Jeanette slowly picked herself up off the train platform. Her father was gone--taken by monster soldiers aboard a nightmare train that was already completely out of sight--very possibly in another universe. In one moment, all her support had been knocked from under her, and she could not think--or rather, a million thoughts, all hysterical, were rushing through her head, all terrible.
She stole one look at her other traveling companion, Senhor Capybara, but he looked as aghast and powerless as she felt, and even more ludicrous. She dismissed him savagely from her thoughts.
She ran to the center of the platform, looking for a policeman, a conductor, anyone wearing a uniform. There had to be somebody, she thought--just had to. But there were just shifting crowds of passengers, some human, some not, flickering as they walked to and from the trains.
Then she saw a gleam. It was as bright as a star, but very far away. She ran to it, not caring what it might be in reality. It didn’t matter that it made no sense, that it might be nothing--she had to run to keep from collapsing.
It was well over a mile away, and her chest began to hurt from running. It stayed only a star for a long time, and she started to look more at the floor from weariness.
But when she drew near, her spirits, despite everything, rose.
The figure was huge, human, and dressed in plate armor buffed to a mirror finished so that it dazzled the eyes. It was half again as tall as her father, and massive. His head was that of a tiger, and his hands, plated on the back, had thick digits and long claws. His coloring was vivid, orange, black and white, but the white was metallic silver.
He had a long sword scabbarded on his back, just as mirror-bright as the rest of his armor, and, incongruously, a strapped tan leather suitcase at his feet. He had a crumpled map in one hand, that he had evidently been looking at.
She stopped, fell to her knees before him, and almost fell further. She looked up at him and said “Help me.” No more words would come.
His voice was a rumble. “What is your distress, little Yahoo girl?”
She swallowed, and the swallow went down wrong, and she started to cough. Her face got red as she strove to bring that under control. She said hoarsely. “My father--they took my father--”
“Who did, child?”
“Soldiers--monsters from the big black train…”
The tiger raised his head to look in the direction she had come. “Yes. I saw it as a walked by. A fell thing.”
She tried to talk some more, but he put a huge paw on her shoulder. “Do not fear, young Yahoo. I hight Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone, Earl of Maurya, and I tell you now and here that I will save your father.”
She looked up at him and believed. It was hard not to.
They walked back to the black gate at a steady pace. Jeanette decided to help the tiger by carrying his suitcase, but found she could not move it an inch. He gave her the map instead. “I was on my way home after putting a princess back on her throne, and this case contains the reward that I was going to render to the greater glory of our Queen, but another quest is even better than a return home.”
They met the capybara a few yards from the gate, and though the big pudgy rodent looked at the armored tiger with frank terror, Jeanette said, “This is Senhor Capoeira Capybara, my traveling companion. And my name is Jeanette Ransom,” she added, since she didn’t want to be called ‘Yahoo girl’ any more.
“Do you have any idea why this girl’s father was abducted?” The tiger growled.
“No. Not a single idea, except for one,” the capybara said, flustered to nearly the babbling point. He put up his white-gloved hand. “It may have been because of this.”
Lord Elphinstone’s eyes narrowed, which was a terrifying sight. The Capybara now also found it impossible to say anything else. But evidently the tiger was used to this effect. “Do you mean that these gloves that you and little Jeanette wear” (and Jeanette felt better) “--are marks of a clan that these creatures fear or hate or see as prey?”
“Sort of,” Jeanette said, since the capybara didn’t seem to be recovering. “I mean, we’ve never seen anything like them in our lives, and Dada was being careful looking at the train…”
“So. I think I know the path to take.” He laid the suitcase down and unstrapped it--and Jeanette gasped. It was full of gold and jewels and rings and bracelets and a crown or two. Jeanette got apprehensive for a moment, until she came to the conclusion that there weren’t many beings who would try to grab anything from Mr. Silvertyger.
“The one common basis of all powers that use this Station is that their Line must be for hire to anyone who pays. The price also must not be changeable, nor can it be infinite. And I think that this--” he held up a crystal disc that shifted colored light like a kaleidoscope, “--will do the trick.”
The tiger walked over to the black gate and put the disk into a small slot underneath the gothic placard. (Jeanette used the opportunity to nudge the capybara, who started as if he had been asleep.) Lord Elphinstone returned. “The next train will be here in two standard hours. It seems to be a busy line.”
He settled himself down in a full lotus position, then leaned over and shut his suitcase. That said a great deal, not all of it believable, about the armor he was wearing. “Now we wait.” Jeanette’s shoulders drooped, and he put a massive paw again on her shoulder. “Draw strength from me, daughter. All will be well.”
She leaned against him, closed her eyes, and though she had thought she would never do do again, slept.
She awoke as Silvertyger got to his feet. There was a curved black line out beyond the end of the canopy. “Stay close, but always behind me.”
The black train, not quite identical with the previous one, decelerated rapidly as it slipped up to the platform. Big black containers rose from trap doors at the far end of the platform, and doors slid open on some cars to meet them. Beetle-like beings came down from the open doors and started to maneuver the containers aboard.
The tiger walked with a bold swagger up to the black gate. (It seemed to be his native mode.) In a deep loud voice, he said, “I AM LORD SILVERTYGER ELPHINSTONE, EARL OF MAURYA, AND I AM TAKING CONTROL OF THIS TRAIN!”
The response was immediate: weapons swivelled down from the roof and launched crackling beams of power at him. They hit the tiger’s armor and bounced right back, inflicting damage on the train. Beetle-soldiers poured out the opening doors.
With a roar that shook the whole train station, he drew his long sword and charged.
Jeanette and the capybara pulled guns out of nowhere and followed behind.