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“Talk about a train wreck,” Raeder muttered. He licked his lips, tasted blood, and brushed back his hair. “Will you look at that,” he said to Sarah.

From where he stood, leaned really, at one of the large picture windows lining the corridor outside their wrecked compartment he could see almost half the train dangling from the elevated mag-lev support.

The first car had landed on its snub nose and crinkled like a pig’s snout. It seemed to support the other two cars above it, though the center one had bent in the middle. The third car in the pileup was just before the one they were standing in.

“How many people are left in this car?” Raeder asked.

Sarah shook her head. “All, I suppose. But how many that might be, I’ve no idea.” She leaned against the window, straining to see behind them. “No sign of emergency ladders being deployed. But it hasn’t been that long, Peter. You were only out a couple of minutes.”

“Let’s see if we can find Lao,” Raeder suggested. “See what he’s up to. Then we’d better start getting people out of here.”

She nodded and led him down the car.

It was quiet, but then each compartment was soundproofed. Still, anything like loud cries for help should be audible.

Maybe the quiet’s a good thing, he thought.

About halfway down the car they found that the emergency phone safe had been opened and the unit lay discarded on the floor. Sarah picked it up and put it to her ear. She shook her head, then pressed a few buttons and tried again.

“It’s dead,” she said.

“Well,” Raeder said, “if it was intended to communicate with someone in the forward cars . . .” He shrugged.

Sarah winced, then nodded.

Peter indicated that they should keep going. The next two compartments were empty, and the third held a man who was obviously beyond help. Lao suddenly popped his head out the door of the fourth compartment.

“I need some help here!” he said.

They entered the compartment to find a very groggy man with a rising lump on his forehead trying to comfort three stunned-looking little girls, their eyes huge in pale, elfin faces.

“In here,” Lao said and gestured to the miniature bathroom.

They crowded the doorway of the tiny lavatory to find a young woman wedged between the commode and the wall, bleeding copiously from a head wound.

Sarah squeezed in and knelt, touching the side of the woman’s neck.

“She must have hit her head on the sink.” Looking over her shoulder at Lao she asked, “Where’s the med kit?” Lao handed it over. “Her pulse isn’t bad, so it’s probably not as awful as it looks,” Sarah said. “Head wounds always bleed like crazy.”

“I just couldn’t get at her,” Lao said apologetically.

Raeder looked at the man’s broad shoulders and big arms and didn’t doubt it. The woman’s head was below the level of the commode and her shoulders were twisted in a way that made him sure one of her arms was dislocated. Even with Sarah to help dislodge her it was going to be a job getting her out of there.

“Hope she stays unconscious until we can get her up,” Peter muttered.

Lao rolled his eyes and grunted in assent.

“Okay,” Sarah said, passing back the kit, “that should hold her.”

Sliding one arm beneath the unconscious woman she began to try nudging and pulling her out of her corner. After a few tries Sarah stopped and let out a frustrated breath.

“She’s really stuck,” she said through clenched teeth.

“Want me to try?” Raeder offered.

Sarah considered it, looking him up and down, then shook her head.

“I don’t think you can,” she told him.

“Maybe we shouldn’t move her. She might be more seriously hurt than we know.”

“Maybe you’re right.” Reluctantly Sarah stood and brushed herself off. “At least we’ve dealt with the bleeding.”

Raeder turned to the man comforting the children.

“You okay?”

The man nodded slowly.

“My wife?” he asked.

“Still unconscious,” Sarah told him. “But she seems stable. We think we’d better leave her as she is until help comes.”

The man looked at them for a moment, then motioned to Sarah.

“Would you mind looking over my girls?” he asked. “I’d like to talk to you fellows outside.”

Sarah blinked, then shrugged and said, “Sure.”

The three girls looked at her like she was an ax murderer and at their father as if they couldn’t believe he was leaving them alone with her.

“I’ll be right back, kids,” the man said. “Be good.”

Outside he gestured to the two men and led them a little ways from his compartment, reeling a little as he walked.

“You sure you’re okay?” Lao asked.

He nodded, then put his hand on the lump as though regretting the gesture.

Handing a com unit to Raeder he said, “I tried calling out for help. But this is dead. It was fine about an hour ago—now I can’t even raise a beep when I hit the keys.”

