[Original Novel] Down in the Steam Tunnels, Part 5

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Previous parts: 1, 2, 3, 4

Zach plied, through a growing cloud of fragrant smoke. I took exception to that. I’m entirely able to integrate new knowledge, providing it wasn’t obviously some sort of magician’s stunt.

Zach did seem to be listening, although on account of the weed, he was no longer properly sitting in the chair but had instead assumed its shape like a soft putty.

He began to softly chuckle. Each laugh barely escaping his lips before trailing off into the next one. Something like “ehmmhemehehhemehe”. How much was getting through to him in this state?

He was really a good deal less irritating like this. Much of the tension now gone, and apparently with a ways yet to go until we reached our destination, I continued to share memories from my childhood.

Zach now appeared enraptured. Still the weed at work, presumably.

Zach murmured. He stashed his bong in a cabinet under the seat, and from the same cabinet withdrew a helmet with a pair of bongs, one mounted to either side. Their outputs led to a medical respirator style mask by a pair of flexible transparent tubes.

He’s really got the world’s most punchable face. I doubted that was a real thing until recently.

Zachary tugged at the window cover behind him. It retracted, and I found myself at an abrupt loss for words. The scenery outside was the void of space. An unfamiliar green gas giant loomed large, with a pink nebula behind it. I just boggled, struggling to string words together but failing.

he suggested, muffled by the mask. With great effort he pulled himself to his feet and headed up to the front to speak with the professor. 3D screen, I thought. Has to be. There’s still gravity, after all. What a cheap trick! But the clarity is amazing. It’s just like looking out a window.

Zachary returned and slumped back into the plush, beautifully hand carved seat. He gestured to the window behind him. I shook my head.

He issued a disgusted sigh, plumes of wispy weed smoke billowing out the edges of the mask, then pulled the shade back down. After a time, I grew restless. The professor called back So I did. Just like that, the train stopped.

Yet when the door slid open, no steam tunnels. We were underground, certainly, but in some sort of busy subterranean town. Across the street were all manner of businesses advertising their wares with antiquated electrical signs, seemingly competing to see whose sign could blink more obnoxiously than the rest.

Come again? Another advertised pocket sewing kits with included surgical implements. For what possible purpose? A never ending throng of men and women dressed like they were reenacting the early 20th century milled down either side of the street, perusing the various strange wares.

I motioned as if to step out and explore. The Professor raised an arm to block the way. I still felt dumbstruck that we weren’t really in his basement all along. The number of sensible explanations for all of this was rapidly dwindling.

So, I stayed. But continued to gawk. A boy selling newspapers cried out the headlines in an effort to entice passersby. I felt a tremor. The lights flickered and dust fell from the ceiling.

a stately looking fellow in a top hat and tweed vest whispered to his companion just a dozen or so feet from me. The other nodded and grunted in affirmation.

If he could see me or the train, he gave no indication of it. Soon enough, professor Travigan returned, wheeling along some sort of rectangular mass concealed beneath a sheet. On a hand truck, I assumed. I demanded. Put out somewhat, I obeyed, securing the corners of it with the levers I’d seen Zachary use before me.

I asked next. I imagined I’d heard it whimper as the two loaded it onto the train. As ever, he rattled off all of that as if I was supposed to know what it meant. I objected that I didn’t.

I recalled something about a cycle of creation and destruction at the core of Hindu beliefs about cosmology. He borrowed so casually from such a wide range of traditions it was impossible to keep track of them all.

He completed preparations, then twisted a few knobs and once again slid the throttle. The train surged forward, hopefully this time headed for the steam tunnels.

I could offer no answer, as to me this was just yet more schizo babble. But I nevertheless humored him as the last stop had satisfied me that this was at least a real train, so we might yet wind up where I wanted to.

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