the drill from its place. With a hiss a burst of steam shot out of the drill and another pop it ground to a screeching halt. Arnett cut the power to the drills and swore under his breath.
“So that’s a bad sound,” said Abbott.
Arnett glared down at the drill. Men around him set up additional lamps. Arnett sighed.
“Blew an alternator,” said one mechanic.
“Naw, lookey herr,” said another, “Cracked regulatherr. That backed up preasshurr-”
“It appears this pumped too much steam through here, the drill didn’t turn breaking this. Who built this thing?”
“Ah, it’s made perfectly fine,” said Arnett, “Get the hell out of here. Make room for the backup. ABBOTT!”
A team of workers were bringing up a cart with a large drill on it. Abbott was with them. They approached in a bubble of light. The use of lanterns were sparse this deep in the cavern so it would not use up additional air. Workers worked in relative darkness. Soot fell lightly on everything from the train and the landship. This left the rock looking stained.
Abbott approached the group, “Let’s lower the arm and get this baby hooked so we can keep going.”
“We think we blew an alternator,” shouted one of the engineers.
“Shuttup,” said Arnett, “Unload the good, haul off the bad. Nobody touches it, I’ll fix it on my own.”
Abbott knelt down next to Arnett. The replacement drill was moved into position and the arm brought down. Abbott wiped his brow.
“We need a better way to pump in air then the compressed canisters,” said Abbott, “It’s getting hard to breathe down here.”
“We’ll make it happen,” said Arnett, “I’ve been in worse.”
“It’s funny, isn’t it,” said Abbott, “I join up with you to escape this life and here we are, deep in a mine, breathing shallow, and fixing a bloody drill.”
“Yeah, anytime you want to remember the difference I’d be happy to pay you a miner’s wage. I’ll even slap on a couple of extra simos a day.”
“Eat coal you dirt clod,” said Abbott.
“There, that should do it,” said Arnett,” Alright, clear out and get onboard. We’re starting up again. Starting up again!”
Arnett stood aside the opened fuel port. A crane with a load of coal was suspended next to the Scorpios II. Abbott and himself shoveled coal into the hatch a little at a time, careful not to spill any. The coal would sit in waiting, being auto-fed a little at a time to the furnace to fuel the great Landship.
In the distance, a train whistle blared out, and with it the cries of a hundred workers. Arnett’s head shot up, looking. Over in the next camp, a train engine was suspended on a pulley system. The engine swung, a little at first but it picked up speed. It blared a whistle into the air.
“Oh, the gods,” said Abbott, “That can’t be good.”
The engine jerked, falling a few feet and stopping suddenly. Another snap of a rope and the engine plummeted. As it disappeared out of sight, they could hear the final blare of the train whistle before the boom of an explosion.
Arnett looked to Abbott.
Almost at once a large group of men began to bolt for the dust cloud forming in another camp. Abbott tossed his shovel into the pile of coal and made for a ladder. Arnett was quick behind him.
A gunshot shattered through the chaos. Standing alone, Marcus Tidgeway stood with an old revolver in his hand, shaking with the effort of lifting it. he glared angrily at the men, his eyes scanning the crowd he went to head towards the explosion.
"It's not ours," shouted Tridgeway, "So what do you men think yer doing?"
"Sir, there was an accident," started one man.
"At our competitor's camp!" answered Tridgeway, raising his voice to be heard by all, "This is a blessing for us. A setback to them, hopefully major. We need to jump on this gift! Back to work, all of ye. Double time!"
Abbot and Arnett shared a glance. The movement was not missed by Tridgeway, who let out a quick whistle and pointed to the pair.
"We're not paying you to help the competition," he said, "Get that machine back into the mountain! Let's go!"
Arnett caught Abbot's grimace, but he still peered into the automatic tender and decided it was full enough. Arnett nodded to Abbot and then knelt to close up the opening. Abbot gave a defeated sigh, and he made his way back down the deck of the landship to prepare it for another round into the tunnels.
The drill gave a labored whine before going suspiciously silent. Suddenly it sank into the wall with little effort and Arnett had to pull back to keep from losing the drill all together. Large cracks spider-webbed from the drill port and covered the entire wall of where Arnett was digging. All at once the wall fell and dust was tossed everywhere. The large windshield of the cockpit was clouded in dust and the cockpit went dark.
