Eli watched the pirates leave, his mind still trying to process what he had just heard. The idea of using hallucinogenic mushrooms to start a war was something akin to what the Cartographers were in the business of doing, not a band of freewheeling pirates whose plan to raid a train included utterly destroying the track said train was on while over a 400 foot drop.
He considered for a moment the appearance of Hester Dowd. She had already been on board and seemed to know more about their assignment than they did. The Handler had made no mention of another Cartographer on board, but Eli had assumed that she was some sort of watcher, sent to keep them from royally botching their job.
Was it possible she was some sort of rogue agent, working with or using the pirates to meet her own ends? He’d heard stories of such agents before, fanatics who had their own ideas on the paths the Cartographers should take and the means with which to accomplish those paths. Most had been excommunicated, but this did little to stop them in most cases. Many believed they still acted for the leadership, their unofficial capacity providing wiggle room for the leaders to carry out their most unsavory plans while disavowing any knowledge of the actions these rogues committed.
99.9 repeating percent certainty, Eli reminded himself. The Cartographers knew everything, and a bunch of rogue agents acting independently seemed like much more than .1 percent uncertainty.
None of this mattered, for the moment. Violet’s orders had made no specific mention of what they were supposed to be escorting out of the southern empire, just that they were meant to ensure the train’s arrival. This task now failed, he decided that it was up to him to find out more about the pirates’ plans for the mushrooms.
How he planned to do that was now the question presented to him. He needed to find a way onto one of the airships. He knew they were planning on taking the crate. He decided he needed to be in the crate.
Eli began to move, his broken ankle protesting every little movement. The broken limb was going to be a problem. His chances of surviving any of this were next to nil. Still, he would try.
Why should I, though? He wondered, pausing for a moment. Why should I continue to carry out my task for the Cartographers when they tried to kill me?
Eli remembered the pirate’s words. “We’re going to use them to start a war.”
Eli had his answer. He wasn’t going to do this for the Cartographers. He was going to do this to prevent a war from breaking out for a really stupid reason.
He slipped out from his hiding spot, taking extra care not to land on his bum ankle. He kept close to the crate wall and shuffled to the edge of the sliding door. One of the ships hung in the air above, burping black smoke from the exhaust of its boilers. He heard shouts from the deck and saw thick chains being cast over the side.
On the roof, Eli heard the heavy thumps of boots as pirates ran the length of the train. Amidst the chaotic din of footfalls he heard a more rhythmic sound, like something being hammered into place. Sprinkles of wood and metal fell behind him in a pile, and Eli looked up. A large bolt, about the thickness of his thumb, came through. Something clicked and four metal fingers blossomed out from the sides of the bolt, holding it in place. He heard the ratcheting sound of a wrench, followed by the harsh rumble of chain being run through a metal hook. From the back of the train, he heard the soft whoosh of air as first hydraulic lines were cut, then the sharp snap of the couplings being separated. The same sound repeated from the front of the car.
“Oh, shit,” Eli said, realizing that the pirates had no intention of removing the crate. They were planning on taking the entire car. His initial response to this epiphany was one of panic, until he remembered that his initial plan had been to stow away inside the crate, a task he still had no idea how to perform. Now all he had to do was stay put.
Eli saw a rope draw down in front of him, and voices from the roof above. He ran back to the crate wall and climbed up with no problem, though his ankle still pained him.
I’m getting quite good at this, he thought as he boosted himself up and rolled back into the darkness, just as two pirates rappelled down into the car and took up positions beside the crate. They said nothing as they sat on top of it. One of them broke out a deck of worn playing cards and began to deal, while the other prepared a pipe.
Outside, the car Eli had come from crashed into the ravine as the pirates pushed it over the edge. The car behind them squealed as it was pushed farther down the track. A moment of silence followed as the last of the pirates either returned to the ship or braced themselves on top of the train.
The train buckled, groaned in protest, then lifted off the track. Eli felt his stomach drop and resettle as the airships lifted it into the air. From his hiding spot he could see outside, and watched as the sliver of ground outside fell away, replaced with nothing but clouds and the golden hue of the evening sky.
This is part 6 of the ‘Shroom Job. The first five parts can be found here. The Shroom Job updates every Saturday. Well, except last Saturday. Sorry about that! Here, have a picture: