Chapter V:

Crossing

Amos awoke early the next morning to a headache.

The train was not yet to the border between Brython and Mimming, but was close. They were passing through a forest, and he could see blurs of a thousand shades of emerald and brown. Casting his gaze about the cabin, he could see that Morrigan wasn't present, so he stood, leaving his cross, and entered the hallway.

He made his way past the wood-paneled doors, just barely more than utilitarian, towards the dining car. Entering, he saw it lightly occupied, and could see Morrigan's mane of red-brown hair slumped against the table, as if she had fallen asleep.

He stalked over towards her, and sat at the table, the suddenness of this action caused her to jerk awake. He picked up the book her face had been resting on, and he tested its spine.

"You damaged it," he noted.

"Hmm? Oh. Sorry, about that," she said, her tone sleepy and nonchalant.

"I'm going to be accredited as a research student in the next volume," he said, his voice matter-of-fact.

"Is that so?" she asked, stretching, "which part?"

"An overview of the mercantile habits of the muties. What the doctor calls 'unthreaded'. I still use the old vulgar argot term for them. I never really think to use the technical term, all that much."

"You think what he says in there is true?" she asked, her eyes clearing.

"I don't know what to think. I think the popular theory has its merits. That they're just people that got hit with a Hot-Bomb. Those that didn't die…their blood spoiled, or something."

"Spoiled? So you think they're corrupted?"

"I wouldn't use that term. Maybe ruined, but not corrupted. Just because something's ugly doesn't mean its evil. Some were pretty nice. Dag, for example. He's the guy that sold me the cross. He was a trig cove."

"Trig cove?"

He smiled.

"You speak Brythoner, but you don't know the vernacular? You'd've stuck out like a sore thumb in Bartleby."

She arched an eyebrow at him.

"So what does it mean?"

"Clever fellow. Doctor Anderson taught me not to speak like that, but I like the sound of it."

She leaned forward, resting her chin on her balled fist.

"Really, now? How is it different?"

"Well….it's quicker, usually. And it has an…I don't know…a staccato to it."

"Say something in it," she said, leaning forward.

He licked his lips and thought for a moment.

"'t's Lightman's, so I shant kip n'more. A trig cove 'nly does it in Darkman's."

She laughed, clapping her hands together.

Far above the train, a ghastly shape wrought from metal drifted, as if unbound by the pull of gravity. Dendritic arms swung out, metallic spheres hurtling downward with a whistling cacophony.

A dozen fell to either side of the train, while a third dozen fell before it. A line fell down along the back of the train, impacting with the roof of the train.

As they fell, the exterior fell away, dripping outwards like quicksilver ripples. Inside, dark metal shapes unfolded, revealing skeletal shapes. When they struck the ground, they moved in unison, the legs absorbing the optimal amount of impact, and sprang forward.

Those atop the train produced six-span blades, as wide as the small finger on a child's hand. They cut circular plugs from the ceilings of the train, and jumped down through, the servos in their legs absorbing the impact easily.

Blue lights shone from the octagonal sockets in their heads, and a series of cacophonous beeps cut through the air, as the machines coordinated their attacks.

The sound of tearing metal easily caught Amos' attention, and he set his cross down in front of him, and stared at it intently.

It stubbornly refused to open for him, and he licked his lips.

"Morrigan? I could use some help."

She looked at him, cocking an eyebrow.

"What?"

He gestured at the cross, and she shrugged.

"I don't know how. Just do it like you did last time."

"I didn't do it last time," he said, "it opened because of your machine."

There was a clatter as a plug of metal fell into the hallway outside of their cabin, and she laughed dolefully.

"The Gigant Tank had an amplifier for my Agape. I can't produce that much on my own!"

The skeletal machine dropped into the hallway, and turned towards them.

Morrigan uncoiled her whip, and began chanting in a low voice. A corona of blue-white light surrounded her whip, and she cocked her wrist, preparing to strike.

Amos moved first. He slammed the cross through the pane of glass, and struck the machine's braincase with an apocalyptic clatter, slamming it into the oak paneling of the opposite door.

The machine sliced with its arm-blades, cutting at the canvass covering, but the electrum-like Alloy didn't yield to the blades. However, it was much stronger than the cross bearer, and the bundle pivoted, its bar burying in the paneling, and Amos was knocked off of his feet.

Morrigan kicked the window, breaking it completely, and whipped at the machine, the charge raced along the braided copper whip. It wrapped around the machine's arm.

Arcs of lightning traveled around the machine's arms, snaking around its body, and its eyes flashed.

"You had better figure out how to open the cross again, if you want to live," she said, pulling the door as far open as she could and stepping out into the hall.

Amos tugged the cross free, and followed her. They stood back-to-back. Before each of them was another metallic monstrosity.