A chill feeling hit Raeder as he listened to him. He put his hand on the man’s shoulder and gently pushed him back upright.

“Maybe it was damaged when we crashed,” Peter suggested, hoping he was right. “Listen, we’re going to keep checking the rest of the car to see if we can help anybody else. Maybe someone here does have a working unit. If we find one we’ll let you know.”

The man leaned forward again, eyes wide, and spoke softly. “I don’t think anyone’s coming. I think it’s up to us.”

At that moment a door opened at the back of the car and a small party, led by a woman in a conductor’s uniform came through. “Everybody all right in here?” she asked.

“This man’s wife is unconscious and wedged into a corner of the lavatory,” Raeder said moving towards her. “We think she might have a dislocated shoulder too. And we have one dead, but we haven’t finished checking this car yet.”

The conductor and her party came towards them—suddenly, with a shriek, the car started slipping forward, then stopped with a jolt. Everyone grabbed for something to hold onto. The slipping stopped and they all froze in position, looking at one another in horror.

“Maybe we’d better not come in any further,” the conductor said in a shaking voice.

Slowly Raeder, Lao and the man with the lump moved back towards his compartment.

“Girls,” the man called out, “I want you to go with these people to the back of the train.”

“Actually,” Raeder said quietly to the conductor, “shouldn’t there be an escape ladder of some kind around here?”

The conductor nodded. “Yes, of course. Every car has one.”

“Maybe we’d better start lowering them, and getting people to the ground,” Raeder suggested. “When can we expect help to arrive?”

“I don’t know,” the conductor answered. Her broad face was pale and her eyes perplexed. “No one seems to have a working unit and none of the train’s com equipment seems to be functioning either. Don’t worry,” she said, reading their expressions, “this ought to have registered back at the station as soon as it happened so it shouldn’t be more than an hour. Less, actually.”

Peter nodded, then took a deep, thoughtful breath.

“We thought we should leave Mrs. . . . ?” He turned to the man beside him.

“Lisa . . . uh, Faron,” the man said. “I’m Carl.”

“Mrs. Faron where she was in case she was more seriously hurt than she seemed. But with the car slipping, we’d better get her out now. Meanwhile, you’d better start getting the other passengers down from the train. Starting with Mr. Faron’s little girls.”

“I’ll do it,” Faron said.

“No!” Sarah and Peter said as one. They looked at one another.

“The girls are fine,” Sarah said, addressing their father. “Shaken up, but they’re okay, not even a bump on ’em.”

“Look, Carl,” Raeder said, placing his hand on Faron’s shoulder, “you’ve got a head wound and you’re still woozy. You can’t take the chance with your children’s safety. And we’re more than willing to help you.” He gestured at the others, who nodded gamely.

“They’re scared,” Carl said dubiously, his mouth working, “and their mother . . .”

“One thing at a time,” Raeder said. “First we get you all safely down to the ground. Are there any medical personnel on board?” he asked the conductor.

“Not officially,” she said. “If there is anyone they’ll probably volunteer.” Turning to the group behind her she asked, “Any of you?”

One young man raised his hand. “I’m a corpsman.”

“Would you please check Mrs. Faron?” Sarah asked gesturing behind her.

With a calm, “Sure,” he followed her inside.

“What about the cars behind us, have you folks checked them all for injuries?” Raeder asked.

“Uh huh,” the conductor said. “There are approximately a hundred and eight people back there. We’ve got some broken bones, but not nearly as many as you’d expect. We’ve been lucky, it was a slow day.”

“Anybody helping them?” Peter asked, frowning. Must be, he assured himself. I can’t see a corpsman walking away from someone with a broken bone.

The conductor knotted her brow. “Now you mention it, yes. People did seem to be helping out. I asked for doctors. . . . Didn’t even think of nurses or corpsmen.” She shook her head ruefully. “Everyone injured seemed to have an attendant though. I should have known. I was just so worried about what we might find forward, and grateful that it wasn’t worse.”

“Things’ll be worse in the forward cars,” Sarah said, glancing out the window.”

“We’ll worry about that later,” Peter advised. “Right now why don’t we get our ladder down. Is there any sort of emergency sling?” he asked the conductor.


