First Step

Posted: June 22, 2012 in Online Reality Game

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Lao-tzu approx 600 BC

The City and South London Underground Railway line swings across London from Euston and St. Pancras station through King’s Cross, Angel, Old Street, Moorgate and Bank before plunging under the River Thames near London Bridge on its way to the working class neighborhoods of Kennington and Clapham. It is a busy line, especially at this time of the day and the platforms are crowded with business men in their dark coats and bowler hats, ladies in colorful skirts hurrying to reach the shops before they close, or meet friends for tea, and plain working folk on their way home for an evening’s well deserved rest. The term Rush Hour has not yet been coined, but the streets above are packed with horse drawn vehicles and traveling beneath the city, though it brings one in contact with fellows from all walks of life, is much preferable to struggling through the teeming throngs above ground.

Old Street Station

Moorgate Station

At Moorgate station, the tube train wheezes to a halt, disgorging one set of passengers and taking on another. The driver looks out of his cabin window for the all clear signals from the porters stationed in each carriage and when he sees the flags wave, he eases the large brass lever up to the first notch in the control yoke to set the train carriages lurching forward in a jerking, slowly accelerating motion.

“Bank! Bank station is next,” call the porters in each carriage. Passengers wishing to alight at the heart of the ancient city of London, hard by the Bank of England begin searching around them for their briefcases of packages even as the train reaches it full speed of twenty five miles an hour, thundering along the narrow tunnel deep beneath the city streets, rocking from side to side as the wheels run from one section of steel rail to the next.

Suddenly, a few minutes before the train is due to reach the station, the driver slams on the brakes. The wheels squeal and scrape on the rails as they try to slow the lumbering behemoth. Inside the carriages, those who had been standing are hurled to the ground. Even those who had remained in their seats are shaken about by the swift deceleration, and gentlemen apologize profusely to ladies whose skirts they have inadvertently become entangled in.

Underground Train Carriage

Underground Train Carriage

The porter is confused and tries to calm his charges as the train shudders to a full halt. but he has no coherent explanation to offer.

“Must be a red signal flag up on the line,” is the best he can offer. “Maybe another train is stranded in the tunnel. Just be calm, ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure everything is under control.”

From the front part of the train comes a loud crumping sound. A second later a wave of intense heat blasts through the rearmost carriage. An instant later the heat is followed by a searing blast of cold and a wind blows wildly from the rear of the train forward, sweeping dust and debris along the tunnel and around the train.

From the next forward carriage the riders in the last carriage can hear screaming and sobbing that raises suddenly in volume and then cuts off abruptly.

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

Michael looked up from his book, a moment or two after the porter has spoken, not sure that he knows what is going on. Everyone around him seems slightly alarmed but even several months down in the Smoke has made him resilient to what public transport can throw at him. He is about to return to his reading, a phamplet he received through the Royal Mail the day before, when the whole carriage judders and heat washes over him.

A man beside him screams and Michael looks at him astonished.

Something in the noise jolts him and, quite unlike himself, he rises to her feet, stuffing the papers into his satchel and making his way down the carriage towards the front. Something in his mind says: “Anarchists…”

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

James Wodehouse is jolted rom his reverie by the squealing brakes. He is briefly entertained by the sight of dignified Londoners thrown into indelicate disarray, and amused by the thought that he will now be fashionably late, but his studied poise rapidly gives way to fear as some disaster befalls the carriages ahead.

James uncrosses his legs and stands. He sees the disarray of the general assembly, the movement of someone towards the front. Fear makes him unsteady, but he determines that his own mind take control of his actions. He makes a sudden, violent attempt to unfasten one of the lanterns, then, with a perfunctory “Pardon me,” steps over a sprawled shape on the floor which he takes to be a man, helps an attractive looking woman to her feet, and heads towards the back of the carriage before any further catastrophe can ruin his suit.

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

The Contessa would not, under any normal circumstances, be travelling on the London Underground; a dark, dirty and squalid rat run beneath the sprawling city above. However, her contact at Watkins Esoteric Books in Cecil Court had managed to find someone in possession of – allegedly – an incunabulum copy of the Corpus Hermeticum, who might even be persuaded to part with it, and who lived in one of the houses fronting onto Clapham Common. Before viewing it, she had decided to spend a day’s research at the British Library to check the possible antecedents of the work, and determine what if any identifying marks it might possess to verify that it really had been printed before 1500, and it had seemed unfair to keep McTiernan and Maria waiting on her all day, so she had sent them back to her Kensington home. That being the case, and for all of her doubts about the ‘Tube’, even she could see that the journey from Bloomsbury to Clapham Common was far more easily accomplished via the Underground than a long and – at this time of day – no doubt tediously slow ride in a Hackney carriage.

