Was it an Infernal Device?

Posted: June 21, 2012 in Online Reality Game

Pandemonium reigns as the passengers scramble to right themselves and then call out a hundred questions about what has happened. The idea of an Anarchist plot with an Infernal Device having been placed on the train quickly takes hold and there is a rush towards the rear exit of the carriage, which slows as the first arrivals contemplate the utter blackness of the tunnel behind them. One of the passengers thinks quickly and attacks one of the battery driven lamps attached to the carriage walls. It takes a bit of maneuvering, but the lantern is soon separated from the wall. There are ten such lanterns in the carriage.

One man, wearing the uniform of the Royal Fusiliers moves towards the front of the carriage carrying a doctor’s black leather bag. He has a grim expression on his face. He is expecting the worst having had first hand experience with explosions and their effects.

Underground Train Carriage Plan

Underground Train Carriage Plan

Another passenger calls for the porter to send a young man back to the previous station, Moorgate, to fetch help. This galvanizes the porter into action. He rummages in a locker built into the wall of the carriage and produces a handful of items: A lantern (paraffin or kerosene, depending on your version of English) with two lenses, one green one red (the lenses can be slid aside to allow white light out as well); a first aid kit, an ax and a crowbar with an unusual configuration in the handle that he quickly explains is used to unlock the junction boxes at rail switches.

“The next train will be coming down the track in less than ten minutes,” he says. “I don’t know if the station manager will know what’s happened here. We’ve got to assume the worst. We’ve got to stop it before we gets hit. There’s a crossover junction not far back. We can get out of this tunnel there.”

(Underground trains in London travel in single tunnels (tubes) barely large enough to allow the train to pass through.)

Meanwhile the military doctor has availed himself of a lantern from the wall of the carriage and made his way to the connecting door to the next carriage. There is a narrow door at the end of this carriage, a small platform arrangement hanging of the end of the carriage and then the same structure on the next carriage. Looking through the windows in the two doors he can see the next carriage, partially. The first few feet are illuminated by the same kind of lanterns as the one he is holding, the rest of the carriage is pitch black and he cannot see it at all.

Opening the door and stepping across the linkage between the carriages, he opens the far door and steps into the forward carriage. It seems empty. Moving quickly forward with his lantern, shining the light into the seats, looking for bodies or survivors he sees nothing. The place is swept clean. Even the usual debris on the floor is gone.

As he approaches the dark section of the carriage he realizes with a thrill that there is no carriage there. The structure simply ends about fifteen feet forward – a little father forward on the right hand side than on the left, he notes with his typical eye for detail. And as he lifts his own lantern high, he can see that there is no track in front of the partial carriage either, just a gaping hole. The front section of the train along with the track and the tunnel walls seem to have been simply obliterated.

****************************************************

Michael saw the man ahead of him in the carriage, and took him for a doctor immediately,the other passengers pressing past him in the opposite direction.
He pushed on, but could hear the porter’s words over the noise of the other passengers. He frowned. “Why go back and risk being hit by a train when we can go forwards and know we are….”
He got to the open door of the carriage a few moments after the doctor stepped through and could see him up ahead into the lighted part of the next carriage. The muttered words died on his lips. He expected darkness but this…this was not right. Instead of the pandemonium he anticipated there was a silence.
Michael reached up and pulled a lantern from the wall.
****************************************************
Over hearing the station manager explain that the next train could be heading our way, I turn to look back down the track.  Seeing only darkness still, I stand and move to the front of the car.  Holding the hand rails when I can and my umbrella in the other, I work my way past the other passengers nervously smiling at some.  I say nothing, but attempt to join the military doctor at the front of the car.Trying to figure out what has happened, I decide to open the train door stepping onto the small platform on the front of the carriage.  I stop and wait for the doctor to turn and explain what he’s seen.”Sir?  What do you see?  Is there anyone there?”  I whisper to him scared to step onto the next platform to join him.
****************************************************

James stands at the doorway at the rear of the carriage and peers into the darkness. It looks forbidding. He spares a glance back down the carriage, glad that better men than himself are doing their duty, but perturbed by the lack of noise or fire that he feels would attend such a sudden crash.”Ten minutes you say?” James checks his pocket-watch.He tries not to let his apprehension show. There are ladies present, some of them quite well-heeled: a show of heroism is called for, certainly.”Alas for the efficiency of London trains!” he lightly jests. “Well then, we had best step to it!”