She led them to the back of the car and pulled down a handle marked emergency equipment. Inside the exposed cabinet were flares, a large flashlight, an extinguisher and what looked like a net. When unfolded it turned out to be a sort of hammock-chair with a piece of netting that fastened over the front. The conductor had taken out several pieces of metal and was putting them together while they watched, then she attached a roll of slender, plastic-encased wire.

“A winch,” she said, holding it up. “You slide the feet in there to brace it.” She indicated several slots in the deck.

Then she turned to a hatch labeled emergency exit, yanked a lever, and pushed and pulled the door out of the way, passing it to Raeder who placed it behind him. The conductor then lifted a panel out of the floor, grasped the mess of netting inside, lifted and tossed out a construction that opened out to a tube made of strong synthetic cord.

“Now you know how it’s done,” she said to the passengers who’d followed her, “you can go back through the cars and help get the others out, if you would.”

“Mr. Faron,” Peter said, “why don’t you get started down so that you’ll be on the ground to meet your girls.”

“Sure,” Faron said. He swallowed visibly and turned like a condemned man towards the emergency exit.

“You sort of leap into it,” the conductor said. “Don’t worry, you can’t fall.”

Faron gave her a wry look, then closed his eyes and leapt out. The tube, reinforced with flexible hoops, caught him and in no time he was safely on the ground. He waved at them, grinning.

Raeder waved back and the conductor gave a satisfied nod and went into his compartment.

It took both Sarah and the conductor a good deal of maneuvering in the tiny space to free Mrs. Faron. Mercifully, she remained unconscious.

Meanwhile, Raeder took the girls out with him and talked them through the process of escaping from the car. The youngest looked like she was going to cry, but the older two seemed too stunned to care one way or the other.

“Look,” Peter said, encouragingly, “there’s Daddy.”

The middle child, who might have been five, leaned out, saw him and waved. Then she turned to Peter and reached out for him; Raeder took her into his arms.

“Now you two stay here and watch,” he said to the other girls. “Hold onto one another’s hand and wait until I get back to help you down. Okay?” The eldest nodded, mouth open. The little one’s face worked like she was about to explode. “Okay?” he asked again.

Neither girl said anything so Peter turned to the opening.

“I wanna go! I wanna go!” the youngest suddenly shrieked, leaping towards Peter.

“Whoa!” he cried, grabbing her by the back of her tunic just before she went headfirst down the chute. “Wait a minute.” He pulled her back. My heart should be starting again any second now, he thought. He took a deep breath. “Okay. Here’s what we’re gonna do. You,” he said to the oldest, “go back in the compartment and see if there’s anything valuable, like mommy’s purse, that you can take with you. Then wait for me to come back. Can you do that?”

The girl nodded, turned and rushed back into their compartment.

“Now, you,” he pointed a finger at the middle child, “get on my back, piggyback and hold on tight.”

The kid climbed aboard, folding her small arms directly across Raeder’s windpipe with astonishing force.

“A little looser,” Raeder gasped out. “Not so tight. Loose. . . .” He took the little arms in his hands and positioned them so that he could breathe. “Like that. Okay?” A nod from over his shoulder. Then Peter opened his arms to the smallest one, who suddenly seemed shy. She looked back into their compartment.

“Mommy?” she said, lower lip trembling.

“She’ll be down soon,” Raeder assured her. “You’ll want to be on the ground waiting for her, won’t you?”

He’d caught just the right tone of adult/parental confidence and the toddler came forward and grabbed his shoulders.

“This is going to be fun!” Peter told them, then jumped into the chute with a shrill, “Wheeeee!”

It was in fact an easy trip except for the first few moments, when tiny fingers dug into his muscles like steel spikes. Before they hit bottom though the older girl was whooping and her little sister was laughing. Peter handed them over to their relieved father. Then made the arduous climb back up.

He flung himself onto the car’s floor with a whoof! and opened his eyes to the sight of a small pair of shoes. Looking up, he saw a huge pocketbook held by a very earnest little girl.

“Ready,” she said grimly.

“We will be too,” Sarah said from the doorway. “When you get back.”

He gave her a thumbs-up and held his arms open for the oldest girl, who draped Mama’s purse over his arm then clung to him like a limpet, her eyes squeezed tightly shut. He leapt out, and she began to shriek, never letting up until they touched the ground. Then she went silent, released him, took the purse and went to take her father’s hand.