Arnett pulled back the drills and grabbed the controls, pulling the Landship back a step. However he couldn't safely bring it back further since he wasn't sure where the workers were or who would even be able to see the sudden movement.
"Damn," swore Arnett, "Cave in!"
Arnett lowered the landship to a crouch and brought the drills closer in hopes of making it easier to maneuver while being buried by the falling rocks. He only hoped the landship's body would act as a safe haven for the workers caught outside.
Abbott had stirred from where he rested in his bunk. Leaping up, he hurried to the cockpit. Arnett waited for the inevitable slam of rock on the Landship.
But it never came. After a moment, the dust began to dissipate. Arnett looked back to Abbot, who shrugged.
Arnett unstrapped from the Scorpios II controls and made his way to the bulkhead. He opened it with some effort, finding the door stuck behind some of the falling rock that had broken apart. Outside he could hear the hollow echos of men shouting in exclamation. Workers checked on their coworkers in an organized role call. Arnett lifted a lantern and headed to the front of the Landship, Abbot close behind with his own Landship.
"What did we hit?" shouted a foreman from below.
"Everyone alright?" shouted Arnett, "Who's not dead?"
"We got some wounded, El-Tee," came a shout, "But you got to see this!"
Arnett had made his way to the front of the ship. He peered down quickly at his windshield, seeing the thick layer of dust and dirt that had settled on it. He also kicked aware some debris, trying to clear a path.
It was Abbott's gasp that drew his attention forward. The dust was beginning to clear, showing what had become of their path ahead. One of the front lanterns had been busted on the Scorpios II, but the remaining one shone bright into the darkness, and out past where the rock wall they had been digging had been.
The wall had collapsed, now showing a broad, cavernous opening on the other side. Arnett could see stalactites and Stalagmites. Somewhere, deeper in, the sound of water could be faintly heard. The head lantern light dissipated into the darkness, not showing the farthest reaches of the new cavern. However hand lanterns from Arnett and a few ground troops cut through he darkness exposing walls and more of the ceiling.
Arnett and Abbott had jumped down, joining the ground crew with examining the opening they had uncovered.
Their lanterns tried their best to light up the cavern. Arnett could here the flutter of bat wings deep inside.
"Now what do we do?" said a worker.
"We've just hit a jackpot, boys," said Arnett, "This could save us days of digging. Get the thinkers up here and we'll figure out how to go forward."
Abbott looked over the ledge, seeing the cavern drop far below, "And hopefully how to avoid going down."
Arnett followed Abbott's eyes downward before grimacing himself. He took and uneasy step back from the ledge.
Caverns and Peaks
Arnett and Abbott stopped for some lunch somewhere around noon. They had been at this project for a couple of weeks already and they felt they had made good progress. For the last day or so they had finally been put to work digging again after helping clear the cavern and building the platforms in which the railroad tracks were to be built. Arnett had argued it if was sturdy enough for the Scorpios II it would be sturdy enough for the construction engine so they had tested it and continued working.
Arnett preferred the digging to the actual labor of building bridges and track. Maybe it was because he was lazy, but he told himself it was because he could feel proud of his work. It wasn't as if he had done something like this before, but he was considered an expert at it.
They watched as the crew worked. The dirt carts had been moved down track a ways, but they weren't hauling off the dirt just yet. The larger bits of stone and rock they were using to fill up some of the cavern and reinforce supports for the bridge. Chanot wanted the bridge to last and hold as much weight as could possibly hauled through the tunnel.
The Cavern, it turned out, was not very deep. Once they hung up a few lanterns and started exploring the cavern they found it ended in a damp lower level almost impossible to navigate due to the large amount of jagged rocks and stone spires. It was also full of moss and bat droppings, which many workers agreed they didn't want to deal with. It took very little time to haul in enough dirt and stone to fill the bottom and start making supports for the bridge.
Now they were reinforcing the marvel of engineering, creating piers to support the superstructure of the bridge. The metal and wood frame was now being filled in and encased in stone hued from the very mountain surrounding them. In widening and smoothing the rough tunnel Arnett was drilling to make, larger chunks of stone had been expertly removed and saved for similar purposes.
