Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Found in the Rain

The Train left Vanister today.

It's unusual that we stayed as long as we did. The Train rarely stops for more than a day or two in any one place, and Vanister is a fairly small town. If you added up all the other buildings, they'd be about the size of three wings of the Museum.

For the last day, though, the staff of the Train (and several random passersby lured by the promise of free tickets) have been shoveling mud off the tracks. The station has been nearly surrounded by it. That's the problem with building a town on a diagonal slope. Vanister is a town of terraces, and every so often, one of them decides to just shuffle away down the hill. This morning, the tracks vanished into a detached piece of hillside, complete with several small trees and someone's mailbox. (A woman in a purple scarf came to fetch the mailbox in the afternoon, which I assume means it was hers. A large samoval came to fetch the trees a few hours later.)

I did a bit of digging myself, actually - I'm not one to say no to a free Train ticket. I found a bracelet of blue glass beads in the mud, miraculously unbroken by any of the shovels that had been chipping themselves on rocks and Train tracks all around it. Each bead was a tiny snail. A few feet beyond that was an antique adding machine, one of the ones designed to be run by a trio of dung beetles. It was rusted almost beyond recognition.

A bit farther on was a molar half the size of my fist. Three sides were covered with intricate markings that looked like runes; on the fourth was a carving of a frog. It appeared to be wearing mittens.

Vanister is built on old ground. The standing stones above the town are only the most obvious signs. The things beneath the surface have been there (or possibly slightly farther uphill) for a long time.

I have no idea, however, which ancient civilization was in the habit of putting mittens on frogs.

Having been out in the rain for most of the morning, I was completely soaked, so I curled up in the Train compartment with about five blankets and another Machinel novel. I love reading inside when it's raining outside. My salamander sat on top of my head and looked for umbrella plants. (It knows they're hiding somewhere. They can't fool it that easily.)

I was starting to worry by sunset. Professor Flanderdrack's luggage was still sitting comfortably in our compartment in the Train, but there was still no sign of the Professor himself. The sleeping passenger had somehow ended up on top of the pile of suitcases and was snoring into the leather. I wasn't sure what to do with the bags - leave them in the Train, or give them to someone in Vanister to keep until the professor reappeared? Fortunately, that was when he did reappear, hurrying over the platform and shedding notepaper like a rather short tree.

"Found it!" he said, breathlessly, when he reached the compartment. Water dripped from his coat and braided fur. "It was well hidden, oh yes indeed, and that frightening woman at the front desk nearly caught me, but I found it! Success! Huzzah! Now, on to Scarloe!"

With that, he sat down and began scribbling. He hasn't said another word all evening. The Train pulled out of the Vanister station on newly revealed tracks, raindrops hissing from the black metal bulk of the engine, passengers bustling around looking for empty seats, and the Professor didn't even seem to notice. He stopped only to take his coat off and dig an abacus out of one of his suitcases. Pages full of calculations and diagrams and illegible scribbles cover one seat and most of the floor of the compartment; a few of the soggier ones are stuck to the walls and the sleeping passenger's fur.

I don't know what Professor Flanderdrack is looking for, but it seems to be a bit more than a theory this time.

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