I can’t hear out of my left ear, Raeder thought, still a little stunned by the sheer volume the kid had achieved.

Aloud he said, “Your wife will be down next.” Am I yelling? he wondered. Then he turned and began climbing again.

When Raeder got back up to the car Sarah was waiting for him.

“We’ve got her in the chair,” she said. “We’re gonna need you to lift her over the edge.”

“Fine,” Raeder gasped. “Anything. Just don’t make me climb this thing again.” He hauled himself up to a sitting position. “Hey, why don’t you throw down some blankets and pillows while I’m catching my breath. They’re gonna need ’em.”

“Good idea,” Sarah said and moved off to gather them up.

While he was waiting Raeder had a brainstorm. He went into the Farons’ compartment and folded down one of the upper berths. Ah, guessed right, the mattress will come off. He dragged it over to the emergency door and, catching Faron’s eye, waved him off and dropped the mattress down. Better drop down a few more, he thought. The conductor said we had some injuries.

“Good idea!” Sarah said when she saw what he was doing. She wrapped the pillows and blankets in a sheet and tossed them out the door. “When we get back we’ll throw out the rest of them. Who knows how many injured there’ll be eventually?”

“Back?” Peter said, dropping a mattress.

“We’re going to have to help Mr. Faron with his wife, Peter. Not only is he injured, but he has those kids to look out for.” She gave him a sympathetic grin. “You can do it, sweetie. Think of it as a mountain-climbing course.”

Raeder grinned and groaned. They’d taken a mountain climbing lesson at Camp Seta, taught by a man so outrageously enthusiastic, “Aw, we can make this little bit,” that by the time they returned to sea level they were convinced he was a torturer in training.

“We’ll just break it down into steps,” Peter said heartily.

“One step at a time,” Sarah agreed cheerfully, “that’s how you reach the summit!”

“This is going to kill me,” he muttered, picking up the still-unconscious Mrs. Faron. “I know it will.”

He gently lowered the emergency chair out of the car to let it swing slowly in the open air.

“Oh no, man, you’ll be fine,” Sarah said in a nasal imitation of their teacher. “Go for it!” She started the winch moving. “You’d better go down to meet her,” Sarah advised him. “We wouldn’t want Mr. Faron to drop her.”

“On my way.”

Faron had already set up the mattress to receive his wounded wife, well away from the train. When Raeder returned to the escape chute he saw that Sarah had been busy. The ground was littered with mattresses and among them were three dolls which were greeted with cries of joy from the little girls. People were descending from the other cars in considerable numbers now.

Peter walked over to a man in a conductor’s uniform.

“We’ve thrown down some blankets and mattresses over there,” he said, pointing to where the Farons were gathered around Mrs. F. “But we’ll probably need more when we start getting people off the forward cars. Could you have people still on board strip their cars for blankets and pillows and mattresses and such?” It was phrased as a question and spoken like an order. Peter glanced over at the fallen train. “Oh,” he said, grabbing the conductor’s arm. “Maybe you or some of the more hale passengers could see if you can help out some of the people in that first car.” He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he saw some motion through one of the windows.

The man said, “Yessir,” and sprang to it.

Raeder walked over to the chute and looked wearily upward. It’s only about fifty feet, he thought, squinting. That’s not so far.

Of course, gravity was a complication, as was climbing up something only meant to be climbed down. He sighed and allowed his shoulders to slump. Okay, he thought, that’s enough whining. Get going.

Sarah watched him climb with a rueful smile. Poor Peter, what is this, the third climb? Well, honey, it’s gonna get worse before it gets better.

She’d opened the door between their car and the one in front of them. It was at a slightly less steep angle than the cars below it, but they were still going to need rope.

“Oh boy,” Raeder said, flopping his front half down on the deck beside her. “I’m gettin’ too old for this stuff.”

“Train wrecks?” she asked, grabbing him by the belt and hauling him aboard. “Have you done a lot of these?”

“Heck, no!” He gave her one of his choirboy looks as he rolled onto his back. “Lieutenant Commander, this is not my fault.”

“Y’know, Raeder, every time you give me that look, I just get so suspicious.”

He gave her the raspberry, then slowly stood up and clapped his hands.

