Victoriana 8

Tachybaptus, Going Postal


Chapter 8
‘Move it, goil,’ said Irving. ‘We gotta get t’ru da narrow bit before dey come.’ He seized Victoriana’s hand and dragged her over the uneven floor of the tunnel, while Fingers and Rusty stumbled after them in the faint glow from the lantern.
After a few yards she sensed rather than saw that there was more space around them. ‘Quick, back dere,’ Irving whispered, leading her round some large object and hastily shutting the window of the lantern. They all shrank into the darkness as the voices drew nearer and lamplight spread over the floor. It seemed that they were in some kind of cave.
Moments later, a party of men emerged carrying a long packing case past their hiding place. Without pausing, they hauled it onward for what seemed like a considerable distance, and the sound of their feet and the glow of their lamp gradually faded. Irving uncovered the lantern and led them out into the open.
By the faint light,Victoriana could just see part of a brick wall and a concrete pillar. ‘Where on earth are we?’ she asked. ‘Molotok can’t have made this.’
‘Nah,’ said Irving. ‘Dis is parta da old At line from East Broadway to Brooklyn Bridge. Leastways, it ain’t so old and it weren’t never used.’ He explained that a subway line had been planned to run along the southeast shore of Manhattan, and partly built, but funds had dried up and it was never opened. There were a couple of miles of tunnel and a few halls at intersecting stations, now walled off and deserted.
‘No wonder they wanted that house on the Lower East Side,’ said Victoriana. ‘What a perfect place for them to hide all their stuff – whatever it is.’ She was beginning to fill in a few pieces of the puzzle. She knew that the terminal of the Telectroscope was somewhere near Brooklyn Bridge, because that was where her Papa’s office was. And the plan that she had seen Molotok and Serp perusing only a couple of days before might have shown the tunnel, with the men’s roughly dug shaft connecting with it.
‘We best stay low ’til dey come back,’ said Irving. ‘Dem di’monds, waddever, ’ll be wid da udder stuff at da far end. Only ’bout a half mile along da tunnel.’ He turned to Rusty. ‘Reckon ya know where dey’ll be, kid?’
‘If they’re in the Intensifier, I’ll know just where,’ said Rusty.
There was nothing to do but wait. After perhaps an hour the men returned empty-handed and disappeared through the passageway. There was no further sound from them. A few minutes later, Irving led them out and they set off to the far end of the tunnel. No rails had been laid and the floor was bare, rough concrete, with only an occasional brick or lump of rusty iron showing up in the lantern light.
As they neared their destination the floor became littered with opened wooden crates, tools and the debris of men at work. Soon they came in sight of their goal. The machine was set on a roughly poured concrete base, straddling the tunnel at an oblique angle to point along another roughly dug shaft. It was smaller than the Blenkinsop Intensifier that Victoriana had seen in the collapsed cavern, and had none of its stylish bronze panels and brass fittings – just a plain black iron tube studded with pipes and curious protrusions. ‘I thought it would be a lot bigger,’ she said in disappointment.
‘Don’t you worry,’ said Rusty. ‘The end with the lenses is just the same. Those shiny bits were just for show, for the museum, I think.’ He examined the device. ‘We need to take off that panel – there.’
Fingers seized an adjustable wrench from the floor. It was the work of a moment to undo the bolts, and he stood aside as Rusty reached into the cavity with a small, agile arm. He emerged holding a circular brass plate, at the centre of which something glittered.
Irving’s eyes grew wide. ‘Is dat it?’ he asked eagerly.
‘It’s the smallest lens,’ said Rusty, handing it to him. ‘The others are farther along and I can’t reach.’
‘Lemme try, kiddo,’ said Fingers, removing his jacket and rolling up his sleeve.
‘It’ll come loose if you turn it to the left,’ Rusty told him.
After a few seconds of wriggling and muttered curses, Fingers brought out the plate with the second lens. ‘But I can’t geddat da toid one nohow, least not dis way,’ he said. ‘Reckon we needa undo dat joint.’ He pointed at a seam in the main pipe, secured with a couple of dozen large bolts.
At that moment they heard voices and footsteps in the echoing distance. Irving shuttered the lantern while Fingers hastily replaced the panel and loosely reinserted the bolts. They retreated behind a pile of crates.
This time the men were with Serp, cursing them as they struggled with another long wooden case. He was joined by Molotok telling him to ‘be qviet, um Gottes Willen, und chust help zem.’
From her hiding place, Victoriana could look through a small gap between the crates. She watched as the men opened the newly arrived case and unpacked and assembled a bizarre object which combined massiveness with extreme delicacy. A heavy iron frame carried a set of threaded rods turned by handwheels, clearly intended to position something very exactly. The object of their control was a frail glass rod, at the tip of which was what appeared to be a tiny angled mirror, which glittered in the lamplight. But when Molotok carried the lamp behind the apparatus, its light glinted through the mirror, showing that its silver coating was so thin as to be translucent.
‘What can that thing be?’ she whispered to Rusty, who was crouching beside her.
He thought for a moment before replying. ‘I think it’s a half-silvered mirror. If a beam of light falls on it, some of the light passes through and some is reflected. You could use it to –’
At that moment Irving, trying to see through the gap, leaned too hard on a crate, and the pile toppled with a crash.
This chapter by Tachybaptus. © Tachybaptus et al. 2017.