If it were indeed a troop train, it resembled the trains on the interdimensional railway they had taken before--including the fact that they seemed to be the only passengers. Tall as the train was outside, it resembled a slightly antique hotel extending out in nearly all directions.
Dr. Ransom spoke up first. “We are attempting to make our way to the Redoubt in the Night Land to join the fighting. Can you do this for us?”
“We can’t put you on their doorstep, but you will be able to arrive there in a few short stages.” The tall pointy-eared conductor said. “In all likelihood there’s no other means of transport that will get you closer. Now may I see your tickets?”
They handed him the railpasses they had been given, and he looked at them without comment. “You have one extra passenger,” which was true. The Bear-weasel O Tse had joined them very recently. This posed a problem, since their vast array of jewels and other treasure had blown up with the Paradox Swan.
Jeanette knew that ordinary currency wouldn’t be enough to get on anyway: they had needed the egg of the dead Mantis-Princess to get aboard the Last Train Out. That suggested something, though: she went over to her father’s knapsack that he had by his feet and rummaged around. She pulled out one of the jewels/crystals they’d found in the bunker, offering it to the conductor. “Would this do as payment?”
The conductor’s eyes grew wide. “We can’t accept this as payment!”
“Oh,” Jeanette said. “But why not?”
“You can’t give us an entire world as payment for a trip!”
“It’s an entire world from its condensation to the crumbling of its last monuments, seen from the standpoint of its rolled-up supersymmetric dimensions.”
“That might make it difficult to make change,” drawled Senhor Capoeira Capybara.
“A world,” she said. What did her father have in his backpack, then? And what were the crew in the blockhouse doing, anyway?
The conductor, leaned forward to Jeanette. “On closer inspection, I can see that you have already died once, young lady. I think we may be able to assign your friend to your pass, at least this once.”
Her father answered for her. “That’s very gracious of you. Thank you very much.” The conductor nodded and withdrew.
The standard fairies came and escorted to their rooms, which were sumptuous. This made her feel heartsick, which in turn upset the fairies.
“Is something wrong?”
“No. no--you see, I was--we were--on the Night Land world, and not all of our group made it. We thought we were nearly there, but then stuff happened, and--and here I am and it’s far too nice and luxurious--and leisurely.”
“Well, depending on where you were, it could have taken years for you to get to the Redoubt. It’s the size of a planet, after all,” the largest fairy said.
“And of course haste and urgency get sort of complicated when you’re traveling in higher dimensionality. You’ll get there at the right time, we can assure you,” said a second.
“But we can put a board in your bed if you want,” said the littlest one.
“Can we see one of your worlds?” The biggest one asked.
“It still freaks me out that that’s what these are,” she said. She opened her hand that was still holding the jewel she had pulled out. “We kind of thought they might be individual souls.”
The fairies stared at it with reverence, turning it over and over. They started a small bright light to circle it, like a suns. “Do you have any idea what was done to them?”
“None. We just work here,” said the smallest.
Jokes were even more inappropriate than luxury, Jeanette thought. “But your conductor was able to identify what it was with no problem.”
“Well, that may have something to do with the story of Line’s End. Would you like to hear it?”
“Very much so.”
“Ok, here goes. When the Railways were first envisioned, the Last Train Out line (and eleven others, but they didn’t get built, or at least we don’t think they did) was planned to go to a place with a secret name that was never written down, but was at the shore of a great sea.The sand of the beach of that sea was all worlds in their billions. Angels walked along that beach, and looked to the other shore.”
“But the railways never got there--not even close. A lot of that had to do with Deep Chaos and the Exile. Some say that another factor was that was just a wild story and that there was no such beach and no such sea. Of course.”
“But there’s also a story of the Night Land, that at its lowest ebb, an Angel descended, and before it too was destroyed, it had turned the tide of the battle. And its last gift was a way of locking away planets who had not yet be invaded, and hide them. And some claim to have seen these worlds, actually many, and it’s that gift that has kept Deep Chaos from bleeding everywhere.”
Jeanette didn’t know what to make of the story, which seemed more like something from a novel than real life, no matter how weird real life had become. It seemed a large step from these crystals or jewels to that. But of course who was she?
She asked, “Do you know how the fight is going?”
They all shook their heads. “No information comes out. There’s a barrier. The only information we ever get is from travelers, so you probably know more than we do.”
“And we really know nothing,” Jeanette said aloud.
The fairies left, and Jeanette found herself very tired, and it seemed to have been the result of all that non-information. She put the world--the world!--into her backpack, went over to the bed and leaned back just for a moment.
The next thing she knew there was a bright ringing announcing their arrival. Now she regretted not taking advantage of all the facilities she knew these trains had, but there was nothing she could do about it.
They debarked from the train into a large arched space that reminded Jeanette of the great station where her father had been kidnapped and they had met lord Silvertyger Elphinstone--at least in style, because there weren’t multiple gates.
While there were a number of very tall pillars, there seemed to be only one door. It did have the Decision Tree symbol on it, so they approached it with confidence.
Then Senhor Capoeira Capybara hurried ahead of the others. “What the hell is this?” He asked.
He reached up and ran his paw over the door--and smeared the chalk drawing on the wall.
There was a sudden heat behind them.
“You are too late,” said the enormous dragon.