“Well, let’s do it.”

“We’ll need some rope,” Sarah said, rising also.

Peter picked up the chute and began hauling it in.

“That’ll work,” she said and moved to help him.

Together they pulled in the whole apparatus. It was permanently attached, so they dragged it to the other end of the car, dropping it through. It only reached about a quarter of the way down.

“We’ll drop their escape chute down the middle of their car. No way are most people going to be able to climb up to it,” he said, thinking out loud. “We’ll probably have to make slits in the fabric here and there to get people into it.”

“I’ll get our med kit,” Sarah said.

Peter began hauling in their emergency chair. From the look of the crumpled metal and plastic of the other cars he knew they were going to need it. He dislodged the winch from its mooring. Then he leaned out the door and looked at the fallen cars.

Is it my imagination, or is that middle car more bent than it was?

Suddenly the conductor’s voice saying, “There are approximately a hundred and eight people back there,” struck him. There were three cars behind this one. And three before.

Don’t panic, he told himself. There were only us, the Farons, Lao and the dead man on this car. Maybe the forward cars will have fewer people still.

The rear cars were less expensive, but the seating was open back there, like on a shuttle. The luxury compartments on the forward cars took up a lot of space. There were only eight on this one, four singles, suitable for two passengers, and four doubles, suitable for four adults each. But the first car . . . wasn’t it an observation car . . . more seats?

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, Peter warned himself. Don’t go borrowing trouble. There was going to be more than enough to go around.

“Look out the window,” Sarah said as she came up to him. “Looks like they’re trying to get people out of the bottom car.”

Just as Peter reached the window he saw one of the conductors pull himself through one of the train’s broken windows.

“Good,” he said. “That leaves us with just the top two.”

Sarah smiled at his confident tone.

“Well then, let’s get started,” she said. “I don’t like the look of that middle car at all.”

Raeder climbed down the outside of the chute to the next car’s emergency exit. Once there he braced himself between the outer wall and the wall of the next cabin below his feet. Sarah tossed him the winch and he set it into the slots in the decking. Then she climbed down to join him. Together they pulled out the escape chute and tossed it down the length of the car.

Heads popped out of compartments along the way as it bounced down.

“Is anybody hurt?” Peter called.

“Bumped and bruised,” a man called back, “but we’re okay.”

“Good,” Sarah said. “Can everyone here manage to climb down the chute to the next car?” Sarah shouted.

“My wife can’t,” an older man called back.

“Don’t worry,” she called. “We’ve got an emergency sling.”

Raeder had reached their compartment and swung himself inside. The lady was rather frail looking, but her eyes were bright and her smile was game.

“I’ll help as much as I can,” she said.

Peter grinned at her. “Good,” he said encouragingly. “First let’s get the riffraff out of the way.” He leaned back out of the compartment and shouted to the people above him. “I’m going to climb down to the next car and let down their emergency chute. When it’s ready I’ll call out and then we’ll evacuate from the top down.”

“I’m going first,” a man said from just below Peter. “I can’t wait any longer.” Beside him his wife compressed her lips, but said nothing.

“If you want to open the door and pull out the chute that’s great,” Raeder said. “Thanks.”

The man gaped, his mouth opened and closed twice, then his wife nudged him and, with a sour look on his face, he reached out, grabbed the chute and proceeded to climb clumsily down to the next car. Peter looked up at Sarah, who slowly winked back at him.

“No,” Raeder said as one or two people moved to join him. “Wait until the door is open, there’s no room down there for more than two people to stand.” Hands withdrew, but anxious passengers stayed at their doorways.

Growling and complaining, but obviously aware that the rest of his fellow passengers were watching, Raeder’s unwilling helper wrenched open the door to the next car and dropped the chute through, then continued on his way.

After a few minutes he shouted, panting, “I can’t budge this door. It’s jammed.”

“Right there,” Raeder called back and climbed down to join him. “Whoa,” he said when he saw the door.

The frame had buckled, just slightly, but enough to make it part of the wall as far as getting through it was concerned. It’s supposed to open inward, Peter recalled. So I guess we can’t kick it out either. He looked down the car.

Where it had bent there seemed to be very little space to get through.

“Hmmm,” he said. “I’m going to check further down the car. Maybe we can get through the exit in the forward car.”

