Dreadnought Page 63

Mrs. Butterfield was crying in a corner; her legs were drawn up beneath her, and her skirts billowed mightily, though she patted at them, trying to push them down, between sobs.

Theodora Clay was not at her side.

Instead, Miss Clay was a row away, reloading. And when she finished reloading, she was hanging out the broken window and picking off more living corpses one by one if they were able to reach the train and cling to it. Next to her, Ranger Korman was doing the same, and on the other side of him, Inspector Galeano did likewise.

Mercy looked to her right and saw the captain, grim-​faced and soot- or gunpowder-​covered, glaring out at the Shenandoah. Upon it, the surviving men were waving desperately—she could see that much even without a glass, they’d come so close. Some of the undead had wandered away from the Rebel engine in search of the louder, more glittering prey of the Dreadnought; and now it seemed almost possible that the distant soldiers might make a break for it. But where would they go?

As if he’d heard her thinking, the captain said, “We aren’t going very fast. Barely staggering. A live, running man could catch us, easier than these dead things.”

Lieutenant Hobbes shoved his way past the first passenger car door. His timing was almost perfect. He, too, had been looking at the other train and calculating the odds with his eyes. He pointed over at the other engine, now not even a quarter of a mile away, and said, “They’re men, sir. Same as us. Soldiers, is all.”

“I know,” said the captain.

One of the soldiers down the line opened his mouth to object, but the captain cut him off by saying, “Don’t. If it were us out there, we’d hope the other men would lend a hand, wouldn’t we?”

It was Morris Comstock who weakly said what several others were no doubt thinking. The blood loss must’ve made him insubordinate, or maybe he was only too tired to restrain himself. “They’re dogs, sir. Look what they’ve done to us. Look what they’ve done to the Dreadnought, and to the train! And to me! And to—” He looked around at the wounded. “All of us, sir!”

“Dogs?” Captain MacGruder whipped around, pulling himself out the window and glaring beneath eyebrows that were covered in frost. He sniffed, and rubbed his nose along his sleeve to either warm it or dab it. “Dogs did this to you? A man who fights dogs is something even lower. I fight men, Comstock. I fight them for the same reason they fight us: mostly because someone told them to, and because this is just the way the lines drew up, us on one side, them on the other.”

He held his position, breathing hard and thinking. One leg on the seat of a lounger and one knee raised up, braced against the interior trim. His elbow holding him steady, his gun still partly aimed out the window, at the sky.

Nobody said a word, until he went on. “Those things”—he waved the barrel of his gun down at the screeching hordes—“they aren’t men. They aren’t even dogs. And I won’t leave anybody to ’em. No—” He cut off Comstock with a syllable. “Not anybody.”

Ranger Korman, who had not budged this whole time, said, “I like the way you think, Captain. But what precisely are we going to do for those boys over there?”

Inspector Galeano tried, “We could . . . clear a path for them. Maybe?”

“That’ll be just about the best we can swing, I think.” The ranger nodded. “We’ll have to get up front, use the engine’s defense systems, and line up inside here, too, and take down as many as we can. If we’re lucky, at least some of those fellows on the Shenandoah might make it to a car.”

Theodora Clay, of all people, mused, “If only we had some way to reach them—to let them know we mean to help.”

Lieutenant Hobbes said, “The engineer has an electric speaking trumpet. I saw it, up front.”

“Go get it,” the captain said. “And fast. We don’t have long. All right, folks. Who has ammunition left?”

Most of the soldiers grudgingly admitted that they still had some, and the ranger was still well stocked, but Mercy was out. She said to the captain, “I’ll do it.”

“You’ll do what?”

“I’ll go on top of the car, and I’ll holler to ’em with the speaking trumpet. You men with the ammunition, you clear the way if you can.”

“Now, don’t be ridiculous, Mrs. Lynch. We’ll get one of the porters to—”

“No. I’ll do it,” she told him. “I’m out of bullets, and most of you soldiers are better shots than me, anyway.”

When Lieutenant Hobbes returned with the speaking trumpet, she swiped it out of his hand and took off.

Out on the passenger car platform, the world was white and in motion.

Still moving at a crawl, still throwing chunks of dead bodies left and right, the Dreadnought’s plow cast every flake into a canopy of glittering ice and frothy pale coldness. It arced overhead and off both sides, wings made of snow, twenty feet long and high. Mercy wondered how much faster the engine could pull and how much higher the wings would stretch. But there wasn’t time to wonder much, and the ladder was slicker than ever, covered with pureed ice and freezing gore.