"Any ideas?" he asked.

"I can handle myself. You're going to have to handle yourself."

He sighed.

"Figures."

The two machines charged forward, and Amos ducked back into the compartment, pulling Morrigan in after him. Their assailants didn't manage to halt their charge, and went sprawling on the floor, having met with opposing and equal force.

Amos quickly stepped over the one that lay in the hallway on the locomotive's side, and hopped over it. He pulled Morrigan's gun from his coat, and aimed it at the machine's braincase. He fired thrice. Two shots ricocheted and one struck it in the eye.

"Warning, ocular system damaged. Depth perception compromised. Switching to laser-rangefinder."

A pencil-thin strand of red light emerged from what Amos had taken to be a nose-socket, and it stood up, its ruined eye socket sparking.

Morrigan had stepped into the hall by this time, and was lashing at her opponent with her whip. It was capable of dodging her strikes, but not of responding. She would eventually tire, however, and then it would move in for the kill.

The automaton lurched forward, holding its bladed arms at the ready. The bullets would have no effect. It was now or never.

You wish for me to open the cross? Very well, the voice of Tyrfing entered his mind, writing its message across his mind in letters of fire.

The bundle burst open, and the cross dropped from his hands, its long blade clattered to the ground, and he made as if to scoop it up, allowing the blade and engines to attach to his glove.

He tugged on its cord, and assumed a swordfighter's stance, blade forward, left hand back for balance, feet set wide apart.

There was a long pause, as the machine considered what it saw.

Amos dove forward, touching the blade's edge to its arm. The limb was cleft in two, and he twisted, cutting through its spine, and up into its head.

Morrigan chanced a glance behind her, and dove into an empty cabin.

Amos dove into an approximation of a roll, ending up on his back, between the machine's legs. It stabbed down as he chopped upwards. He took a blade to his chest, just to the left of his heart, and his strike divided his enemy.

Sighing, his body relaxed.

"Verdammt," Morrigan said, a word he did not recognize, "hold still."

She rushed to his side, and knelt. Peeling back his jacket, she looked at his wound.

"You struck it just before it hit you. Otherwise, it would've gone through your heart and your lung. As it stands, you'll probably have a cleft rib and a lot of bleeding. Nothing serious, yet."

"Oh, wonderful," Amos said, wheezing slightly, "just a lot of bleeding. Nothing to worry about there. Not like I have a finite amount of blood."

"Quit whining. There had to have been more than three, and I can't handle them all alone."

She is right, you know. There have to be at least two more. Also, the terrain around the train has to be full of them. You can't let the locomotive be stopped, or else you'll be ripped to shreds.

"Cheery," he noted, sitting up. He rested his back against the wall, and used it to help him stand. He used the bicep of his left arm to quell the bleeding, and he used Tyrfing as a third leg as he moved.

"You want to take up the train, and I'll take down?" he asked.

"There are probably more up the train," she noted, "and you're much more effective than I am, so..."

"Gotcha," he said, as he turned towards the locomotive.

"Oh, Amos?"

"Yeah?"

"I don't suppose you'd let me get my gun?"

He thought for a moment, and then tossed it over the shoulder to her.

"If you aim it at my back, I'll know. Tyrfing can keep watch just fine," he warned her.

He encountered two more in the dining car. They had vivisected the old cook, and his white paper cap lay smoldering on the grill. The machines were crouched on opposite sides of the bar, scanning the car for more targets.

They both locked onto Amos when he entered, and leapt into action. One moved along the floor, the other leapt from table to table.

Following the subliminal instructions the sword put to him, he swept from floor to ceiling just before the first one leapt at him, then he rolled his shoulder forward, breaking through the seam he had made along its middle. He then grabbed his right wrist with his left hand, and added as much force to the next swing he made, cutting the silvery skull from the second's shoulders.

Morrigan encountered another just as she opened the door. She fired a shot, which entered its nasal socket, just as she struck with her voltwhip and took its ankles out from beneath it.

She then fired twice more, hitting each eye.

Sighing, she moved onto the next car, which was filled with two disemboweled bodies and a third that had been completely dismembered.

What the hell are the Lemnosians thinking? I thought they wanted to protect the Auti? But this...this is very bad. If Samarkande has moved to wholesale slaughter just to eliminate one enemy, especially one as low-ranking as I, then I'm going to have to report back to command quicker than I had hoped.

Amos destroyed three more machines on his way to the engine, where he found the engineer dead, the victim of one of the machines.

The machine was a combination steam-electric engine driven by a clockwork generator. He let off the pressure as quickly as he found the valve. He closed it as soon as he heard a drop in the pitch, not understanding what it meant.

"Where the hell is the decelerator?" he asked aloud.