If seeing Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone consult a train schedule was impressive, watching him in battle was awe-inspiring.
The beetle-armored soldiers shattered like black glass under his sword, and the energy weapons bounced off his mirrored armor. Jeanette stayed (as per instructions) close behind him, and her assault rifle hit a few of the monsters, doing some good in thwarting attacks from the rear and from the top of the train. They moved forward as if the tiger were wading deliberately through a pond: he was not stopped nor even slowed down.
Senhor Capoeira Capybara had vanished, to her momentary alarm, but then the big rodent hauled up carrying the tiger’s suitcase. With a heave he threw the case into one of the open doors on the train, then pulled his projector by breaking the sixth wall. “You never know when a king’s ransom in treasure might come in handy.”
She did nothing but nod, as she put her first-person shooter gaming skills to the test, but she did acknowledge to herself that Lord Elphinstone would have left it on the platform without a second thought.
“The next door!” Silvertyger roared, as the current press of beetle-soldiers thinned and another group were rushing forward. They swung up and in and the tiger and the capybara shoved the door closed.
“They will be coming from the rear and the front, so keep an obstacle at your back.” The tiger sheathed his longsword and took out a shorter sword and a bearclaw. Jeanette dropped her assault rifle and replaced it with a gun that looked like the best Super Soaker ever, that fired a thick laser blast that was absorbed by the walls instead of ricocheting.
It was slower going after that, and they had to take cover more often, since the beetles seemed unconcerned about bouncing energy beams in a small space. But they made their way to the last door to the front. The tiger battered the door open, and they saw something like a cockpit and something like a furnace. Two beings of a different species than the soldiers stood there unarmored. One tended various mechanical arms criss-crossing the sparking mouth of the furnace while another stood behind something like a submarine periscope, its hand inside a large device on a gimbal ring.
“SURRENDER THIS TRAIN!” Lord Elphinstone roared. Fat wrinkled faces turned to him. The tiger advanced. An unmistakeable smile split one face as he raised the gimballed device, wrenched it from its mount, and crushed it in a clawed hand. It then ran forward, impaling itself on the tiger’s sword. The other dived into the mouth of the furnace. The train lurched.
Both Jeanette and the tiger were taken aback, but the capybara shoved his way forward. “If that was a dimensional navigator, I can probably still operate it.” He grabbed the broken machine and it crackled.
Lord Elphinstone evidently took him at his word. He turned and said, “Jeanette, come with me.” Jeanette, who knew that what the capybara said was probably true, but who would still like to watch, obeyed immediately.
“The enemy will know we are coming, so it is time we assessed our resources. I hold scant hope for the mounted guns, since the three of us did a splendid job of destroying them. That leaves the cargo.”
The first two cars seemed to be for the guards, and there was nothing there. The third car had big black canisters. Silvertyger smashed open a hatch, and revolting black sludge poured out that caught fire immediately, and the ash began to puff up. The stench forced them to withdraw. “Those were the canisters loaded at our station. Let us see what the train’s cargo is from previous stops.”
They examined the other containers with a little more care. They were more or less the same, and didn’t seem to be made for carrying liquid. The tiger didn’t dither: he banged the hatch open with the hilt of his sword.
Hundreds of crows flew out of the container. Big crows, maybe ravens.
They didn’t attack, but perched on every pipe and shelf and surface of the car. Jeanette grabbed the back of Lord Elphinstone’s legs the way she had done with her father. The tiger looked around at the crows, and after a moment opened the other container, releasing more crows. After a flurry, everything became still again.
Thinking confused thoughts about funny animals, Jeanette emerged from behing the armored legs and inched slowly towards the nearest crow. He held out her white-gloved hand. The crow hopped onto it.
“Hello,” she said. “Can you hear me? Can you understand me? Do you know what I’m saying?” She brought her face dangerously close to the crow’s.
“SPEAK,” cried the crow, then shook itself all over as if in frantic surprise. “SPEAK?!” All the crows now started to cry “SPEAK SPEEAK SPEAK!” Jeanette said, “yes, you can speak. You can understand me?”
“SPEAK!” The crow cried and held its wings out in what might have been ecstasy.
“We mean you no harm,” Jeanette said--but then couldn’t think of anything else to say. Silvertyger stepped closer and said, “Tell them we know they would like to be free, but we are between worlds and they would die were we to do so now.”
“That’s awfully complicated, but I’ll try.”
“We know you would like to be free…” she started, but at the word, the crows started to shriek “FREE! FREE! SPEAK! FREE!” So loudly that she couldn’t go on.
“Tell them…” The tiger started, and Jeanette interrupted. “M-maybe if you held my other hand, you could talk directly to them. He nodded and put his enormous paw around her little white glove.
Lord Elphinstone began, “We know you were taken prisoners. We have freed you from these cages, and when we are not between worlds, we will give you what is in our power to give. What awaits us--and you--at the home of your captors we cannot predict. What is it that you want?”
The crow cawed, turned its head and made some strangling noises as it tried to make an unnatural sound. “You can do it! You can!” said Jeanette.
“REVENGE,” croaked the crow.
The tiger straightened. “That, we can promise you.”
A loudspeaker crackled. “We are entering enemy space-time in five minutes. I can also make out unfriendly craft in the area.” In answer, the tiger strode back to the three other cars, smashing the hatches. The crow-cries of SPEAK! And FREE! grew to a mighty chorus.
“We are now inside the enemy atmosphere,” the loudspeaker buzzed. “Here they come.”
Jeanette and Lord Elphinstone walked up and down the railroad cars, sliding the loading doors open.
And so it was that the black train came rushing in to the enemy’s home territory on a cloud of black wings.