The teams worked tirelessly to secure the surrounding cavern and tunnels as well. They worked hard to ensure this tunnel would last for ages.
A separate group of workers had been brought in, but they weren't digging or constructing. They were there to ease the minds of the workers. This deep underground, caverns and tunnels could mean danger.
Stumbling on a Goblin hive would be deadly. Everyone was on high alert, listening the best they could into the darkness that surrounded them. Shield Bats fluttered overhead, which meant they had to come from somewhere.
Gunmen stood at the ready. Even the train cart had been outfitted with a steam powered automatic weapon just in case of emergencies. Some of the dirt had been used for sandbags and a makeshift perimeter had been set up in the cavern on either side of the bridge.
Even so, if they disturbed a Goblin hive, this project would be in real danger. Worse still, the whole town of Mistfell and the other projects could be in serious danger.
Arnett listened to the rumble of the drills. He sat in the gunner's seat, reading a pulp magazine as Abbott worked the drills. Abbott carefully and slightly clunky worked the drills into cutting out more and more rock. The lights shined off some stone they had encountered and made the outside look like the night sky.
"What do you think this stuff is?" asked Abbott.
"I don't," said Arnett, "It's better for us."
"Do you think the railroad will claim it or sell it?" asked Abbott.
"I think they'll make more selling it to the highest bidder and then make a killing being the only exclusive railroad anywhere near the dig site. Especially if they win this contract thing," said Arnett.
"It's pretty," said Abbott, "Think it's worth grabbing a chunk?"
Arnett sighed and looked up out of the windshield. He couldn't tell for sure, but the stones did sparkle nicely. Knowing this land, it could very well be Mica. Arnett doubted they were anything life changing, like diamonds, but he wasn't an expert. Sorditudo wasn't even that kind of mining town so he wouldn't recognize any ore that would shine.
"If you like it, it's worth pocketing a bit," said Arnett, "But perhaps you should wait on the egg-heads to decide what it is first."
"If the mines back home looked this great, I might never have ran away," smiled Abbott.
Arnett shook his head, "If I knew I would practically be working at a mining job I wouldn't have taken this one. We could be in White Haven gambling over melons right now."
"But we'd have nothing to gamble," said Abbott, "After this job, we'll practically be sultans!"
"If it wasn't so damn expensive here because of all the entrepreneurs," answered Arnett.
Before another work could respond, the wall in front of them crumbled and fell in on them. The lights and the windshield were instantly covered again. A thin layer of rock crumbled away revealing dirt. Abbott pulled back on the controls in an attempt to stop the would-be cave in.
Suddenly the were in in white. It filled everything they saw. Arnett tossed the pulp aside to sit up straight.
"What did you hit?" he asked.
As if to answer him, they dirt parted. Before Arnett could answer is own question, the snow fell from the window and they both were blinded by the searing light of daybreak.
The Landship Scorpios II had emerged on the other side of the mountain. It took them almost a day, but the tunnelers and the landship were able to clear away a large portion of the debris and snow and stabilize the new opening they had created.
They were close to the summit of one of the mountains. All around them they could see hills and peaks of other parts of the Hoganmar Mountain Range.
Arnett wore his new wool coat lined in a light chanka fur. He was looking out at the landscape with an engineer and some parchment when Abbott and Chanot approached them. Abbott was also sporting a fancy new longcoat and a bowler hat with ear flaps.
"Joel" greeted Chanot upon arriving, "Good to finally get some air down there. It will be good to pump fresh air for the workers."
"I suppose so," said Arnett, "Just trying to best figure out the next path. The Scorpios II isn't a mountain climbing ship, after all."
"I never was one for mountain climbs," said Chanot, "Marcus thinks we should build tracks where we can before digging again. We've made great time with our lucky breaks but there's a good chance we'll fall behind if we spend too much time above-ground instead of the below ground expertise we've invested in."
"How sweet of him," said Arnett.
"Well, Mr. Chanot," said the engineer standing next to them, "We can wind the tracks down that way to that ridge, there. That would prevent the need for a large scale bridge or ramp down and save money and risk. Then we pick up the tunnel there. Continuing our straight path, we should finally start making great time through the Hoganmar before our descent back down."