He drops with a fencer’s grace down to the tracks, lantern in hand, and removes a handkerchief from his pocket, which he hold over his face to avoid breathing in the dust. Intending to stay close to the porter, whose expertise he feels has suddenly become very relevant, he offers a hand to one of the more respectable looking women.

****************************************************
>“Some engineering malfunction, madam…. I suspect.”Madalena nodded with nervous gratitude as the man passed her, heading bravely towards the forward carriages, but his reassurance seemed ring slightly hollow. She was more relieved when the Army officer seeemd to take charge of proceedings. Thank God and His saints for the military presence of mind in a crisis! But she was becoming acutely aware that the only sound and bustle of activity was coming from this carriage, and through the connecting door there was only a silence and darkness from further forward. There were no lights visible from the chain of carriages further down the tunnel, no sound of any kind, as though the rest of the train had simply… vanished, with everyone aboard. While she was pleased that there were no cries and shrieks of any injured, that sense of absence made her nervous, and when the porter came to himself and began to talk about preventing disaster becoming catastrophe by alerting the next train, she could see the sense in evacuating down the tunnel to the branch point, even if it meant leaving the apparent safety and bright lights of the train carriage.A well-groomed man, apparently trying to make light of things, stood beyond the rear of the train and offered her a gentlemanly helping hand down to the tracks. Gathering her skirts and trying to ignore the soot that clung thickly to every surface down here, she accepted his hand with gratitude, and favoured him with a smile as she descended to ground level. Her time at a Swiss finishing school, particularly including lessons in how to emerge gracefully from a carriage, allowed her to negotiate even such an awkward drop with relative ease.
“Grazie mille, signore,” she told him, momentarily forgetting where she was. “I mean… thank you, sir.”Madalena looked at the tracks disappearing into the darkened tunnel ahead and all too willingly made to follow the signalman’s lantern, but could not resist a final glance back at the yawning darkness behind, still trying to puzzle out what could possibly have happened.
****************************************************

Charles blinked into the darkness. He’d been expecting…well…anything but this.

At the edge of the bleak nothing he hesitated; hardly believing what he saw. Where were the bodies, the debris? Where was the train? Confused he took a hesitant step forward, half sure that his eyesight was failing and swung his torch in a wide arc toward the darkness. Still there was nothing. He stood at the edge of an impossible abyss.

The woman’s voice behind him snapped his attention back to humanity and he was thankful for it. Grimacing he kept his eyes ahead and recalled his training; an officer would remain calm, in control at all times.

“Ma’am, if you would be kind enough to hurry the others toward the rear of the train…”. The fewer who saw what was ahead, the better. For a moment though Charles hesitated before continuing. He wished one of the lads from the Fusiliers was at his side or some other reliable fellow. But the train’s Porter was busy and the other male passengers had retreated rather than step forward. Despite himself he was impressed at the woman’s spirit. He could work with that. He hadn’t realised yet that the other man (Michael) had followed too.

Without looking back, and taking care not to move aside and reveal quite what was faced he called over his shoulder “If you would be kind enough to bring one of those lanterns forward…I’d be grateful madam. Be warned though, there is something amiss…”.