“I doubt it,” the man said sourly. “I mean, two cars landed on top of that one. So what’re the odds?”

“Good point,” Raeder conceded. “Well, we can probably go through one of the windows,” he mused, then nodded. “Let’s do it.”

Together they gathered up the chute and dragged it into the empty compartment next to the useless emergency exit. The safety glass of the window was already crackled and ready to fall apart. One sturdy kick from Peter’s boot and the frame was empty. They pushed the chute out and the man watched it fall.

“Oh, my God,” he said, visibly paling. “I can’t climb down that, I’ll kill myself.”

Raeder pulled out his knife and cut some of the netting.

“You can’t fall if you’re inside the chute,” he said. “I’ve already been down and back up several times, it’s completely safe.”

“Yeah, but you cut it!”

“Any one of these threads is calibrated to hold someone three times your weight,” Peter lied confidently. “There are more than enough left to guarantee your safe landing.”

“You sure?” the man asked, licking his lips nervously.

“Yep. You might as well go ahead,” Raeder told him. “It’ll give everyone else confidence.”

That won him a glare from the man. He was an extremely reluctant hero at best and would have vastly preferred to see Raeder precede him down the chute.

“Thanks,” Peter said and, reaching out, began to climb back up to the other car.

“Yeah, sure,” the man muttered as he wriggled through the hole in the chute.

“Okay, everybody,” Raeder stood beside the door at the bottom of the car, “starting from the top, in twos. We had to put the chute through a window in the compartment right next to the emergency door. Mr. . . .”

“Cramden,” his wife shouted.

“Cramden has gone down ahead of us to test it. So everything is all right.” Or as all right as things can be in a wrecked train. And, of course, assuming Mr. Cramden actually made it down safely. Which he must have. He looked like a screamer and Peter hadn’t heard one, so . . . 

They’d been lucky with this car. The occupants were all adults and all pretty fit, except for the elderly couple Peter was with.

Sarah came through the door, pulling the sling chair in after her. With the husband’s help, she fitted the old lady into it.

“Peter,” she said quietly to him after she’d finished. “Why don’t we take out this window and let her down from here? It’ll be easier than maneuvering her down to the next compartment.”

“Good idea. Cover them up with something while I get to work on the window.”

Sarah and the old couple huddled in the corner of the compartment under a blue blanket, monogrammed in bright red with the line’s initials. The lieutenant commander watched Raeder balance himself, gather his chi, and strike out at the glass with his booted foot and a mighty shout.

He rebounded with such force that he was halfway out the door before she snagged his trousers and halted his flight. His hands appeared on either side of the doorway and he pulled himself back in, his teeth gritted with effort.

“Man,” he said, “that’s some glass!”

“Nice to know something on this train is doing what it’s supposed to,” Sarah muttered.

“You’d better help me with this.” He stood and positioned himself again. “Two’s got to be better than one.”

Sarah lined up beside him and they kicked at the window in unison. Ten, fifteen, twenty strikes. She sat down in a heap and pushed sweat-damp hair off her brow.

“This is supposed to be the easy way, right?”

Raeder flopped down beside her and peered at the recalcitrant glass with narrowed eyes as though taking the enemy’s measure.

“What we need to do,” he said, “is pierce it somehow. That’ll weaken it enough that a few kicks will take it out.”

Sarah nodded her head judiciously, looking like she was in this for the long haul.

The old couple looked at one another dubiously, but said nothing.

Raeder came to his feet.

“Maybe just a few more kicks,” he muttered and bounced on his toes a few times.

The train lurched and the old lady screamed, her cries echoed from further down the car by other voices.

“We’re losing sight of what we’re supposed to be doing,” Sarah said. “I’ll go up and work the winch. Sir, you go down to the first cabin and wait for your wife.” She grabbed the netting and swarmed up to the top. “Ready!” she shouted down.

She and Raeder anxiously watched the old man descend, slowly, painfully. Sarah could have sworn she felt micro-tremors beneath her feet and prayed that the man would be standing on something solid if the train slipped again.

At last he stepped into the compartment they’d set up for escape.

“Ready,” he called.