The train carriage was busier and warmer than she had feared, but fortunately a gentleman had offered her a seat, and she had tried to close her mind to the rattling of the train and the press of London’s great unwashed, clutching her bag and parasol close to her after Maria’s sombre warnings about pickpockets. However, as the hint of something terrible wafted from the front of the train, all of her her worst fears about the underground railway seemed to be realised. She tried not to think about just how deep below the ground they were, and looked around for anyone who might have any idea as to what was occurring.

She stood, trying to remain dignified amid what seemed to be becoming perilously close to panic.

“Is it a bomb?” she asked aloud.

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

Michael stopped momentarily in front of the well dressed and nervous looking woman, startled by the fact that he was thinking exactly the same thing, thou perhaps for different reasons. “Some engineering malfunction, madam….i suspect.”

He shifted his satchel self consciously to the other shoulder and pressed on.

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

Charles had been riding patiently, a stern but controlled expression on his face (similar to that worn by many an officer in his majesties army) as the myriad of London passengers came and went. He didn’t fidget or toy absently with the leather bag on his lap and the only movement a discerning viewer might notice would be the flickering of his eyes from one passenger to another. Quietly he was ammusing himself by diagnosing passengers with their likley illnesses. ‘Patient A: A handful of tissues and occasional sneezes. Poor fellow has hayfever; no wonder he prefers the tube. Patient B; The girl looks spritely enough. Seems to rather enjoy smiling at the male passengers, but a woman must make her earnings somewhere. Surprised shes not cold showing that much skin…but whats this…do I detect a slight swelling of the lymph glands? Hmm, yes, and the beginnings of a rash on her chest.’ He frowned. ‘Syphallis if im not mistaken.’

Suddenly his reverie was disturbed as the train slammed to a halt. At first he frowned, remaining seated and trusting that whatever engineering fault lying ahead would be appropriatly managed by the authorities. The blast of heat and screams from beyond though were another matter. ‘A bomb!’ Charles heard someone say as he began to stand. Military training welled through him as he called out calmly but sternly “Women and children to the back of the carriage.”. His mind was racing; perhaps there had been some engine failure rather than a bomb. Either way it seemed clear there had been an explosion. The people in the next carriage needed his help. Charles’ eyes darted through the crowd looking for someone fit and athletic. If he spied someone suitable he would call to the porter “Give that man a torch and send him for help at the previous station. Hurry!”. At the same time Captain Charles Hills-Nicholson was already moving up through the train. Ahead the carriage was dark, he wondered why he couldnt smell smoke. A wail of sorrow or pain echoed from the shadows and he reached into his bag to pull out the small torch held there.

Boldly he moved toward the adjoining doors. First and foremost Charles was a doctor. He was going to help the injured.

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

Penelope Montague is a mere child at 23, yet has been riding the train for several years now visiting friends for tea and other social events.  She sits quietly alone at the back of the train with her umbrella in her lap.  She brings it more for fashion than for rain or shade from the sun.  She sits quietly, like a lady should, especially when in the company of such dignified people.  She enjoys watching others in their daily behaviors and finds the people surrounding her quite interesting.
When the train comes to an abrupt hault, she steadies herself on the bench with her hands.  She remains quiet, yet is anxious as to what caused it.  She immediately looks for the closest exit, but does not react just yet.
Watching those around her, hoping a gentleman will do something.  Finally, one man stands drawing a torch and begins to walk to the front of the car.  One man suggest a bomb was to blame, which only made matters worse increasing the anxiety of everyone.
**************************************************
 Renee was nose deep in his notebooks and lost in thought for most of the train ride. He was still fuming over the many rebuttals to his theories he had garnered at the lecture in Oxford. He couldn’t wait to be back at his lab at the University of Paris to finally prove all the doubters wrong. At the time of the disturbance Renee was studying the movement of the particles of dust in the lamp light and scratching formulas to describe it. He was so lost in thought that he was unaware anything was awry right up until the point someone ripped out the electric lamp shedding light on his studies from the wall. Once he was aware of the situation his natural curiosity took over and Renee was eager to follow the other gentlemen to discover the source of the disturbance.
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