His eyes studied the darkness, willing the illusion to come to an end. “Hello? Is there anyone out there?” he called into the void. The train couldn’t simply have vanished. Behind him he could hear a lantern being worked from its place on the wall and this time he glanced back. At last he saw the other man (Michael), and offered a curt nod of camaraderie, relieved to have another chap at his side. “Dr Charles Hill-Nicholson.”. The introduction was hurried and distracted; but even under pressure servants of the British Empire knew their manners. Even as he spoke though the doctor turned forward again. Despite confusion at the missing train Charles knew time was of the essence in a crisis. If men or women ahead were wounded…

He took another step forward toward the edge of the carriage and began to kneel. Could he drop down from the edge of the train to where the track should have been? What was the edge of the carriage like where it had been ‘cut’? As his eyes adjusted to the gloom he added “The accident…or bomb must have buckled the metal…”Charles offered his theory half heartedly, hoping one of the others could explain better.

Where was the damned train?

The flicker of a moving lantern from behind gave him an idea and he called urgently “Hurry. One of you toss a lantern forward. I need to get down there to the injured.” At the same time he prepared to drop down.

Shining his lantern about, Captain Hills-Nicholson inspects the edges of the carriage where the void begins. He can see that the metal and wood have been cut cleanly as if with scissors the edge is so sharp. This close he can feel residual heat radiating from the metal and the wood looks singed as if it had been exposed for a second or two to intense heat. Beyond the abrupt end of the carriage stub he can see, when he shines the lantern downwards, that the track is also cut off as is the very floor of the tunnel. Looking around, leaning out as far as he dare, it seems that an enormous bubble of space has been created deep beneath the streets of London. And whatever created the bubble has taken away the vast majority of the train. It is only pure chance that the last carriage was spared.

Turning back into the carriage, and again using his lantern to look closely at details, he notices again that there is no debris on the floor. Typically the carriages are strewn with litter, but there is none here and he remembers the moment of intense wind following the event. Was it possible the litter got sucked out of the carriage? And the passengers too?

A quick estimate of the void’s size indicates a sphere of about a hundred feet in diameter has been somehow disappeared from in front of the carriage. The train tunnel seems to penetrate into the open space towards the upper section of the sphere, though the ceiling domes upward a good twenty or thirty feet above his current position. The faint light of his lantern makes it difficult to be sure, but it looks as if there may be an opening to his left, a vast circular patch of more intense black. To move forward from here would require climbing down the backward sloping side into the basin at the bottom of the open sphere and then finding a way to climb up again into the tunnels beyond — which it is too dark to see, but are presumably there. And if an ongoing train were to strike the two carriages in their tunnel, they would be tumbled into the bowl on top of whoever was down there.

The only way out would appear to be back by way of the tunnel they came through. And the clock is ticking.

**********************************************

Meanwhile, at the rear of the remains of the train, a mob scene is evolving. The conductor has jumped down onto the tracks with his lantern, hoping to get back far enough in the tunnel to give the oncoming next train enough room to stop before it strikes the carriage. Several others are struggling to get through the rear exit and run away as well. But the door is narrow and there is a fair jump down to the dark rails and filthy tunnel floor. Some ladies have been pushed aside and a few men in the clothes of clerks and laborers, the lower classes, are jamming the exit trying to escape. One or two men have made their way onto the tunnel floor and are running to catch up with the conductor. None of the player characters have succeeded in getting free of the carriage yet.

About two minutes has passed.

 **********************************************

Charles’ heart pounded as he looked over the edge and realised aghast what he faced. Not only had the train vanished but something had stolen or obliterated an expanse of the earth itself below London. He wanted to swear, but with Penelope present he bit his tongue. Instead part of his mind grimly observed with a dark humour‘King Edward wont be pleased to find someone has been stealing his trains’.

“Mother of god…what happened?”.

The emptiness was dizzying. Yet he couldn’t quite imagine that a part of the world had simply vanished in a malicious bubble. Maybe there had been a gas pocket…or some natural cavern had caved in. Despite evidence to the contrary the doctor struggled to find a mundane explanation. There had probably been over 100 passengers on that train…they couldn’t have all been snuffed out.

At the same moment his eyes were drawn to the area of intense darkness. He squinted uselessly, wondering if it was possible that shape held the wreckage of forward carriages. A terrible intrigue tugged at his senses; what had happened? Captain Hills-Nicholson intended to find out.