"Sounds like a plan so far," said Chanot, "What's the hold up on acting on it?"
"Securing this opening," said Arnett, pointing behind them, "And... that."
Arnett pointed above them and to the peaks of a few of the surrounding mountains. They were covered in snow, a sight Arnett was glad to take in. The Engineer had warned them that loud noises or strong vibrations, though, could shake it lose and bury them all hopelessly inside of it.
Chanot contemplated this for a moment, before having an idea.
In another few moments Chanot, Arnett, Abbott, and a handful of mean were wading through the snow to get to the next mountain. Arnett struggled to hold the sticks of explosives in his arms.
"It's simple, like a controlled rock slide," said Chanot between puffs of breath, "We just have to be clear gone before they blow, and be real quiet while we set them up."
"Easier said then done," said Arnett.
"Shh," went Abbott.
Arnett stopped and turned back to shoot him a look, "Can I help you?"
"He said to be quiet," said Abbott, "Not exactly what you are known for."
"Yeah, but I can be quiet just fine," said Arnett.
Abbott allowed his eyes to widen in disbelief, but said nothing as they trudged on. A small team had parted at the mouth and went up their peak, to knock down any snow from where they were working. Now they went to knock down as much snow as they could from the other peaks, breaking into smaller teams. to plant the explosives.
Arnett ended up with another engineer as they trudged away from the group. A few minutes shy of their designated area, they decided they were close enough and begun preparing the charges.
"What's a few steps," gulped Arnett, out of breath, "between friends, eh?"
The engineer was quick to agree and get to work. As Arnett placed the charges, he was tapped on the shoulder by the other man, who pointed in the distance. From the perch on the mountain, they could see down the mountain range for a little ways, seeing the network of extended bridges and scaffolding from other teams.
"Do you think they are doing to beat us?" said the engineer.
"Maybe," said Arnett, "But at least we're on schedule compared to them. If nothing else, if we finish close enough together the simplicity and speed of ours could win by itself. But it must be done to prove it."
"Listen," said the Engineer, who let the silence sit for a moment, "No hammers, no saws."
Arnett was confused for a moment, but then looked to the construction in the distance. Eyeing their peak, he saw large amounts of snow still clinging to the peak. Arnett shivered.
"If we blow these, those men will be in danger," said Arnett.
"If we blow these, their work could be set back weeks," said the engineer, "Days at least. It could mean the end of them as competition."
"Could mean the end of them as people," said Arnett, "Come on, I got to talk to the Boss."
"You go," said the Engineer, grabbing the charges out of Arnett's hand, "I got a job to do."
"Don't blow anything up," said Arnett, stepping away through the rough trail they had created on the way up.
By the time Arnett made it down the path, he had just missed Chanot and Abbott heading back up the hill towards their opening. He tried to whistle quietly, but he couldn't get their attention. He hurried toward them.
"Hey, Zeke," called Arnett as he approached, "Hey man, we can't do this."
"Why on Orr not?" asked Chanot.
He drew quizzical glances from Abbott and a few others around.
"They're building that way, the sound will cause an avalanche," said Arnett, "It could kill a lot of guys. We should at least give them a warning."
"What about competition do you seem to lack?" Chanot rolled his eyes and allowed a large smile to spread across his face, "Perhaps we just hold off digging all-together? How about if the rolls were reversed? Do you think those big, bad, Merrigold lackeys would warn the little guy?"
"We're not them," answered Arnett, "We're better."
Just then the other Engineer ran up the path in the snow, making good time thanks to all those who trudged it before him. He gave Chanot a thumbs-up before stepping deeper into the cave. Chanot turned to show Arnett a detonator in his hands. It was a wooden box with a contraption inside with a large plunger sticking out.
"You better start hollering, Lieutenant," said Chanot, "We are better."
Without a single sign of remorse, Chanot pushed the plunger and the box together like an accordian. Arnett's mouth dropped open and he jerked forward to stop it. Arnett stopped when he realized it was too late, and the deed had been done.
Arnett looked from Chanot to Abbott. From the cold, charasmatic smile of one to the look of disbelief and pained realization of the other.