Her gloves tried to stick, for they were also damp and willing to harden.

She pulled them off with her teeth, shoved them into the pockets of her cloak, and then put her bare skin on the frigid metal. Every rung burned, and at least one took small, ragged strips from her fingers, but she climbed and climbed, and then she stood on top of the car, upright and blasted by the wind and the flying snow.

Mercy hoped her cloak was blue enough to signal with. She hoped that the large red cross on her satchel might show across the yards between her and her countrymen, stranded on their engine island.

She waved her arms, stretching them wide and flapping her hands; and when it appeared that they saw her, she lifted the speaking trumpet to her mouth and pulled the lever that said ON. A squeal of feedback was loud enough to pierce her eardrums, even over the roar of the wind and the plow and the tracks clattering past, but she steadied herself—spreading her legs and bending them, just enough to give herself some balance and some leverage. When she was at her full height, the black cloud of coal smoke went streaming over her head, mixing with the snow and covering her with smears the color of pitch and dogwood blossoms.

“Shenandoah!” she hollered as loud as she could. The machine picked up her voice and threw it even farther, as hard as the plow threw the snow. “When the Dreadnought starts shooting, make a run for these cars!”

Her mouth hurt. Her lips were freezing and numb and the words sounded slurred, but she said them anyway, screaming into the cold. “We mean to cover you!”

At first she couldn’t tell if they’d understood, so she lifted the speaking trumpet again to repeat herself. But they nodded, and were drawing closer with every moment, so that new details about their appearance became apparent every second.

They huddled together, then separated again and readied themselves to jump or slide down off the engine at a moment’s notice.

She didn’t know what ought to happen next.

They were ready. She was finished.

The Dreadnought surged, or perhaps its plow snagged on something particularly juicy, and the car upon which Mercy stood shuddered. She dropped to her hands and knees, crushing the speaking trumpet. She clung to the roof, pinching it by the rim and pulling it up against her body as she shuffled along, trying to reach the nearest ladder.

The Dreadnought’s whistle blew.

It was no code of beeps and chimes, and no warning this time, either. It was a declaration of readiness. Everyone was ready. The moment was approaching, and the narrowest point between the two trains was imminent.

Now or never.

She held her breath and waited.

Now or never.


A volley of shots rang out as timed as a firing squad. Not the nearest undead, but the remaining corpses that stormed the Shenandoah—these dead men fell to the ground, clearing the way for the Rebels to jump, slide, or climb. Not the sort to look a gift horse in the mouth, they jumped, slid, and climbed down to the snow, and after a moment’s confused milling, they ran toward the Dreadnought.

Another round, another pounding volley cut through another small clot of the raging dead. Most of their fellows did not seem to notice that anyone living was coming up behind them.

Another round, another pounding volley.

Mercy thought of the British during the Revolution and how they’d lined up in rows, all firing at once, and then replacing one row with another. That’s what it sounded like, just underneath her. And when she looked over the edge, she could see their guns sticking out the windows, all in a row, just as she’d imagined. When they fired, it was on someone’s signal—she could hear the one-​word order even over the blustering wind.


Another round, another pounding volley, and another cluster of dead men (plus at least one dead woman) fell to the ground. One or two struggled to rise, but were down enough to stay down when the living men ran past.

Mercy counted five. Five souls left, from the entire crew of the Shenandoah, however many that might’ve been.

But they looked like five sturdy men. The strongest, always. Who else makes it out alive? No one, of course. None but the men with the thighs that could pump in time with a train’s pistons, moving their legs toward the enemy train because it was the only thing that could save them now. They were out of bullets and options and ideas, so here they came—hats flying off heads, jackets flapping behind them, boots weighed down with snow and snowmelt as they pushed through the stuff, which was not knee high but at times drifted up to their shins.

Mercy clung to the roof of the passenger car, peering over the edge and cheering the men on with every breath. She prayed little prayers that puffed out in tiny clouds, all of them whisked away on the wind with the snow and the churned-​up bodies of the undead who’d stayed on the tracks, charging forward, everyone wanting to catch the train.

Three more volleys, violent rounds of organized fire and gunpowder coughing out the windows, and another hole was blown in the crowd.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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