Mind racing  he looked back to the milling passengers. An air of urgency swelled from the throng and he tried to calculate aloud. “10 minutes. The porter said 10 minutes, but he sent a runner back up the tunnel right?”. Awkwardly he set his bag down and reached for his pocket watch which he flipped open and set on the floor. He looked up at the two passengers who stood close by, talking quickly. “There could be people down there. I have to look. I need your help.”. While he spoke he scanned what remained of the carriage. There. His eyes narrowed on the remnants of copper wiring that had run through the ceiling lighting. With a swift couple of steps Charles climbed onto a seat to take a grip on the loose wires, and heaved. Connected only by hooks and already weakened by the incident the wires gave way and Charles dropped back down to the floor level, his weight adding to the force on the wires. He spoke hurriedly.

“Ma’am, if you please…I’d be grateful if you could watch the time and my bag for a moment. I shall need it momentarily.”. He would have smiled politely, but it came out as a twisted grimace. The wires were free now and he was moving back toward the abyss. With luck they might take his weight, or at least ‘some’ of his weight.

“Sir, if would you be kind enough…I intend to get down there. If there is any chance of survivors…”. He hoped the young man would help lower him down.

There was another problem of course. If there were survivors somehow in the wreckage at the foot of the void one man alone would not be enough to pull them clear. He would need help.

Almost immediately however, seeing more clearly the depth of the cavity, Charles hesitated at the side of the opening. He glanced back to the wire. He had extracted what, 10-15 feet of the stuff? But the drop looked double that, maybe more; it was hard to judge from this angle. If the gaping maw was a sphere, the tube opening into it was in the upper half. A drop down wasn’t so simple after all…
“Hold on, thats not going to be enough…” he muttered, wondering if the others had any better ideas.
************************************************
Cursing his luck at not having any of his instruments with him Renee sets about studying the empty seats and gaping hole in front of him. His experiments are simple by necessity: dropping a rock into the hole to measure its depth, checking the configuration of the hole (Square, circle, etc), and is there any scorching or scarring on the remains of the train car/tunnel. If no one directly asks him anything or overtly gets in his way Renee will ignore everyone else and get to work.

Michael watcherd the doctor pull out the wiring, glancing back anxiously through into the carriage. “let me try something…”

[With Charles’ permission} he takes the wirting and wraps one end round the lantern’s handle. He quickly lowers the lantern down into the hole to see what he can see, playing it out to its full extent. “Let’s see if anything is down there to save…if not I think we should get back up the tunnel wiuth the rest.”

*********************************************

Apparently stymied in his attempt to escape by the undeserving rabble at the carriage’s rear, James releases the anonymous lady’s hand he is currently holding as self-preservation once more takes precedent over gallantry.

He stalks in the opposite direction, cursing his luck and casting about for some other means of egress, slapping windows and jumping up to push likely looking hatches in the roof of the car.

*********************************************

Arriving at the doorway to the second carriage, James hesitates, glimpsing something through the glass his mind immediately rejects and comprehending at once that those brave souls whom he had last seen charging in this direction like so many doomed light brigade had not been consumed by fiery destruction, but were, instead, alive, examining something, and… tying bits of wire together?

Hmmm, thinks James.

His adventurous spirit, passed down to him by his grandfather and reknowned explorer Sir Arthur Wittingdon-Wodehouse, along with this watch (which he notes now is faithfully shaving seconds from his oh-too-short life in the manner of all good watches) has not been entirely smothered by decadent London high-living.

There’s a story here, at least, he ponders, and one more interesting than “Train crashes – hundreds dead”. One which he briefly imagines himself narrating to a gaggle of stunning hier-esses over cocktails at some gay future bash. While playing the piano, perhaps.