The very stone beneath Arnett's feet began to rumble, and he turned with horror to watch as snow began to trickle past the opening. Arnett could see dark spots forming on the peak he could see from where he stood. They were signs of the snow moving and exposing the rock beneath, but he couldn't get a clear view.
"Let's go, Lieutenant," said the Engineer, "Deeper in to be safe. Mr. Chanot, I insist."
"Better safe then sorry," said Chanot, "Let's go, Gentlemen."
Chanot was quick to lead the way. Abbott looked to Arnett, who nodded and took off at a trot after. They both jogged towards the Scorpios II, where a few workers huddled underneath it.
"The Scorpios II, hurry," Arnett ordered Abbott into the landship, "If this work doesn't hold, this could collapse the tunnel."
Arnett and Abbott scaled the Scorpios II easily. Following them a few enterprising workers also scaled the ship and joined a small handful who had the same idea earlier, huddling at a bulkhead of the ship. Arnett opened it and allowed everyone inside. Abbott took up the controls and tried to maneuver the ship to better withstand a cave in and protect the workers underneath.
By the time Arnett shut the bulkhead behind him the light from outside was already being blocked by an avalanche of snow and mud.
Coming around the Mountain
They had to have been halfway through the next peak when Marcus Tidgeway himself walked up to a foreman and demanded to see Arnett and Abbott. Arnett had just pulled back the Scorpios II and shut her down when Tridgeway was at the bulkhead.
"Lieutenant," he yelled into the ship, "I need you and your partner, there."
"We're on our way," said Arnett, grabbing his new coat and a pair of gloves.
"You boys got guns?"
Arnett paused, eyeing Tridgeway before nodding.
"Arm up and follow me. We got trouble."
Arnett's heart raced, but he wasted no time jogging to the rifle locker and popping it open. He grabbed the lever action rifle and turned, tossing it to Abbott. Abbott, already dressed, turned and headed out the bulkhead without waiting. Arnett checked to make sure his revolver was on him and ready to fire before wrestling out the bolt-action rifle and slinging it over his shoulder.
They took a hand cart to the mouth of their tunnel. There, Tridgeway waited with a posse of men. Some had a revolver here or there, but most either had bats or swords. Sabers were still cheap thanks to the manufacturing advancements made in Antiford so it wasn't uncommon to see a few of them in the crowd.
They all crowded on to the hand cart and it took four men to crank them further down the track. They flew over the bridge and were soon going into the next tunnel. Every so often, one of the men banged a bell, making their presence known as they went down the tunnel.
Arnett gripped his hat closer and tried to yell over to Tridgeway.
"What's all this about, Tridgeway?"
"You'll see," answered Tridgeway, holding his own bowler hat in place as he did so.
It only took them a few minutes before the men pumping the cart along stopped and a moment after the break began to be applied sparingly as they slowed down. They were soon at one of the many stops they had created along the way, a large sprawling cave where the sky could barely be seen from above. Another bridge stretched across the short expanse and small platforms were set up on either side from when they had cleared the area.
Once they stopped, everyone hopped off, and Tridgeway gestured for them to follow. He walked down a staircase leading below the bridge, until everyone was on the catwalks below the bridge itself.
As they crossed beneath the rails, Arnett spotted some sticks of dynamite strapped to one of the support beams. As his eyes scanned all around them, he saw similar sicks strapped here and there, some haphazardly covered with debris or sloppy paint, but all noticeable.
They were walking towards a small group of men at the far side, two of which appeared to be engineers. They gathered around the group to see it was a few workers with a man who had been tied and beaten. One of his eyes were swollen shut and he glared up at the group.
"Gentlemen," said Tridgeway, "We have a saboteur. Caught him wiring up the last of his little presents."
"Explosives," said one of the engineer to the group, "I'd reckon dynamite. The powerful stuff."
"A little fancy for a bandit, no?" questioned Tridgeway, "Spread out, gather all you can find. Every stick, every ounce of power. Move it!"
The group fanned out and headed back over the bridge, hunting for the explosives. Arnett tapped Abbott's shoulder and they hung back, standing next to Tridgeway.
