The Universe Is a Machine (Part One; WIP; preview)
Part One: Deepest Blue
Just as the sun began to pierce the steamy haze surrounding the station, the final whistle blew. Coal-tinged clouds gave way to the clear, warm Texas sky, and the mighty engine lurched into motion, pulling away from the hustle and haste of the yard and onto the open track. Last stop, Teufort. Any other time, Dell would have looked back, watching as the platform disappeared in the distance; this was not any other time. He kept his attention on the expanse of red desert ahead, occasionally casting curious glances at his fellow passenger under the brim of his hat.
The cavalryman, for lack of a more proper name, was nearly as broad as he was tall. His uniform did little to hide the muscles just under the blue cloth, as if it hadn’t originally been made to fit him, and the leather of his gloves creaked as he slowly clenched and unclenched his fists. Something had him riled up like a sidewinder with its tail pinned under a boot, but as the distance grew between the train and the station, he seemed to relax, leaning back in his seat. As he turned to finally notice the engineer, their eyes met briefly - too long for two men on a train heading nowhere - and the shorter man quickly turned his gaze back to the window, feigning an intense interest in the bleak scenery.
“You with the railroad?” the officer asked tersely, as he shifted his weight to prop one elbow against the windowsill…almost too close to be casual. Dell could smell the dust of a long ride on him, dust and horse and something else he couldn’t quite place.
“Yeah…headin’ up north ta help lay some new track,” he hazarded, tipping his hat back and regarded the other man cooly. “Name’s Dell. Dell Conagher. What’s a military man like yerself doin’ all the way out here, if ya don’t mind mah askin’?”
Dark eyes, blue like a breaking storm, met his once more as the cavalryman glared in his direction. “I do mind you asking, so I’m not going to answer that. But giving you my name wouldn’t hurt, I guess,” he replied, offering a hand for the Texan to shake. “Sergeant Jayne Doe, Seventh Regiment.”
Dell fought the grin threatening to overtake him, and shook Jayne’s hand firmly. “Well, either way, it’s right nice ta meet ya, uh…Sergeant Doe.” Propping one boot on his knee, he allowed himself a closer look at the man before him, not realizing just how closely he was being observed in return. “Might as well make small talk…helps the trip go faster, y’know?”
“Tch…I don’t do small talk, cowboy,” Jayne grumbled, but before long, he gave in reluctantly to the friendly engineer’s chatty nature. Miles passed as the two men talked over the steady clack of the train’s wheels, and before long, the station and the life he’d left behind seemed a million miles away to Dell, as he handed his flask to the cavalryman for the third time.
“An’ after that, well…I figured bein’ a cowboy jus’ wasn’t for me,” he chuckled. “I might miss the solitude sometimes, but I sure as hell don’t miss the saddle sores!” Jayne merely shook his head, taking a sip of the potent whiskey and holding it out in return.
“Saddle sores, pah! Any man worth his salt in a saddle learns to deal with them!” the soldier proclaimed, thumping his chest lightly. “Why, there have been days where my saddle sores had saddle sores, and did I complain? Not one bit! And I’ve had them in places you can’t even begin to imagi-“
Dell held a hand up then, as his shoulders shook with laughter. “Whoa, now, partner…I don’t need to be gettin’ acquainted with all the finer details!” And even though he tried, he couldn’t keep himself from laughing harder as the cavalryman’s face slowly flushed red. “You just keep that’n to yerself, an’ I’ll spare ya mah own horror stories.”
God help him, it was almost…cute, the way that the other man sulked back in his seat, arms folded across his chest. Wiping a tear from his eye, the Texan just smiled at him, and shook his head as the last of his chuckles tumbled free. “Oh, now…no need ta pout. I ain’t gonna go around spillin’ secrets about yer saddle sores ta nobody.”
Despite himself, Jayne found his own lips spreading into a broad grin, and he reached forward to clap the engineer on the shoulder heartily. “There’s a good man. Could use more like you around…I don’t trust some of the other men on this train, no sir. Have you seen some of them?”
Dell frowned, raising one eyebrow curiously. “Can’t say as I have, but I wasn’t payin’ much attention when I boarded, either.”
Glancing behind himself, the soldier leaned forward, dropping his voice into a conspiratorial whisper. “I heard one of them speaking French…French, can you believe it? Like we don’t speak English in this country anymore,” he growled lowly, curling his lip. “And I’m fairly sure the man with the bird cage is a German.”
The Texan chuckled quietly, patting Jayne’s shoulder. “Aw, c’mon now…ya ain’t afraid of ‘em, are ya? Big strong man like yerself? Jus’ leave ‘em be, I’m sure they don’t mean no harm. An’ if they do…well…that’s what God created guns for, ain’t it?”
With an outright guffaw, the cavalryman swatted Dell’s back harder than he had before, and nodded. “That’s right, cowboy. Once we get to Teufort, you stick with me…I’ve got a feeling we’re going to be good friends,” he said with a manic grin.
“So ya are headin’ to Teufort after all, eh, soldier boy?” the engineer grinned, narrowing his eyes behind his goggles. “I think yer right…we’re gonna be good friends.”
Somewhere in the shadows of the next car, a figure darted unseen, muttering quietly to himself in French.