With this heavenly vision calming him satisfactorily enough to present a confident face, he straightens his cuffs and moves casually forward into the car and stands behind the group, peering into…

*********************************************

Firstly I’m curious if this gaping hole has bisected any other underground spaces such as sewers, maintenance tunnels, or cellars. Any sound of running water coming from the hole? Also would anyone know if such tunnels would exist at this depth near the bottom or top of the hole? Anyway, onto my actions:

Rene has seen all he can from the ruined train car and his thoughts turn to escape. Without the strong possibility of safe passage by descending into the hole Rene’s curiosity will be outweighed by his desire to not be crushed by the incoming train. Looking back and seeing the throng of people also seeking to make a hasty retreat gives him pause. Furrowing his brow he thinks for a moment then turns to the doctor.

“Dr. Charles Hill-Nicholson was it? My name is Professor Chausson. It appears there is a situation developing at the rear of the train that could use the attention of an authority figure such as yourself. Your desire to help any survivors is admirable but surely ensuring the safety of the living is paramount. We don’t need two train incidents in one day. Perhaps once these people are safe and the oncoming train warned we can return and investigate further.”

*************************************************************

“Good Lord,” whispers James with what breath he has left, fantasies of assisting in some (hopefully perfectly safe) act of heroism vanishing into that cavernous space with most of colour in his face.

He blinks a few times, gives the nearest window a violent slap, then turns on his heel with a purpose, for it now occurs to him that forcing the main side doors aparts should be an easy task.

He steps back to the first carriage with a renwed sense of urgency and puts this plan into effect, enlisting any passenger who may still be stuck back here to help him.

**********************************************************

Recognizing that exiting either end of the car would take too much time, I’ll move to the side door and attempt to pry it open. Setting my umbrella down, I’ll grab the two doors where they come together and attempt to pull them both open.

Looking at the gentleman next to me (James). “Good Sir… could you please give me a hand with these doors? Im afraid the power is off and they will not open willingly.”

I know it will be a very, very tight fit to jump down to the tracks along the side of the carriage, but I quickly realize that time is of the essence. If I dont move now, I wont have time to move back down the track to the junction and to safety.

I feel bad for those passengers waiting in line to exit the rear door, but not bad enough to wait with them, nor call their attention to the other possible exits. I begin to move with haste!

***************************************************************

Charles lingered as the dim light of the lantern teased the shadows of the abyss. It was still too dark to make out everything but it was enough. The wires were to short and the there was no way forward.

Dimly he was aware of the professors introduction and it snapped his attention back from the impossible void. “Professor, if only we could have met in better circumstances.”. He squinted into the dark and pointed toward the opposite tunnel. “Below us must be the wreckage of the forward carriages. People needing help. But worse, even if the porter manages to warn the next train coming our way, there ain’t nothing that can stop the next train come coming from the opposite direction. Nothing unless we can get over there and somehow stop them.”. His heart pounded; it seemed an impossible task. Yet a fusilier would not shirk his duty while hope remained.

Charles looked back down the carriage. “We need rope, or something to get down there. But before that we need to clear these people; get them to a safety hatch or something. Call me if you find rope.”.

If the previous station didn’t get the warning in time another train would be ploughing toward them in minutes. A grim thought occurred to him as he realised the danger the runner was in. If he reached the station the train would be stopped. If he failed…then the train might still be stopped…when the train driver noticed the thud of the runners body against his vehicle.

Clearing his throat he made a decision. One of the others had correctly suggested order was required in the rear carriage, and so scooping up his watch he strode back there with certainty.

His voice was loud and sure “Everyone, calm down. My name is Captain Hills-Nicholson of the kings fusiliers. I am a doctor and there WILL be order.”. He tried his best to sound calm and reassuring. “There is a runner ahead dealing with the station and no need to panic. You two,” he pointed at a pair of men. “Get this side door open to allow another exit. The rest of you, form a queue, each helping the man or woman infront or behind. We’ll get this place clear for the emergency services in no time.”.

*********************************************************************

Michael left the lantern dangling in the inky abyss and climbed back into the carriage.

 

Cross Section of Gaping Hole Under London

Cross Section of Gaping Hole Under London

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