Raeder guided his bundled wife out of their compartment and, as he’d instructed her, she grasped the netting, holding herself firm until he could get into position. When he was in place Sarah began lowering her. Peter told the woman to let go and he caged her with his arms and legs, preventing her from bumping against the walls on her descent. When they reached the escape chamber, Raeder lifted up his hand and Sarah locked the mechanism. Once they had her in the compartment Raeder put his hand out the door and signaled. Sarah lowered more line until he clasped his hand in a signal to stop.

After a moment he reappeared and signaled her to lower away. Sarah complied and slowly lowered line for what seemed an eternity until Raeder returned to signal, “enough.”

“Finally,” she muttered and climbed down to meet him. “Is there anybody left aboard?” There had been one or two passengers in this car that had gone down with the others, she’d seen them.

“I don’t know,” Raeder said. “Let’s find out.” Moving to the door of the compartment he shouted, “Hey! Anybody left in here?”

“Help!” a woman’s voice cried. “Can you hear me? Help, I’m stuck!”

Peter and Sarah turned to one another with Oh, great, expressions on their faces.

“We’re coming,” he said aloud. “Make some noise so we’ll find you.”

The thumping the woman made led them to the bend in the car. That last little slip had narrowed the gap until not even Sarah, slender as she was, could fit through.

“Hello?” Raeder said.

“In here,” the voice came from the narrowest part of the bend.

Peter could see that the door to her compartment was also folded. Well, she won’t be leaving through that.

“Looks like your door is jammed,” he said.

“Well, duh! If it wasn’t I wouldn’t be stuck, now would I?”

“Good point,” he agreed. “Look, I’m gonna see if I can reach you through your window. Hang on, don’t worry if you don’t hear me for awhile. I haven’t gone away, I’m just checking out other options.”

“Well, hurry up!”

Sarah suppressed a laugh and started up the corridor, Peter behind her. The door to the next compartment was also jammed shut, but discreet knocking brought no answer.

“Why are you tapping so softly?” she asked.

“Because I don’t want to start Boxcar Bertha bellowing.”

She snickered. “Y’know, Bertha suits her.”

The third door was open and the window badly crackled.

“Yea!” Peter said softly. He and Sarah looked at one another and with a cry of “Yeeee-AH!” they knocked it out of its frame with simultaneous kicks.

“What happened?” Bertha almost screamed. “Hello?”

“We had to break a window,” Peter shouted back.

“By screaming at it? What are you people, nuts?” The lady was getting really tense.

“Hang on,” Sarah shouted back. “I’ll go get the sling,” she said.

There was no point in making this woman climb in and out of windows. Besides, she might be hurt.

“Is there enough slack to get her to the ground?” Peter asked when she brought in the sling.

Sarah shrugged. “Close enough for government work.”

“I don’t think that’s what she wants to hear,” Peter said dubiously.

“Tough,” Sarah said under her breath.

“She’s a corker, all right,” he said, quoting his mom.

He rigged a harness for himself from the line connected to the sling chair and sat backwards in the open window. At this point the drop to the next window was almost vertical. The window to the compartment beside them was smashed, but the one below was untouched.

“Damn,” Raeder said wearily.

“What?” Sarah leaned out the window beside him and saw the perfect shield of safety glass. “Damn,” she said.

“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” he agreed and began to lower himself. Maybe I can get up some power by pushing myself off and hitting it with both feet, he thought.

At the edge of the window he did just that, slamming both feet into the glass, bouncing back out into space. He did it again, and again, trying to hit the same spot.

“What the hell are you doing?” Bertha screeched, pounding at the window with the flat of her hand. “Get me outta here!”

Raeder’s mouth dropped open and he hit the window with his feet, then angled himself so that he lay sideways to the glass. The woman was obviously a heavy-worlder. Short, which was common among them, muscular and almost square in shape.

There’s no way she’s going to fit in the sling chair, he thought. Heck, I’m not sure she’ll fit through the window.

“I’m trying to break the glass,” he shouted to her. “It’s the only way we can get you out. But it’s real hard to break.”

“Oh, for crying out loud!” Bertha snarled.

She shoved her elbow through the glass just in front of Peter’s chest. He stared in astonishment at the pale, muscular joint as she withdrew it.

“Damn!” she snapped. “That stuff’s not supposed to cut you and look at that!”

Blood was trickling slowly from a tiny scratch just above her elbow.

