1879: Hat 01: Private Eccles

Making this available again, as the old blog is offline. This story will be key in a future product.

“Colour-Sergeant Booth!”

Booth looked up from the private he had just been berating over weapon maintenance to see Lieutenants Morgan and Anderson approaching. The main yard of Fort Alice was crowded as usual with soldiers going about duties, laborers laying rails and ties from the portal, and engineers and officers overseeing the whole effort. It was damn noisy.

Booth dismissed the lazy private. “Off with you, then. Mind you tend that bandook, then see Sergeant Rees for discipline.” The private saluted and hurried off, no doubt glad to be spared any more of Booth’s wrath. Booth squared himself up and strode to meet the approaching officers.

He was surprised to see Lt. Morgan carrying The Hat. “The Hat” was what everyone was calling the strange object found in the ruins just past the portal. It looked nothing more than a child’s top with a handle affixed to the top, about twice the size of a cricket ball. The various professors and learned scholars that had studied The Hat for the last few months had little to say about it, other than it was made of some metal that defied scientific analysis and had no apparent function. It was all quite above him and he had little time for idle thought about it.

He marched straight up to the lieutenants, who had already stopped, and saluted. “Suh!”.

Lt. Anderson replied. “Colour-Sergeant. The Colonel has received orders that The Hat is to be sent through the portal with as little delay as possible. We would like one of the men to carry it through. We want you to select that man.”

“Very good suh. You have a mind of someone?”

Lt. Anderson looked over at Lt. Morgan. The latter simply raised his eyebrows. Lt. Anderson said, “No, no one specific, Colour-Sergeant. We feel you know the men well enough to select a candidate. The man should be brave, stalwart – a living example of the finest the British army has to offer.”

“Yes suh. I have several in mind,” said Booth. He saluted the lieutenants and wheeled to march away.

“Oh, and Colour-Sergeant?” said Lt. Morgan.

“Yes suh?” Booth said, turning to face the lieutenants again.

Lt. Morgan opened his mouth to as if to speak, then closed it again. After casting another cryptic look at Anderson, he then spoke. “Perhaps one of the privates who has little chance of promotion would be a jolly good idea.”

Booth paused as the implication of the statement sunk in, “Very good suh. I have the man you want.” He wheeled around again towards a large group of soldiers nearby and bellowed, “Private Eccles!”

A lanky young man jumped up from where he was sitting and cleaning his rifle. He threw the rifle across his chest and ran up to Booth. He tried to salute, but nearly dropped the rifle. After a few seconds of fumbling with his Martini-Henry, he managed to get it situated and saluted Booth. “Private Eccles suh!”

“Good lad, Eccles. Got a task for you, straight from the top.”

Eccles beamed a smile at Booth’s statement, displaying a set of teeth the size of which would put a fine horse to shame, “Yes suh! I won’t let you down suh. Cor! Not like last time.”

Booth closed his eyes for a moment, trying in vain not to recall what had become known in Fort Alice as the “Kipper Incident”.

“Don’t worry about that, lad, no cooking for you this time. Just need you to take something through the Rabbit Hole. The colonel wants you to take The Hat back to London,” said Booth.

Eccles looked dumbstruck, “I… I get to carry The Hat? Back to London, suh?”

“Yes, Private, carry The Hat through.”

“Yes suh, Colour-Sergeant Booth suh! I won’t let the colonel down!” Eccles practically shouted.

Booth wheeled back to the lieutenants. “Lt. Anderson, Lt. Morgan, suhs. I have your man. Private Eccles here is ready to do his duty for Queen and country.”

Lt. Anderson nodded, “Excellent, Colour-Sergeant. Private, come over here.”

Eccles ran over and saluted both officers. After trading silent looks with Lt. Morgan again, Lt. Anderson spoke. “Take this, Private, and head into the portal straightaway. That’s a good lad.”

Eccles took The Hat from Lt. Morgan, with an expression not unlike a man who has just been handed a holy relic. He stood there a few moments, staring into its silvery surface.

Booth did not wait. “Eccles! Move it, lad, they want that right away.”

Eccles jumped a bit, tucked The Hat under his left arm, dropping his rifle in the process, and saluted while trying to scoop up the rifle. Booth bent down and snatched up the rifle.

“I got this lad, you get going. You won’t need this in London.”

Eccles saluted once more to each before heading to the portal. As he walked, a path formed to let him through. Most in the yard had never laid eyes on The Hat before and work slowed, then ceased, as Eccles approached the portal. Booth followed about five paces behind, just in case Eccles got distracted again.

As he stepped up to the portal, Eccles stopped. He looked down at The Hat, then back to Booth and everyone else in the yard.

“Cor! Kinda tingles a bit, like yer leg affer sittin’ too long,” he said.

Then without further delay, Eccles stepped into the portal. Or at least, he got his lead leg into the portal before the rest of his body exploded. Blood, gore, and small chunks of Eccles sprayed out in all directions, landing around the yard with a gruesome, wet pitter-patter sound. The Hat dropped straight to the ground, and rolled a few feet back from the portal. It sat there, blood running cleanly off its shiny surface, leaving no blemish. The yard stood in shocked silence for a few seconds, before the sounds of people vomiting broke it.

Booth was sprayed head-to-toe with the remains of Eccles. He blinked, looked his uniform up and down, then walked up and picked up The Hat. He wheeled around, marched back to the lieutenants and saluted them. He then handed The Hat back to Lt. Morgan.

“Lt. Anderson, Lt. Morgan, suhs. I am sorry to report that Private Eccles failed to deliver The Hat as ordered, and has been killed in the line of duty. If you will excuse me, suhs, I must update the roster, and clean myself up.”

The lieutenants quietly dismissed Booth, and looked at each other as he walked away.

“So,” said Anderson. “What now?”

Morgan replied, “Well, old boy, I believe you said if I carried The Hat, you would do all the talking. So you can go explain this to the colonel.”

Tally Ho!