"What's the plan?" asked Arnett.
"We followed the line, here up into the mountain. Found a little nest they were in. We haven't made out way up there yet," said Tridgeway, "We cut the line to prevent surprises."
"What were you doing alone?" asked Arnett to the captive, before he looked off, "Must be one of the other companies. Sabotage."
"Sabotage," snarled Tridgeway, "But we caught it. With hope, we can reverse it."
"Reverse it?" asked Arnett.
"You men are coming with me," said Tridgeway, a grin across his face, "We're about to return their explosives. Hopefully without them knowing."
The captive gasped, throwing a glare up at Tridgeway. His movement only earned him a swift kick. Tridgeway flicked his hand in a dismissive motion and two men picked the man up, dragging him away.
"We'll just hold onto him until the big surprise," said Tridgeway, "Wouldn't want him ruining it. besides, he looks like he's suffered and might need medical attention."
Once all the explosives were gathered and in crates, Tridgeway leg the group of men up and out of the cave, into the mountain pass. It didn't take them long to find the small, sandbagged lookout where the plunger and some extra explosives originated from. Tridgeway was quick to subdue a sleeping working who hadn't noticed their approach. After a good beating, he was also tied, gagged, and led off back to camp by a few men.
Tridgeway had the line cut closer to the opening of the cave. swiftly they began laying their own wire and they made their way out into the mountains towards the next rival project.
Arnett was not aware who was making this project, but it appeared to be based around a system of bridges and rail lines that raised and lowered on a complex pulley system. They had many mishaps, but they were making decent progress. The area closest to them had been completed for some time, and many workers were not around. Tridgeway told everyone to walk like they were meant to be there, and strolled into the work area, expertly climbing the scaffolding up towards sections of their tracks.
Nobody questioned them as this group of men walked around, setting up dynamite and explosives. A few men appeared to be guards who, upon seeing the large group of armed men, smiled and waved and left. Arnett assumed they had figured they were their replacements and they had headed out. They were never questioned.
It didn't take long. On a series of pulleys and drawbridges the dynamite went further then on a dully constructed bridge. Soon they had the entire area rigged. Tridgeway nodded at the work, and led everyone back out.
On their way back Arnett questioned the plan.
"I am not comfortable with blowing up this work" said Arnett, "Especially if people are going to get hurt. At least send the workers away."
"We aren't doing anything," said Tridgeway, "They'll be so eager to kill us, they'll do it themselves!"
"I don't fully understand," said Arnett.
"They want to hurt us, Lieutenant. Ruin us," said Tridgeway behind gritted teeth as he trekked through the wilderness, "I'll prove it. I've already laid the trap."
They were closer to the cave mouth when Arnett spoke again, "What is the plan, Marcus?"
"I have already generated quite a stir and told people to talk it up at the base about a very large shipment coming up tomorrow," said Tridgeway, "We're bringing up a full train. Supplies, food, tools, and men to unload them and use them. Calling it a 'stress test'. It's too big a score for them to ignore."
Tridgeway led the way back to where they had cut the line to the explosives. Two workers stood guard over it, one holding the wire the group brought with them. Tridgeway gestured for him to hand it over, and he knelt down to tie the ends together.
"I bet you anything they are waiting for that shipment," said Tridgeway, "Tomorrow, when that big, juicy bait comes chugging up the mountain and out of that tunnel, I'll show you how willing they are to hurt us. Destroy us."
"The train will cross," said Arnett, shaking his head, "And instead of blowing the bridge, they'll blow their own. That is... mad."
"It is genius," said Tridgeway, "Destruction by their own hand. We would have diverted the deaths of a hundred men. A Hundred men they would happily murder just to get ahead. Instead, they cripple themselves. They will be too far behind to not drop out after we are through."
"You don't know they'll blow the bridge when the train is on it," said Arnett.
Tridgeway smiled wide and winked at Arnett, "Stick around, Drill boy. Prove me wrong."
Arnett was ready to go when he heard the chugging of the train. He stood on the North side of the bridge next to a hired gun. Arnett was trying his hardest not to look up the cavern. Tridgeway had ordered it so. Too many guards looking around for trouble would mean they were spotted and the saboteurs would get cold feet.