Raeder took a deep breath and got himself in position.

“Okay,” he warned, “stand back, face away from the window, I’m coming through.” He stamped several times and pieces flew into the compartment.

“Thanks for the warning,” she said, brushing safety glass from her hair. “Name’s Beryl,” she added, thrusting out a large hand.

Peter took it, grinning like a fool. He’d been positive she was going to say Bertha and then he would have laughed like a fool. Which, based on what I’ve seen of her temperament, she wouldn’t have taken too well at all. He finished hauling in the line and displayed the sling attached to it.

Beryl looked at it, looked at him, then back at the sling.

“I can’t fit in that thing,” she sneered.

“Um, no, guess not,” he agreed. “Uh, what about if we made some kind of harness for you? Could you let yourself down that way?”

She picked up the line and shook it at him. In her hands it looked like a piece of string.

“What do you think?” she asked, her eyes smoldering.

“It’s a lot stronger than it looks,” Peter assured her.

“This thing,” Beryl said, holding up the seat, “was not designed to carry someone of my bulk. I think it’s fair to assume that the line isn’t either,” she said, enunciating each word as she flung it aside.

We could pull the chute down . . . he thought briefly. Hmm, maybe not. For one thing he doubted her fingers would go through the mesh. Besides, they’re not really designed to take your whole weight. They’re more for controlling and breaking your fall from the inside. And to get Beryl inside they’d have to cut the thing almost all the way through. Which brings us full circle. He sat down.

Beryl gave him a disgusted look and went to the window, just managing to catch Sarah’s feet before they hit her in the stomach.

“Oh!” Sarah said. “Hi.”

“Oh, hi yourself,” Beryl said, pulling her in.

“Good,” Peter said. “We can either combine these seats and lower you using both lines, or you can hold on to both and climb down.”

“I look like a mountain climber to you, buddy?”

Raeder looked at her. No, you look like somebody who shoves mountains out of her way.

“Look,” he said aloud, “we don’t have many options. And none of the options we have are really all that good. But the worst option you’ve got is to stay here until rescue comes.”

She looked at him. He shrugged.

“You’re right,” she said and swallowed hard. “I’m just so damn scared.”

Sarah gave her a pat on the shoulder. “You can do this,” she said.

Raeder showed her how to rig an emergency harness, and with much biting of lips she managed it.

“You’re strong,” he told her. “You can do this.”

“And it’s not that far,” Sarah reassured her.

“I can do this,” Beryl repeated in a shaking voice.

They nodded at her and Raeder helped her to sit on the window sill.

“Oh, God,” Beryl said as she looked down. “I think I’m going to be sick.” Then she glared at Sarah. “It is too a long way down.”

“You can do this,” Peter said calmly. “Just remember what we told you.”

Beryl took a deep breath and swung out, her eyes went wide as her feet touched against the side of the car.

“Hey!” she said. “This is easy!” She swung out and down again. “This is fun!”

Peter and Sarah smiled at one another and yelled encouraging words at their unwilling student. In an amazingly short time Beryl was on the ground waving at them enthusiastically. They waved back.

Then the train began to fold. Peter and Sarah leapt out and grabbed the two swinging lines as the car above them came down, forcing Beryl’s car to bend towards them. The falling train left them both descending rapidly, out of control. They found themselves climbing frantically upward, in through the window of one of the cars. There was a pause in the car’s fall and they both dived back out, sliding down the rope so fast their palms were cut.

Looking up over his shoulder Raeder saw the car above them poised, balancing by some trick of gravity on the top end of Beryl’s car. They hit the ground and started running just as the car overbalanced and fell.

Sarah looked back and pushed Peter sideways, he fell, she tripped on him and they began to roll down a steep incline, screaming their heads off.

The ground shook as the fifty-foot-long car struck—glass exploded and trees and bushes snapped, a choking cloud of dust rose accompanied by a cluster of panicked avian life. It looked like someone had blown a huge cloud of multicolored bubbles.

When the dust cleared they could see that their car had broken off clean, leaving two cars still attached to the mag-lev track. They also saw that they had landed a mere five feet away from the fallen giant.

“Oh,” Sarah said and hugged him.

I don’t think I can be that articulate, Peter thought as he dazedly stroked her back.

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