The Forever Engine – Snippet 09


I looked up as the room filled with excited servants, men who looked like clerks, and two who looked more like police detectives or bodyguards from their grim composure. Meredith, supported by two men, rose weakly from behind the overturned desk. Most of the others clustered around us, but a few checked Tyndall and Colonel Rossbank for signs of life. Gordon drifted over to stand by the silent form of his older friend, his empty revolver dangling limply in his hand.

“A couple of you find something to use for a stretcher,” I ordered, “and get rid of these damned spiders. Somebody else get a carriage, or whatever you use to get people to the hospital. And grab the bad guy I pushed out the window; it’s only two stories down, so he’s probably still alive, and maybe mobile. Hurry!”

The closest ones looked uncertainly from Thomson to Bonseller.

“Yes, yes,” Bonseller said. “Get to it.”

Two of them dashed for the door, and a couple others started looking for lightweight furniture — good luck with that.

“You got a favorite hospital, Sir Eddy?” I asked.

“St. George’s on Grosvenor Place, and damn you for a cheeky bastard. ‘Sir Eddy’ indeed. What of the others? How is Tyndall?”

I was sure Tyndall was dead; the thrown knife had severed his carotid artery. I glanced over to the doorway where Rossbank lay. One of the detective-looking men stood and spread an overcoat over his motionless form. Past them, through the open panel doors, I saw the still form of one of the Bobbies.

“Tyndall and the colonel are both dead, probably both constables as well. Everyone else seems okay.” I sniffed and looked around.

“Someone shit their britches. Was that you, Gordon?”

Publicly humiliating him might cause problems later, but I didn’t care. Survivor’s high does that. Gordon’s already-red face turned a brighter shade, and he shot me a look of hatred and shame all mixed up together.

The truth was all of us who’d been in the room — Bonseller, Thomson, Gordon, and probably me as well — had bright red faces by then. It’s the normal response of the circulatory system to danger; first it chokes off blood to the extremities to concentrate it in the core organs, so the face goes white. Then, when the all-clear sounds, the blood comes pounding back into the skin — instant tomato face. Bonseller’s complexion was the first to start to lose its color again.

“I’m feeling a bit lightheaded.”

“Yeah. You’re probably going to faint,” I told him.

“I dare say. Billy, you are in charge here until I’m back from the hospital. Try to sort all this out, will you? And don’t let Gordon shoot anyone.”


People with purpose bustled in and out of the room, giving reports to Thomson and getting orders. I sat on the leather sofa that had a bullet hole through its back, looked at the small pile of broken mechanical spiders, one of their legs still twitching and clawing the air, and I collected my thoughts.

Thomson came over and sat down heavily on the sofa next to me. He exhaled shakily.

“I’m still a bit overwhelmed by all this,” he said. “But you’re a very cold-blooded fellow, aren’t you?”

In response I held out my hand. It trembled uncontrollably.

“I think I might throw up,” I added.

“If so, do it now, while Gordon is off changing his trousers. You wouldn’t want to give him that satisfaction, would you?”

“For an old, fat Scotsman you’re pretty observant.”

He chuckled.

“You have a knack for making insults palatable, Fargo, damn me if I understand how.

“We’ve asked you a great many questions today. I’d say you’ve earned some answers of your own. I imagine you have more questions than I can address all at once, so for now, which one is most important to you?”

One question?

Why did the bad guys want Tyndall dead? Why did Tyndall think I was part of that? Why did the bad guys want the coin? Why did they want me? What were those spiders? Why does London have elevated trains instead of a subway? What’s wrong with the air? How did the South win? What the hell holds those flying ironclads up?

“How do I get back to my daughter?” I said.

He leaned back on the sofa and examined me. I could tell he had no answer, but the question interested him.

One of the clerks walked through the door and hurried over to us.

“Professor Thomson, the villain who fell from the window is conscious and his injuries do not seem life-threatening. We have him in a room off the front parlor for now. To where should we have him taken?”

“I think we’ll talk to him there. Find Captain Gordon and have him join us, would you?”

He turned to me as the clerk left.

“Come along, Fargo. I will tell you honestly that I cannot imagine how it is possible to return you to your time, but I know of one man who might help us. First, however, we must attend to this business.”

When we got downstairs, Gordon was already questioning the thug, had already finished in a sense.

“This blackguard won’t tell us anything,” he announced in disgust as soon as we arrived. I glanced over at the fellow — thin in the face, wiry-looking, but a thick torso under his coveralls. His face was skinned up, nose broken, with blood caked around his mouth and chin. He sat on a sofa with his left leg propped up on it.

I walked over and had a look at his leg, touched it below the knee, and he winced in pain. The trouser leg was bloodstained, and the irregular bulge suggested a bone sticking out of the skin.

“Nasty compound fracture you got there. If a doctor doesn’t take care of it, you could end up with gangrene, lose the leg.”

He licked his lips, and sweat trickled down the side of his face.

“So what? Dead’s as dead, either way.”

At least that’s what I thought he said. He dropped almost all the consonants, leaving a series of vowel-like grunts, so it was hard to tell for sure, but I was starting to get the hang of some of the accents and the meter of the speech. I could read and speak Latin, ancient and modern Greek, Aramaic, German, Spanish, French, and a half-dozen Middle-Eastern and Central-Asian languages and dialects. You’d think I could decipher Cockney English.

“He won’t tell us anything,” Gordon repeated.

I ignored him and leaned forward, rapped the fellow lightly on his chest. Under the fabric it was hard, rigid, and made a muffled thunk.

“Thought so. That first shot of yours didn’t miss the other one, Gordon. These guys are wearing some sort of body armor.”

“Body armor?” He came over and leaned forward to rap it himself. “Well, damn me if he ain’t.”

“You tell him you were going to see him swing for this, no matter what?” I asked.

“Of course I did.”

“Yeah, and now he won’t talk. What a shocker.”

“If you think you can do any better, be my guest.”

I couldn’t imagine doing much worse. I pulled over an armchair to face the sofa and noticed Thomson take a chair near the door. Gordon remained standing, pacing back and forth, scowling ferociously. Good. I didn’t know if these guys had come up with Good Cop, Bad Cop yet, but if not, it was about time.