Tridgeway had even gone so far as to paint red rolls of scrap would and have them places with fake wire so if someone noticed the explosives they wouldn't think they were gone. He was all set.
The train's lamp illuminated the far tunnel. It's chugging being funneled out of the tunnel into the cave. As it came over the bend, it cast its light into the opening and let out an ear-splitting whistle. Arnett was sure Tridgeway had requested that as well.
Its chugging noises were deceptive, as it wasn't moving as fast as Arnett anticipated. However, it emerged from the end of the tunnel fast enough and out onto the bridge. it let out another quick whistle, filling the chasm with noise. Some of the men waiting around the bridge gave out a cheer.
Arnett let his breath out. The train was now over the bridge, bringing with it its car after car of supplies and workers. A few dangerous souls hung off the side of a lumber cart, wooting and cheering as they looked down in the abyss below them.
Arnett chanced a look around. He couldn't see anyone out of the ordinary. A few guards were tense. Tridgeway stood in his same spot, smiling to himself, a hand to his ear.
The engine was about to reach the other side of the bridge. Arnett began to relax. He even allowed himself a smile. If they were going to blow it, they would have by now.
The sound came tearing up the cave and filled it quickly. If you weren't listening for it, you would have missed it. Indeed, many did as the train came chugging past, into the opposite tunnel leaving only the sounds of its chugging and screeching and clanking of the carts bringing up the rear.
Arnett scanned the faces of the guards for Abbott's, but he couldn't find him. All the guards were facing down into the cave, towards the other camp. Towards the sound of the crack.
It was an explosion.
All faces, except Marcus Tridgeway. His icy stare was waiting for Arnett to lock eyes. He gave a triumphant smile and put his hands on his hips. After a moment, he nailed home his point by mouthing "Prove me wrong". Without so much as a wave, Tridgeway turned and headed back up the scaffolding towards the mouth of the tunnel, no doubt on his way back down the mountain.
Arnett shook it off, and decided to walk to the train and jump aboard a hand-hold. Gripping the train, Arnett was now along for the ride up the mountain, and back to his Landship.
He knew by evening tales would begin spreading. By morning, word would reach him of the terrible disaster that had befallen their competitors and extra guards would be hired on to protect the railway.
Arnett was lying on a sleeping mat on the deck of the Scorpios II. Abbott was somewhere to his right, possibly on the other side of the large gun mounted on the deck. They found whatever spot they could.
A strange illness had stricken the workers, and Chanot pulled out all the stops to not take any chance it would rip through the crew. They were too close to their goal, now, to be crippled by a blight. Chanot had ordered any man with symptoms back to base camp and had doctors brought in to help get everyone back on working feet quickly as possible. This night and the next, workers were allowed the evening off to rest up and have plenty of water to ward off any sickness that might still be lingering.
Arnett and Abbott had been spared, and they were now enjoying some time in the tunnels without any machines running or hammers banging.
All around them the tunnel walls sparkled, like thousands of tiny stars. They reflected off some lamp light further down the tunnel where a group of men had also set up camp to enjoy their night instead of spending it heading back toward Mistfell.
"What do you think they'll call it?" asked Abbott, "This whole project?"
"Why call it anything?" asked Arnett.
"It's an engineering marvel," said Abbott, "No small feat."
"Probably something like the 'Chanot-Tridgeway Bridge' or the 'Hoganmar Pass' or something logical."
"The Tridge-way?" Abbott had a smile in his very voice.
This set Arnett into a chuckle, "The Chanot Bridgeway?"
"What would you name it?" asked Abbott, "I think I'd name it... the 'Life Rails'. Because it's dark in places, light in places, cold in places, and it can show you some amazing sights."
"I don't know, Joe," said Arnett, thinking, "I'm thinking something more along the lines of the 'Arnett Pass'. Got a nice ring to it."
Abbott scrunched his face, " 'Arnett Pass'? Sounds a little... egofull?"
"Whatever," said Abbott, "Quite confident of yourself, either way."
"I look at it as it isn't pretty, and it might not win, but it's ours." said Arnett, "And unless you bought and have been using a landship you haven't told me about, I'm pretty sure I'm the reason we're this far."
"Nevermind all the hundreds of workers, engineers, and rail builders making it actually work as a tunnel instead of just your leftovers from drilling through a damn mountain?"
"Minus all of those people," said Arnett.
"Of course," seconded Abbott.
It was silent for some time, before Abbott started up again, "Abbott Tunnel..."
Arnett burst out laughing, his legs being pulled up as he slapped the deck, "Joel Hole!"
Abbotts snickers could be heard from where he laughed, "Not a thing on Orr Joel Arnett wouldn't drill."
"Hey, or plow," said Arnett, "I could be a farmer."
"Aw, shame you chose to be a fool."
"Hey, who is a fool? The fool or the one who follows him."
"That's not how that goes and either way you are an idiot, Joel."
The deafening crack is what awoke Arnett. He jerked up and grabbed the controls of the Landship. He didn’t know how long he had been out for. The Scorpios II continued to drill in the wall ahead of them. “What was that?” came Abbott’s cry from somewhere in the Landship. Another crack shook out, but this time, a line of white appeared in the wall. Arnett pulled back on the controls in time to watch the whole wall in front of him collapse into a sheer wall of blinding light. Arnett had to slide a pair of goggles down over his eyes to fight off the searing headache that came with the sudden brightness.
Abbott tried to head to the cockpit, but he let out a startled yehlp at the brightness as well.
"Are we dead?" he asked, "Heaven looks like you should have picked up a little, Joel. It's a Chanka Sty."
"I think we did it." said Arnett.
Arnett used the Landship to move more of the debris before he eased the machine out into the light. They had emerged at the base of the mountain. The land dipped down slightly into a field. The field was covered in green grass and flowers. Not far away Arnett could spot a forest line, full of green and brown trees. The sky was blue, and all around them was a sea of green.
A farmhouse sat not too far away. Closer still, a farmer stood with his flowing blonde hair and a big, braided golden beard. He was herding fat, rounded Chanka, who were in the process of frantically scurrying away, although their fat forms were preventing them from going anywhere quickly.
The man looked on in surprise, but he didn't seem to be eager to move.
Arnett and Abbott emerged from the Landship, and made their way to the bow to wave at the man, who waved back.
"Where are we?" asked Arnett.
"My house," said the farmer, who then pointed to illustrate his point.
Arnett smiled, "Is this Titania?"
The farmer looked around, nodding, "I spose it is, good sir. Welcome to Titania, neighbor!"
Arnett smiled, turning to Abbott, who was grinning ear to ear.
Arnett found Abbott inside the tunnel itself. He walked up to him and got his attention with a little whistle.
"Oh good, come 'ere" said Abbott.
Arnett sighed and walked closer to him up the tunnel.
"How did it go?" asked Abbott.
"Boring, but long story short, we're the first," Arnett allowed a confident smirk to fill his face, "We won. This time tomorrow this rail line will be paid for and run by the Antiford government."
"Which means a major payday for us," said Abbott, "Nice!"
Abbott lifted a chisel to the wall of the tunnel and gave it a few more wacks. Arnett raised his hands in surprise.
"Woah, woah, hey," he exclaimed, "What are you doing? I just said we were done with this."
"It needed one final touch, I think," said Abbott.
Arnett stepped up beside Abbott and took a look at his work. On the tunnel wall a square had been chiseled out and within the square, the words "Arnett Pass" had been carved out of the stone. Arnett suppressed a smile and shook his head.
"Now there's nothing they can do," said Abbott, "Now generations will remember your contribution."
Arnett gave Abbott a frown, "I don't think anyone will see it from the train. It should've been a tad bigger."
Abbot gave Arnett a playful punch on the shoulder. Arnett gestured behind him.
"Let's go. Landship is all strapped in and ready for its train ride," said Arnett, "Let's go get paid the big simos and get away from this mountain."
"Where to next?" asked Abbott as they descended back towards the cave entrance.
"I don't know," shrugged Arnett, "Let's head back to Gearford and screw our heads on from there. We aren't far and we can pick up another job from there."
"Ever think of heading back to Sorditudo?"
Arnett shook his head, "Not if it can be helped."
Both men walked on. The pass was completed, and the they were off on their next adventure.