We are slowing.

We will soon be done, & at our destination.

It could make a person despair, to dwell on how many parts of everything have been neglected. Have not even been discussed. You might by now have heard of the stretches of eastern & northern rails, far beyond Manihiki or any navy, where there are tribes of wild horses that have learnt so well to stay safe from burrowers, to never stray from the rails & ties, that it is encoded in their bones. So a newborn foal swaying on its stick-legs will not let its hardening hooves fall on the open flatearth. So trainsfolk in that meadowland share the rails with long lines of horses, trotting single file forever, eating the juicy grass between the rails.

In Amman Sun is a cold fortress served by trains made of ice. It’s said. The political fiddles between Deggenlache & Mornington could fill many entertaining hours. The drab & isolated lives of those cowed, bored generations of self-styled bosses in that town at the end of the rails, by contrast—they are not uplifting. But there’s things to be learned from the stunted venality of the controllers.

On & on. Had you been in charge you would, even had you started & ended in the same places, have described a different figure. A different “&.” But nothing’s done. If you tell any of this to others, you can drive, & if you wish, go elsewhere on the way. Until then, safe travels & thank you.

&—Sham, you say?

Sham is drowning.


THE WATER TASTED LIKE TEARS. THAT WAS WHAT Sham thought as he went down. This was not like the streams & ponds on the hills of the railsea: it was salt.

Oh shun, tears forever.

He tried to fight his slow descent. No good. He couldn’t see a thing or free his limbs. Couldn’t hear anything but his own blood.

Somewhere below him in the cold, because it was desperately cold, he could feel a disturbance, the flailing limbs & bulk of the controller, thrashing. I hope I don’t end up on top of him, Sham thought. I don’t want that to be where …

To be where.

I saw the end of the world, Sham thought, & ceased moving his body, & breathed out in streaming bubbles, & closed his eyes & continued sinking.


Felt something grip him painfully by the restraints that held his hands. Felt pressure shift. Was moving up again, against the pull of gravity, upside down, away from the huge body of the man, the last of whose motions he could still just feel, receding below.

INTO THE AIR, spluttering, retching, sucking in oxygen. The captain had him. Clutching him with her metal hand. She was held by the rope still wound around her waist, held tug-of-war-style by the crew. At its end was Benightly, bracing & taking the weight. The captain had gone right in for Sham, her metal hand pulling her down.

Naphi gripped Sham’s wet & salty waist & delivered him to the dock. Where Caldera reached for him first & grabbed him, hauled him back & slapped his cheek & shouted his name. Where Daybe came down & licked his face. Where he lay on the concrete & coughed, & vomited & wheezed while the Shroakes & Vurinam & Fremlo & Sirocco & everyone applauded in relief.

“SO,” SAID SHAM. “Changed your minds?”

The crew of the moletrain Medes, hitchers of rides on the backsides of celestial dead, had made a fire at the end of the line. They were singing & eating, telling each other stories.

It was night beyond their firelight. More than once they heard what might be people around them, trying to be quiet. They stationed guards, but they were not much concerned.

“The last head controller is currently being dissipated into fish-poo,” Fremlo said. “I think the rest of the board is a little disoriented, don’t you?”

Sham nodded his damp head. With it wet he had realised how long his hair had grown. “I thought,” he said to Sirocco, “that you were going back.” He huddled in his towel.

“Know what happened?” Sirocco said. “Funniest thing. There I was, taking the angel apart. We’d hauled out loads of the bloody thing, & it suddenly occurred to me that with a little tugging of this, & a replacement of that with the other, I could start it up again. That’s sort of the key to salvaging: you don’t need to understand it. Anyway.

“So after a while & a few false starts, we get it moving. & we’re thinking about how to back up the moletrain so we can get the angel going forward, move them in tandem, get the angel-chassis back into the railsea. When someone says, I can’t even remember who it was …”

“It was you,” Benightly said to her.

“Can’t even remember,” Sirocco said. “Someone says, maybe we should just have a little quick look-see check how that lot’s getting on over the bridge. Took a vote, easy pass. Backed our way up, through that tunnel, heard a commotion. Here we are.” She dusted her hands in a job-done motion.

Here you are, Sham thought. Here you are indeed.

“Tomorrow,” Sirocco said, “we start again. Back again. I mean, forward again—back to the railsea. & now you can come back with us.” She pushed her stick into the fire, roasting her supper. Sham took a bite of his own. He looked at the Shroakes in the flickering light. Caldera met his eyes. “Not,” Sirocco said, “that you’re going to. Come back I mean.” She smiled.

“Take a message for me?” Sham said. “To my family?”

“Of course,” Sirocco said. “What’s your plan, Sham?”

Sham stared at the fire.

For the railsea, most things would stay the same. Angels, on automatic, long-ago-programmed loops, would continue to police the rails. A few getterbirds would ply back & forward from the dead HQ, delivering automatic surveillance that would be filed against the end of the universe. The debt that the trainsfolk accrued would rise, owed this fossil company, compounding with interest into a sum ever more meaningless.

But thanks to Mocker-Jack, the angel that guarded the bridge was gone. & with the ministrations of the salvor, so was the corpse-blockage. It might take time—it might take years—but the crew of the Medes would not be the last visitors. The way was open.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “First I was thinking about updivers. I bet you’ve got suits, Sirocco? I wonder what’s up there.” He raised his eyes at the mountain silhouettes around them. “& then I was thinking, if you had suits to go up, you could use them to go down, too.” He jerked his thumb behind him, at the water. Sham listened to the huffy repetitive investigations of the water on the shore.

“Then I was thinking. Why change direction? I been heading this way so long.” He looked at Caldera. “I want to go where your mum & dad wanted you to go,” he said.

“Excuse me?” said Dero.

“What?” said Caldera. “We’re here.”

“They were so keen to learn from the Bajjer,” Sham said. “Their myths & stuff, yeah, but it’s a long way to go for stories, no matter how good. So I was thinking, what other sort of thing could you learn from them, & only from them, hands on?”

The Shroakes stared. Their eyes grew ever wider & more fascinated.

“You remember that last carriage your parents left behind?” Sham said. “Near the bridge? The one that looked weird? I been thinking about it. Can’t get it out of my head. I think that’s what they wanted to happen. Seeing this place gives me an idea.”

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