For this week’s post, I wanted to start with giving teasers at some of the content that’s actually going to be in the Fort Alice Sourcebook, and what better way to begin than by giving you a partial look at the introduction chapter? There’s quite a bit more than this in the chapter, so you’ve got more to look forward to, this is just to give you a taste of what’s in store. So without further ado, let’s take a look:
The train’s whistle blew two long blasts, signalling departure. In the fourth car back, Baroness Seaford laid aside her book, and gave a disapproving look to the young man busying himself with the wooden box of complicated equipment by the coach window.
“Honestly, Mr. MacQuiston, do you ever stop fooling about with that?”
He spared her a glance and a quick grin. “’S’what you hired me for, your Excellency,” he replied in a mild lowland brogue. His attention returned to the box, and the phonograph-like horn that emerged from it. He adjusted the horn so that it pressed tightly up against the window. “Besides, I’ll only have the two opportunities to take these readings.”
An older gentleman, in a sober dark suit and with a physician’s Gladstone bag at his feet, took hold of the arms of his chair as the train began to move. “Assuming that we return,” he said darkly.
“Where’s your sense of adventure?” the white-haired man in the next seat asked, Wales colouring his vowels. He clapped his fellow traveller on the shoulder. “Come on, Doctor Tredgett, you must admit this is a grand affair. Rolling off into another world… “
Tredgett gave the hand on his shoulder a sour look, and it was removed. “Doctor Prytherch, that is exactly what affrights me. We are leaving not only the British isle, but the world of our Queen’s Empire.”
“God save the Queen!” put in the man on the couch. He’d been nipping from a flask since they boarded an hour ago, claiming that it was medicinal for the bad leg he had stretched out on the couch, and the others had thought he’d dozed off. His fellow travellers echoed the sentiment. “But we’re not leaving her Empire. The Grosvenor Land’s part of the Empire by right of claim, now, isn’t it?” He shot Dr. Tredgett a glance, bright blue eyes under heavy brows that had squinted into the sun in lands afar for many years.
Dr. Tredgett satisfied himself with a harrumph. “It’s all well and good for you, Sir Sebastian,” he replied, staring out the window at the station as it receded, and the train passed through the great iron gate into Greenwich Park. “You’ve been gallivanting all over the world for many years, been and done and all that, but not everyone is properly suited for travel. Especially through a portal to another world that we still don’t quite understand.”
“Working on that,” MacQuiston put in, his attention still on his apparatus. “If they’d just let us have the windows open…“
“Not a single thought of that, thank you,” the Baroness admonished. “You were there for the safety lecture. The leaded glass helps protect us from the influence of the passage.”
“It also blocks out exactly the sort of energies that I’d hoped to collect,” MacQuiston complained, but he left the window alone.
“We’ll have plenty of opportunity to study the energies of the New World once we arrive,” Dr. Prytherch reassured him. He waved a hand at the back of the car, piled with baggage and wooden crates marked FRAGILE. “And it isn’t as if you would be able to see the Portal itself as we pass into it. The Iron Tunnel that protects the tracks extends out by a dozen yards on each end. We’ll have six months to make our observations, and find something that nobody from our world has ever seen before.”
“That’s not that hard,” Sir Sebastian said. “Kick over a rock in the Gruv and you’ll find a new insect, and like as not be stung by it.” He smirked at his companions’ obvious discomfort. “You’ll get used to it quick enough,” he went on, “especially with the expedition to fret over. Small things like biting flies and missing creature comforts fade into the background when there’s exploring to be done.”
The train picked up speed as it crossed The Ave, sounding its whistle again, this time two long blasts, a short, and another long, warning those up ahead of its approach. The door from the previous car opened and a conductor resplendent in the gold-trimmed burgundy uniform of the Alice and Gruv Railroad stepped through, latching the door carefully behind him.
“All ready for the crossing,” he announced, striding quickly through the car. “Please remain in your seats and keep the windows closed for your safety and everyone else’s.” He gave a quick glance to MacQuiston but, accustomed to scientific inquiry aboard trains passing through the Rabbit Hole and seeing no violations of railway regulations, moved on, exiting through the door at the rear of the car.
“Why do we have to rush headlong into this?” Dr. Tredgett complained, of no one in particular.
“Quicker passage,” MacQuiston said absently. He started a recording cylinder turning and watched the lines drawn on it by the device’s four pens. “We take a running start so that the train goes right on through and out the other side at speed. Reduces the time spent in the tunnel.”
“Relax,” Sir Sebastian said. He sat up, gingerly levering his leg down to the floor and picking up his brass-headed walking stick. “Be through before you know it.”
Three quick blasts on the whistle, and then the train shot past the Portal gate at the edge of the old parade ground, and into darkness. The coach’s lamps all went different colours. MacQuiston’s apparatus belched out a tiny cloud of purple smoke and the recording cylinder stopped turning. Dr. Prytherch gave a cry, and fell forward out of his chair, pulling his arms and legs in tight and shaking violently.
“Doctor!” the Baroness snapped. “See to him!”
Dr. Tredgett’s eyes snapped open – he’d winced as the train entered the tunnel. He glanced about, saw Dr. Prytherch’s plight, was out of his chair, on his knees beside the other man, and reaching into his Gladstone bag in a heartbeat.
“Sir Sebastian, a hand here!” he commanded.
The explorer slid down onto the floor and took hold of Dr. Prytherch’s shoulders. Dr. Tredgett pulled a stout wooden stick from his bag, and got it between Prytherch’s teeth. He felt the man’s neck, checking his pulse, and glanced up at the Baroness.
“Epilepsy wasn’t in the medical history I was provided,” he complained.
“He’s not epileptic,” the Baroness replied coolly. She nodded toward Prytherch. “Look.”
Tredgett glanced back down, and gasped in amazement. Prytherch’s beard had grown half an inch in the time he’d looked away. The man’s ears jutted out a bit more, with the hint of a point at the tips. His shoulders strained at the fabric of his coat. His trousers were taut over his thighs and calves, but with sags of extra fabric at knees and ankles.
“Nothing for it,” Sir Sebastian commented, with a shake of his head. He pulled a large bush knife from a sheath at his belt. “Sorry for the affront to propriety, your Excellency.”
“Exigencies of the field, Sir Sebastian,” the Baroness said. “Address the issue as required.”
With a few quick strokes, the explorer laid Prytherch’s clothing open, coat and shirt both slashed down the spine and trousers split before the fabric gave way of its own. “Get his ascot,” he ordered the doctor. “I’ll pry his shoes off.”
With a start, Tredgett realized that Prytherch’s breath was rattling in his throat. No time to untie the man’s ascot. He flipped open his knife-case, seized a scalpel, and cut the knot. As the cloth fell away from Prytherch’s neck, the man gasped, heaved in a few laboured breaths, then settled down to panting, obviously still in great pain but able to breathe properly.
Light, harsh and tinged with red, flooded in the windows. “We’re through!” cried MacQuiston, having gotten the smoke dealt with and some semblance of function restored to his device.
On the floor, Prytherch, now easily two feet shorter but half again as broad as he’d been just a few minutes ago, gave a great sigh, and fell unconscious.